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Building career relationships – what can the business do? 


Would you like to participate in future virtual roundtables?

This question was addressed at the latest in our popular series of virtual roundtables, by our excellent guest provocateurs Orieji Iroha-Agwu and Grisel Caicedo from Red Hat. In a highly insightful session, Orieji and Grisel explained:

  • Why career relationships are so important for Red Hat.
  • How they upskilled their associates to establish a network of career supporters.
  • The way they engaged and supported associates in relationship building.
  • The positive outcomes, lessons learnt – and the future challenges they face.

Red Hat: Their values and the business imperative for career support

Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of open-source enterprise solutions. More than 90% of the Fortune 500 use its products and solutions. It has ~22,000 associates across over 40 countries and over 100 offices worldwide.

Red Hat’s values are freedom, courage, commitment and accountability, and this is what its global diverse associates have in common. Associates at Red Hat have the:

  • Freedom to contribute, no matter what their job title is.
  • Courage to express their thoughts and opinions.
  • Commitment to always see things through.
  • Accountability to their customers, communities – and each other.

This sense of community aligns with how Red Hat wanted to help associates build career relationships. The organisation wanted the importance and power of connections to help individuals bring the best of themselves to work.

So, Red Hat’s initiative was to encourage its people to become “career supporters” to associates. Those with career supporters, it found from external research1, were both twice as likely to feel engaged and recommend their organisation as a great place to work. Other research2 showed that the need for career support also had a wellbeing dividend: one study had found that four in five employees felt lonely at work, with nearly half feeling lonelier than they had prior to the pandemic.

The Red Hat Career Center

The organisation launched the Red Hat Career Center just over two years ago, and it has become a vital means of developing connections among its associates, as well as developing career opportunities for associates. One of the first steps on the journey was to identify four different types of career supporters:

  • Managers – For performance development and career conversations.
  • Mentors – For career advice and guidance.
  • Career Coaches – For coaching skills and career tools.
  • Sponsors – For influence, social capital, visibility and exposure.

With these roles established, Red Hat through the Career Center has developed a number of enterprise programmes to cater for every associate’s career development needs. These include:

  • Internal Gigs. In which associates are matched with on-the-job short-term development opportunities to grow skills, gain exposure and experience job shadowing, working on stretch assignments and projects.
  • Associates are partnered with a mentor, who offers advice, guidance and knowledge to support a mentee’s career growth.
  • Associates work with a sponsor, who uses their influence and social capital to provide advocacy, exposure, and career opportunities to accelerate career progression.
  • Career Coaching. Here, associates work with a Red Hat career coach who uses open-ended questions and a discovery-based approach to help drive the associate’s career.

Career Coaching

The last of these programmes, Career Coaching, has been developed with The Career Innovation Company. It’s three clear features are that it is:

  • A voluntary partnership between two associates, with a coachee seeking support for a career challenge or goal, with the help of an internally certified Red Hat Career Coach.
  • Personalised and solutions-focused. Red Hat Career Coaches understand the organisation’s approach to careers and then use their new career coaching skills and tools to empower associates to generate their own strategies for achieving their goals.
  • An expanded support system, in which coaches build on the role that managers play in developing associates through career conversations.

The Red Hat Career Coaching Program has been a clear success, in view of associates. Here are a few examples of what they said …

“The career coaching program has been the most valuable series of meetings I’ve ever had about personal development. The space they gave to focus on what I’m doing and to consider where I can make a difference and how to develop has been invaluable.”

“The program provided me with a new mindset to take ownership and control of my career. It opened my eyes to understand past career choices and how they may or may not have played a part in the career I have today.”

Positive results, learnings and future challenges

There have been clear and positive results from the career coaching programme, including:

  • High-levels of interest in career coaching, even with limited programme promotions.
  • Enthusiasm for – and commitment to – internal career coach certification.
  • Well over 100 coaching partnerships completed since March 2023.

Key learnings that Red Hat has identified include:

  • The structure and tools in the programme supported rapid action and presented opportunities for the programme to evolve.
  • Coaching relationships have created a safe space, centred on the associate.
  • Coaching skills enable career self-efficacy and self-agency.

Future challenges for career coaching at Red Hat include:

  • A high demand for career coaching services is driving a need to scale quickly.
  • A big appetite for continuous learning by the career coaches requires investment in educating and growing the skills of the network of coaches
  • The importance of helping associates understand the different types of support – between coaching and mentoring, for example – and different types of career supporter.
  • Maintaining and improving the quality of delivery of a successful programme as it develops.

Our view

Red Hat’s excellence in delivering career solutions through its Career Center shows the dual importance of both training line managers to have career conversations, while also understanding that there are many others who could be offering their support in building career relationships. This is a theme that David North, Strategy Consultant at The Career Innovation Company, will be developing in a forthcoming blog.

1Mentors and Sponsors Make the Difference by Den Houter, K., & Maese, E.Source: Gallup Workplace

2Op-ed: Connected, yet lacking connections: How we can combat loneliness at work by Karyn Twaronite, EY Global Vice Chair – Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness

Source: CNBC Workforce Wire

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