What we do matters. With most working adults spending two-thirds of their waking lives at work, not only is what we do important but so is where we choose to work and who we work with.

With business leaders under constant pressure to do more with less and find new sources of competitive advantage, understanding the capability, ambitions and motivations of our people has never been so important. What do our employees want to do with their careers? And how do those aspirations align with the objectives and direction of the business?

Organisations are spending bucketloads of dollars measuring employee engagement and countless hours developing strategies for increasing it. But despite these efforts, it seems many individuals and organisations are out of sync, trying to operate independently of each other.

Don’t neglect to communicate with employees about their career goals

While most of us appreciate the need for open communication and the benefits of regular career conversations, there still exists among managers an enormous and often understandable reluctance to embark upon them. Misunderstandings, confused expectations, individual sensitivities, lack of trust and uncertainty about business directions all form a part of this reluctance. However the reality is that if business leaders and line managers don’t acknowledge or understand the career aspirations of their people, the following scenarios tend to emerge:

  • Individuals who are in the wrong place at the wrong time will under-perform
  • High-performing employees who are looking for fresh challenges will begin to coast
  • Outstanding employees who are often deemed critical to the success of the business will leave in search of other opportunities.

All scenarios are problematic and unfortunately they are often not addressed in a timely or appropriate manner because our business leaders and managers simply don’t know how to have the career chat in a genuine and authentic manner.

While performance reviews tend to highlight contribution and value retrospectively, career conversations focus on the future and help employees and organisations align themselves for mutual success.

4 keys to successful career conversations

  1. Preparation

    Preparation, as they say, is the key to success. To maximise the time and opportunity it is critical that both managers and employees are given time and practical frameworks to work with. These frameworks should allow for individuals to reflect, plan and discuss their ambitions and explore how they align to the needs of the business.

  2. Communication

    Establishing honest, open and transparent communication between managers and employees can be one of the greatest challenges individuals and organisations face. Trust and transparency are built over time, through active collaboration and positive interactions, which only reinforces the need for regular conversations. Freedom to explore options free of judgment and with honest constructive feedback will help employees set realistic career goals and drive career ownership.

  3. Accountability

    To ensure the conversation doesn’t remain just that, it is important to conclude any meeting with a clear plan that has mutually agreed actions, timelines and milestones. This will also ensure that all follow-up dialogue is relevant and action-orientated and further demonstrates the importance and value placed on defining and supporting career ambitions and progression.

  4. Follow Up

    Regular conversations are crucial to ensuring your employee’s plan is moving forward. As well as offering opportunities to provide or gather support, they also consolidate purpose and strengthen relationships. It is also worth remembering that informal conversations can add enormous value.

With our people being our greatest source of competitive advantage, failing to understand what they want to do with their careers is risky business. Organisations can all too easily find themselves in jeopardy of losing talented people while risking disengagement and loss of productivity. Conversely, organisations that actively promote and create a culture of individual career management are far better positioned to succeed. They attract, engage and retain the brightest people in the marketplace while helping individuals take ownership of their careers.