Over the past 9 months or so, I have had the pleasure of working with Pam Davis. Until recently, Pam was the Senior HR Project Lead within the People and Culture at an organisation that works in the scientific research space.
We’ve been working to create a cultural change within that organisation. That change is to drive a shift in mindset and practices around career development. Our goal is to help managers develop their skills in having more meaningful career conversations and to enable employees to think differently about what career means to them and how they develop alongside the business and be prepared for the future of work. In other words, we help them take ownership of their careers.
We’ve taken a little time to get to know Pam better and to understand how her and her team in Australia came to work with someone from across the pond in the UK. We also explored why creating a culture of career management was so important for them and why they chose our innovative webinar series.
To start please tell us a little more about your role in the organisation?
The organisation works in the scientific research space, primarily with government, universities and industry. Our aim is to support and enable the research of others and collaborate to solve big scientific problems in alignment with the government’s national priorities and also meet the needs of the community.
I’ve been at the organisation almost two years and I lead an enterprise wide project introducing a new career management system into the organisation. My focus being to support the career development process through career conversation and the enterprise infrastructure.
Was the role created specifically to enhance career development within the organisation?
Yes, that’s correct. It actually started off as a pilot in one part of the business. It started there because people were expressing concern over lack of career progression and career opportunities. They couldn’t see themselves fitting into the organisation longer term, and there was a lot of frustration around that.
So, the project came out of that need, but has grown more broadly across the organisation. It is now enabling us to meet all the needs around capability. That includes building current and future capability as well as understanding more about the talents that we have within our workforce that we weren’t aware of before.
You say that the employees were expressing dissatisfaction with career progression. How was that raised?
It was a couple of things. It was through an annual survey that we conducted with questions around careers. Those questions were around support and engagement. That is, support from managers, support from the organisation, do they see themselves being a part of the company long term? The business had undertaken a change in operating model at the time. The survey brought to the surface a lot of the challenges the new operating model hadn’t considered, which centred around careers.
What careers issues were highlighted as a result ?
Before the change in operating model, career development was quite structured, with relatively linear career paths. The new operating model required people to work in matrix structures and develop capabilities that work across the group. It brought up different questions and different challenges that people found hard to navigate. They weren’t able to work that out and so they were expressing that as a lack of progression opportunities.
Your role is leading this project to address these issues, how has the project been structured?
We’re working on creating a partnership model. In other words, employee, manager and business all working together to support a career management culture. We’re focused on building the manager/employee experience and capability. It involves a shift to a more open growth mindset and a drive to have more robust, genuine conversations. Those conversations aim to meet employee aspirations, and also give them a sense of where the organisation’s headed to help them understand how they can align to that.
It’s around building a career development culture and building the capability to enable people to operate within that. Getting people to own and drive their careers. Also, understanding and gaining greater self-insight about who they are and what’s important to them. What matters to them in their career and in being a part of the organisation.
Are there more strands to the project?
Yes. Another key element is how do we make the wealth of talent and expertise across the organisation and career options visible? How do we give people a sense of what is available within the organisation? How do we create opportunities that help them develop? How can we offer them new experiences?. Also, increasing visibility of roles that their capabilities or their aspirations may align to. By making those more visible to employees and managers, we want to give them greater ownership and feel more empowered to do something with that.
What role do you see career conversations playing in helping develop that culture?
I think it’s a huge part. At the moment our conversations are more centred around “how do I develop to do my job?” “How do I build my skills to do my job well?” Any conversations outside of that were, “how do I progress to the next band?” And “how do I navigate my way to get a salary increase?”
We weren’t really having authentic and meaningful conversations around careers or thinking about longer term development. These conversations are central to giving managers and employees a shared language and experience so they can be clearer and more authentic. They can challenge assumptions and challenge their thinking, but in a constructive and real way that is productive. That helps both move forward and find alignment where it exists or have genuine conversations around what options to look at.
For the organisation, career conversations are central to the employee / manager experience. But they’re also central to employees being able to contribute and add meaning to their experience within the organisation. I think without it, everything else ceases to work. Everything fits around it and supports it, its core to us moving forward. That’s not only from a manager perspective, but also employees being able to talk to several people in the organisation about their career. For example, they might talk to mentors and others who may be good sources of career advice.
It sounds as though it’s quite a change for the business. Was it hard to get buy in to introduce these conversations into the organisation?
We’re quite fortunate in one way, this need for change has driven the conversation. A key senior leader and our CEO are both advocates. They believe in tapping into employee’s potential, helping them find opportunity to contribute outside of their role. It’s always been about roles and it’s always been about progression, but they’re passionate about evolving beyond that. They want to tap into the rich talent that we have already within the organisation, empowering our employees to do what drives and energises them.
Can you talk us through the programme we have been working on, and how that’s been run in the organisation?
We chose to go with the webinar series. We wanted to try something new and a bit different in terms of a learning experience. We have an initial briefing session beforehand with the managers to give them a flavour of what it entails. We describe how it fits in to the career management system and the career development model. It’s also an opportunity to introduce them to the concept and what we’re trying to do. We get them thinking about that mindset shift in their role, the partnership approach and employees driving their career. The session is followed by the four-part webinar series that involves 90 minutes a week over a period of four weeks.
How successful has this been?
As I mentioned before, we first rolled this out as a pilot project to one part of the business. We got a lot of great traction there. We’ve realised it’s a big change to where our managers are presently. So, we have decided to roll it out as across the whole organisation.
What do you think has worked well about the program?
I’d definitely say the interactive nature. Antoinette has great experience in being able to make people see how this can be brought to life in reality through storytelling. She used practical examples that resonated with people. She worked through challenges and questions they might get, and experiences they might have implementing the tools.
The practicality of the tools means it’s something that the team could pick up immediately and start to implement in little chunks. That gave them confidence to give it a go and keep building from there.
It doesn’t feel like it’s a big hurdle. It feels like something that is achievable, given a lot of our managers haven’t had experiences in this space before. They now feel more comfortable with their ability to respond to questions. They’ve got some insight into what those questions might be, but also, they know how to tackle them.
It’s a great shared learning experience, hearing what other managers are going through and hearing the questions that they have. It gives them an insight into understanding that they’re not the only one that’s thinking and feeling a certain way. It reassures them other managers that are in that space.
The timing of sessions was also beneficial. Managers were able to reflect, apply and then come back and revisit that in future webinars. This was a different learning experience compared to others that had just one session with no time revisit, refresh or rethink. The most brilliant part of it, is that they can go back and revisit and refresh and remind themselves.
What feedback have you had?
It’s been a different experience for the managers. But what they loved, is exactly that. It’s really quite new to them. They like the anonymity of the webinars and the ability to engage with you (Antoinette) and reflect, but also ask questions without feeling like they’re on the spot. That has been a constant piece of feedback.
Other feedback we received, we didn’t anticipate. A huge amount of feedback was about the holistic nature you tackle it from. What I mean by that is, you bring a change management component to it. We were coming from a very different cultural base line in terms how people saw their career. You have been able to tackle that cultural element and shift mind-sets with tools, models and concepts that can help them in that cultural space. So, it’s not just about the practical aspect of asking questions. This has been the value-add that a lot of people have spoken about. I think if we just had the tools, it’d be challenging for them. So, the holistic part of it has allowed them to step away and utilise it.
Before this our feedback around training was “I can’t see the relevance to my role, I can’t see it being applied”. We constantly hear now feedback such as “I can actually see this being relevant to my role”, “I can see how it’s relevant and I can see how I can use it”. This is amazing for us. Even though it still might be challenging, they can actually see it’s a value-add immediately, and they feel comfort in tackling it.
How have you or how will you measure success?
One of the elements is the engagement survey. We want to see how results have shifted in response to the questions that ask about career development. We will also review how people are engaging in conversations, in particular with their managers, and how they feel about that.
Another aspect we’re working on is how people capture the discussions in our current practices. And how we make career conversations more regular.
At the moment, one of the tools we use to capture a career conversation is the annual performance evaluation process. There’s a mid-year one as well. We can use this process to capture the output of career conversations. Another indicator. is measuring the quality of what goes in.
We’ll be monitoring the engagement with some of the social learning experiences that we’ve set up. As a follow up after the webinars, we’ve created communities of practice and manager networking groups. Once people start putting these skills into practice, they need a forum where they can exchange ideas, reflect and discuss experiences so they learn from them. Community practice groups and networking groups are a great opportunity for them to do that. The engagement with those, and what we hear in language used, in habits, insights gained, questions and interactions, is a big indicator for us. It’s also interesting to see how that evolves over time.
A long-term indicator will be how that starts to impact movement of our staff and also talent visibility.
The organisation is over in New South Wales in Australia. What made you opt for a training company outside of Australia?
I was doing some research around career management and career conversations, and I came across Antoinette Oglethorpe Ltd. What struck me was your involvement in career management and the contribution you’re making to that space. Not just the training offering, but also the contribution to building the culture of career management globally across an organisation. That was coming through in the articles, in research, and your books. It seemed to be a really holistic approach and it is so much more than just training. It was about building the momentum around the value of career development in organisations, and in the community as well.
That was the big differentiator for me outside of some local offerings.
Another key decision maker was the versatility of the webinars, giving us a different learning experience. I liked the idea of people being able to have that reflection through a skilled, interactive process.
So, for us, it ticked all the boxes. As one of our key stakeholders in an engineering group said, “we’ve already got more than the return just in people attending and starting to challenge themselves and thinking about it before they even go into the application space”.
We feel very fortunate to be working with you. We’re looking forward to not only rolling it out to the rest of the organisation and also hopefully at some point, to all employees as well.
If you would like to find out more about how we can support your business with our Career Conversations Programmes please get in touch.