Picture This! Harnessing the Power of Visualisation in Career Conversations

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You want your employees to be successful, don’t you?

In fact, you and they have probably used that word. But do you know what success really means to them?  Have they truly thought about it and discussed it with you? 

People talk about success all the time.  But rarely do they define it in a way that is meaningful to them and they can share with others.

That’s where visualisation can help.

But you can’t just ask employees to visualise the success they want and expect it to happen, can you?

No, you can’t.

So, let’s look at how we can use visualisation as a practical tool with employees to help them take ownership of their career development.

What is visualisation?

Before we jump into how to use visualisation to support someone’s career, let’s quickly cover what, visualisation is.

Visualisation is the ability to create a clear picture in your mind of the exact work experience and circumstance you wish to create.  It is seeing, feeling, and completely embodying a future outcome—whether that’s getting promoted, working in a different role or reducing your hours—before it happens. By creating a picture of your desired future success in your mind in as much detail as possible, you can create the energy and enthusiasm to move towards it.

Think about building a jigsaw puzzle. Have you ever attempted to build one without having the box top to look at? It is extremely difficult to complete the puzzle without knowing what the outcome should look like. You may fit pieces together. You may get bits and pieces of the puzzle done.  But it will take longer, be more challenging, and possibly never reach completion.  The same is true of your career.  The more clear and detailed you are when you visualise what you want from your career, the easier it will be to make it a reality.

How does visualisation work?

That may sound simplistic and optimistic but it’s backed up by neuroscience.   Research has shown that the brain doesn’t distinguish between whether something is real or whether we just imagine it as real.  The famous “piano study” is an excellent example. Researchers at Harvard University, led by Alvaro Pascual-Leone compared the brains of people playing a sequence of notes on the piano with the brains of people imagining playing the notes.  The region of the brain connected to the finger muscles was found to have changed to the same degree in both groups of people, regardless of whether they struck the keys physically or mentally.

It is the fact that the brain processes imaginary events as if they are real that allows sports people to benefit from visualisation.  Almost every elite athlete does mental practice as well as physical practice.  They visualise themselves doing their sport and doing everything right in exact detail.   This means their brain learns this way of operating and ensures their body learns to work in the way they’re imagining.  The same phenomenon allows us to benefit from the power of visualisation in career development. 

Visualisation acts as the bridge between where someone is in their career at any given moment to where they want to be – by allowing them to see and feel their future success as if it has actually happened. 

Benefits of Visualisation

My personal experience of visualisation is that it is highly powerful for a few different reasons.

1) It focuses an employee’s attention

One of the problems many people face with career development is that they are so busy with day to day tasks that they don’t think about the future.  Visualisation helps employees focus on what they want. And when they’re focused they spot opportunities to move towards their future success. It’s what I call the serendipity factor.  They’re more likely to be in the right place at the right time.

2) It helps them progress and take action

As explained above, when an employee visualises, their brain processes it as if it is happening now.  And because their brain thinks their desired future success has already happened, they’re more likely to take the actions necessary to align with their brain’s perceived reality

3) It makes employees feel empowered

When employees visualise their future success, it brings them a sense of empowerment. They start to notice small changes in their work life as they move in the direction they want to go in.  And this brings them a belief in themselves and what they are doing. They start to realize that there is actually a lot they can do to make progress.

Tips for using Visualisation

The key to visualisation is to encourage employees to be as specific as possible.  As you listen to their description, build up a picture in your mind.  Focus in on all the small details, from what they’re wearing to what they’re doing to what they’re saying.

If they chose getting promoted, for example, what does that look like? What do they wake up to in the morning? How do they commute? What do they wear? What does their desk look like? What do they hear in the conversations around them?

Help to draw out the visualisation by asking questions. For example, they might say, “I want to move into a leadership role.” And you might respond, “Tell me about your first challenge in a leadership role.  What’s the first thing you want to achieve? Who do you have with you to make it happen?”

There’s something very powerful about helping an employee talk through their vision.  Not only does talking about it build their commitment to making it happen, it also helps them flesh out the vision. And making it more and more detailed, makes it much more real.

Of course, while visualisation can help energise and motivate employees, for real progress, it needs to be paired with action. That’s something we’ll cover in a later blog post.

Do you need help getting started with your Career Conversations? Try our Career Conversations Toolkit, it gives you the practical tools, structure and questions to have effective career conversations that will engage, retain and develop your employees without taking up lots of time.

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