Why Career Conversations are Important

“Don’t ask what the world needs – ask what makes you come alive because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman 

It’s a competitive environment, and organisations need to gain advantage through their people more than ever.

But there’s a challenge. While organisations want to maximise employees’ performance, employees want to maximise their careers. And these goals are not one and the same.

Years of change, restructuring, outsourcing and down-sizing have caused people to take a more active role in managing their careers. Employees at all levels face career decisions every day: is my job safe? What opportunities are there for development and progression?  Should I stay or should I leave? Should I change careers? Should I pursue new projects? Should I go back to university? Should I start up on my own? And in a rapidly changing work environment, the answers are not always obvious.

It is in the context of this economic reality that helping employees to develop their careers assumes more significance not less. Career management is about getting people to where they want to be and where the organisation needs them to be. If you want your people to be committed to the organisation, engaged with their work and driven to perform you need to provide them with the tools and resources they need to manage their careers within the organisation.

Satisfying employee career aspirations is vital for retaining and developing talent

Organisations focus so much on what employees need to do to meet the business’s needs that they lose sight of what the organisation needs to do to meet employees’ needs. And this is crucial if you are going to be effective in retaining and developing talent within the organisation.

Career development is a tricky area for organisations.  This is because it deals with the future and is a venture into the unknown.  It is also deeply personal.  Many managers worry that asking about careers may unsettle staff or even make them leave.  But the evidence shows that attending to career issues makes staff more loyal to the organisation and more productive.

Career conversations are equally important in good times as well as bad

Meaningfulness of work and the fit between a person and their job are two of the key drivers of engagement at work.[1]

Support your employees in managing their careers and they will feel connected to their work.  They will feel valued for their contribution and motivated to contribute further. Their willingness to apply and increase their capability will be enhanced.

Meainingfulness of work, supportie work environment, senior management communication & vision, line management, c=voice - being able to feed view upwards, person - job fit = engagement

Career management in organisations is important whatever the state of the employment market. In a buoyant job market, it’s often easier for employees to leave a company than to manage their career internally. If the organisation doesn’t develop them, they quit physically and leave.  In a tough economy, the bigger risk is that employees quit psychologically and stay!  So, supporting your employees in managing their careers isn’t just a “nice” thing to do – it’s a business imperative.

Not having career conversations can be costly

Let me share a story of why this is important.

Before I set up my own business, I worked for a global insurance company as the Leadership and Organisation Development (LOD) Director. And I was responsible for the talent management process.

After months of preparation, it was time to chair the Talent Review meeting. Our aim was to agree the Succession Plan for the Executive Board.

As is usual in these kinds of meetings, various senior people sat around a Board table, their task being to slot names into the boxes on the Succession Plan. My job was to facilitate the discussion and encourage challenge and debate.

The Board agreed most names easily, but a minority caused much discussion. For example, the suggested successor for the Head of Property Underwriting in London was a well-respected Underwriter in the Bermudian office, andthere was full agreement about his ability and potential. As always, I asked how the employee in question would feel about such a move. His manager’sresponse?

‘Don’t worry, love. He’ll be made up. He’s a good, ambitious bloke. His wife doesn’t work and his kids aren’t at school yet, so there won’t be any issue with him moving to London.’

Six months later, the Head of Property Underwriting left the company as part of a reorganisation. So his successor got the fated tap on the shoulder. And how do you think he responded?

He said, ‘No thanks. I’ve never wanted the management responsibility that comes with being a head of department, and my wife won’t leave her family in Bermuda.’

The whole succession plan fell over because it hadn’t considered the career wishes of the employee involved.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a job move that you didn’t want or expect, you’ll know how he felt. You may also empathise with what the employee did next – he decided that since the company clearly had a different view of his future to his own, he would be better off leaving.

It is hard to predict the true cost of a departing employee. There are many intangible and often untracked costs associated with employee turnover. A study by the Center for America Progress concluded the cost of losing an employee can be anywhere from 16% of the annual salary of an employee paid hourly to 213% of the salary of a highly trained position[2]. So if we assume the Bermudian Property Underwriter was making $100,000 a year, the true loss could be up to $213,000 to the company. All for the lack of a short conversation about careers.

This story is only too common, and it highlights a major risk: if you don’t talk to employees about their careers, you can’t take their ambitions into account. And if you don’t consider those ambitions in your people processes, you could be wasting your time and energy.

Join me Friday 5th July at 3pm for my free webinar Career Development in Organisations: What Part Does it Play? Secure your free place for this practical and interactive session, we will explore the strategic role of career development within an organisation. Why is it important? We’ll discuss the cost to organisations of not having career conversations with employees. And we’ll look at whether the responsibility for career development lies with employees, managers or HR. To illustrate what can be achieved, we will share practical tools to gain buy-in to a strategy and put career development into practice. Career development is going to become a proven competitive advantage for organisations. Is your organisation geared up to support growth and development?

This webinar is for HR Directors/Managers, Heads of People, Heads of Talent, Career Development Managers and Organisational Development Managers.

Note: Registration is free of charge. We expect to be oversubscribed, so if you are unable to attend, we would appreciate it if you could let us know.


[1] CIPD (2010), ‘Creating an Engaged Workforce’

[2] Center for American Progress (2012), ‘There Are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees’

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