“Follow your passion” has become something of a career maxim. It’s understandable: this pithy statement makes choosing a career direction seem easy. And, of course, the idea of loving your work so much that it doesn’t even feel like “work” is very seductive.
But is it good advice? Not for most people, in our experience. Of course, there are people who do manage to turn their passion into a rewarding career or business, and that’s wonderful. But most of us will do better looking for work that:
- Comprises tasks we enjoy
- Plays to our strengths
- Delivers meaning
- Comes with a work environment that suits us.
In our opinion, a job that ticks off all four of these boxes is likely to be fulfilling, whether or not it taps into a particular passion.
In fact, we’d go so far as to suggest being very cautious about following your passion. There are a lot of reasons it can backfire, as we explain in this animation.
Many of us realise that it’s not necessarily the smartest people who get ahead at work. More often than not, it seems to come down to personality or – to be more specific – mindset
The research backs this up. People who have what’s been termed a ‘growth mindset’ by psychologists benefit from this in multiple ways when it comes to managing their careers. And they have a particularly strong advantage over others when they face obstacles, which is why we have included a module on mindset in our outplacement program.
A growth mindset is often described in contrast to a ‘fixed mindset’. The basic difference is that people with a growth mindset believe they are capable of improving their skills and learning new things, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that what they have to offer is already determined and can’t be changed.
Recently, employers have become very focussed on hiring candidates who can demonstrate that they have a ‘learning orientation’, which is one aspect of a growth mindset. It makes sense that this is becoming a valued characteristic. When things are changing rapidly due to technology, organisations know they can’t hire people who already have all the skills they are ever going to need. It’s much safer, instead, to hire people who will be open to acquiring the skills they might need in future.
But what can managers do with existing employees who are resistant to learning new skills?
- Educate them about mindset. Most of us are unaware of the effect our thought patterns have on our lives. Educating employees about the role of mindset in professional satisfaction is something that very few organisations do, despite the fact that this can help many people develop more constructive ways of thinking.
- Find out what motivates them. By conducting ongoing career conversations with employees, managers can learn more about their employees’ personal lives and career goals (which are often linked). If the manager can tap into something that’s important to the employee, they can offer them learning or development opportunities that will pique their interest.
- Boost their confidence. Often, people develop a fixed mindset as a defence against failure or vulnerability. If a manager demonstrates confidence in people’s ability to learn new skills, by letting them take on manageable new challenges or exert more control over their work for example, they’re more likely to get on board.
- Model the importance of continuous learning. If an organisation invests in learning and expects its senior people to be continuously developing their skills, this will create a ‘culture of learning’.
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.