Brave Career Conversations: Do Your Managers Have the Skills?

Recent research by Right Management found that two-thirds of managers are failing to support their employees’ career development. At the same time, according to Gallup’s ‘State of the Global Workplace’ report, 83% of UK employees are not actively engaged in their jobs. This means there are a lot of people who don’t find their work satisfying, and who aren’t likely to be creating value for their employers.


Few companies are taking steps to reverse the trend. A report from Deloitte found that 60% of organisations don’t have any form of employee engagement programmes. This is concerning, particularly as careers are fundamentally changing due to flatter structures, technology, and longer working lives. This has left employees with a very different perception of their overall careers and more willing to change jobs. There has never been more pressure for line managers to come up with more creative ways to keep high performing individuals motivated, productive and adaptable to the future needs of the business.


As a business supporting over three million people to proactively manage their careers, we’ve put a lot of thought into how organisations can align talent development to business strategy. We have found one of the most productive approaches is to get line managers to think of their role as an employee’s ‘career coach’. Individuals are more likely to stay with a company when they have leaders that understand their career goals and want to help them achieve them. Managers need the skills to have open, honest and brave career conversations that challenge employees to bring out the best in their work. When employees feel they can be honest about aspirations and goals in discussion beyond the direct team requirements, coaching is more effective and businesses do better.


The first step is for line managers to understand how to have courageous career conversations. It involves a willingness to be creative and ambitious during discussions with employees about goals in order to find out which are the most relevant to them. For example, not all employees are interested in a promotion. Some may prefer a move sideways to another function or a role that’s completely different. It might be that they have ambitions to develop a particular skill that’s not directly relevant to their role. Many line managers avoid discussing the possibility of career options outside of an organisation or team, usually because they don’t want their employees to feel as if they are being ousted or unvalued. Line managers should structure these conversations with the goal of understanding the direction employees wish to move in while always taking into account how this can support the organisation’s overall goals.


In order for these conversations to be effective, it is essential line that managers develop career coaching skills that teach them how to better engage and challenge their teams.


Finally, career coaches must be skilled negotiators who can establish a clear contract with their employees. Getting employees to be open with their ambitions is helpful, but bringing about meaningful change also requires their commitment to deliver and objectives to reach for. Effective career coaches know how to secure this commitment and to establish clear standards to strive towards.


The lessons of effective career coaching have to be reinforced through practice and feedback. No two employees are the same, but managers need to see direct examples of best practice where coaching has been effective, and discuss the importance and challenge of maintaining an ongoing coaching programme. Getting direct feedback on their own coaching skills in practice helps managers to understand how they come across and become better at adapting their style.


For businesses and individuals who are interested in learning more about career coaching and courageous career conversations, we have launched a series of practical one-day workshops. Starting in May, the one-day workshops focus on four core elements to develop skills of line managers:


Our series of workshops kick-off in London on 12 May 2015 and run through to July 2015 in various UK cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. More information about the workshops can be found here.