The case for career conversations

Being a manager can be tough.  These days it isn’t enough to have technical or business expertise, you need to excel at people management too.

Unfortunately, one of the most powerful things that managers can do to improve their performance – and that of their teams – is something most of them are loathe to do: have regular career conversations with their people.

In fact, Right Management’s comprehensive 2015 study of the issue found that only 16% of employees report having ongoing conversations with their managers about their careers. Unsurprisingly, Right Management also found that employees desperately wanted to have these conversations and would be significantly more engaged with their work, and far more likely to stay with their employers, if only their managers would stop avoiding the subject.

Which brings us to the question of why managers are so committed to not having these important conversations. In our experience there are a range of factors at play:

  • Managers don’t consider career development to be their responsibility. They figure that individual employees can sort out their own careers, or ask HR for help.
  • Managers aren’t confident about having these conversations. They haven’t been trained to have them and fear raising expectations they can’t satisfy or being asked for pay rises or promotions that will cost them.
  • Managers aren’t incentivised to have these conversations. In the absence of real pressure – or reward – it’s easier to avoid the discomfort that comes with talking about potentially sensitive subjects.

So what can organisations do to change managers’ minds? We’d suggest four things:

  • Provide training on the subject. Give managers the guidance they need to start a dialogue with their people, which will help them build their confidence and skills.
  • Make it clear that having regular career conversations is a key part of a manager’s role and that managers will be held accountable for it.
  • Make sure that managers know what the organisation offers in terms of career development opportunities. Managers need to be empowered to offer transfers, training and other development opportunities to their people. They also need to be encouraged to come up with creative budget-friendly ways of developing staff.
  • Encouraging employees to push for these conversations. We recommend offering employees training on the subject to ensure they too feel confident to talk about their careers.