Careers are changing fast: How are employees and managers feeling about it?
Organisations are facing an imperative to be more adaptable to survive. In response, executives are embracing future-of-work solutions, including talent marketplace platforms, to resource, reorganise and deploy skills to achieve enterprise level agility and get work done.
We know from our work with 1000s of employees and managers each year that – while intellectually the reality of less traditional career paths is understood – shifting people’s beliefs and behaviours to accept new career patterns and progression is a challenge.
In this roundtable, we explored how organisations risk a potential blind spot around human behaviour as they seize the opportunity to reshape work by deploying technology. Our provocateur was our new CEO, Jon Matthews. Jon shared his ideas and understanding of the topic based on his 20 years of consulting experience and academic research.
David North introduced the session by sharing examples of employee insight that challenged assumptions by revealing important, but undervalued, connections between career choices and other aspects of human behaviour
‘I don’t want a career, I want a job, and this is my dream job’
Participants shared the insights that were shaping their own career strategies:
- Little incentive for managers to share talent across the business
- Employees facing difficulty accessing career development opportunities in other parts of the business
- Piloting and learning from new approaches, rather than waiting for the perfect solution
- Bringing together different elements of development and career support to achieve strategic imperatives, rather than compartmentalising them
- People’s willingness to grow and stretch themselves through new work assignments
- Creating ‘safe places’ for ethnically diverse employees to talk about their lived experience and share their career aspirations
‘Realising that we’d spent too much time on strategy and not enough on the practical career support that matters to employees was a real wake-up call’
Jon began his presentation by introducing the idea that individuals sit somewhere on a continuum between holding traditional mindsets and being open to new ways of thinking. He contended that it’s vital to understand people’s attitudes, feelings and behaviour at a deeper level to successfully introduce change. This provides an informed starting point and the basis for tailoring strategies and communications to different employee segments and individual personas.
‘Organisations are complex, but so are human beings’
Jon said that the people driving thought leadership on the ‘fractionalisation of work’, and those advocating technology-enabled talent marketplaces have often only worked in analytical, professional services environments where project-based working is the norm.
In this context, for change to be introduced successfully across diverse businesses, he argued that it’s vital to really listen to people. This will help us understand why some groups resist the idea of transitioning away from long-established and tightly-described jobs – while others welcome software platforms that democratise access to development opportunities, and open up people’s thinking about career options.
The group shared different approaches to gather employee insight: pulse surveys; engagement studies; employee census; AI-guided focus groups; and data from manager-led conversations.
One attendee told us that the introduction of a talent platform was itself generating employee insight, as data about usage identified where there was ‘pull’ from the business. Another told us that surveys had revealed very different perceptions from employees and people leaders about whether career conversations were taking place. This suggested the lack of a common understanding of what an engaging career conversation was. Divergence in attitude emerged again regarding the need for employees to be proactive in managing their careers
‘I don’t bother having career conversations anymore; nothing’s come from them in the past’
‘Nothing can stop me from developing my career here’
Finally, Jon turned his attention to how we respond and make best use of the insights that are gathered. He shared examples that used a clear understanding of employee behaviour, feelings, and needs:
- Shape the career proposition so it aligns the company mission with the aspirations of purpose-driven individuals
- Introduce an external consulting pool of former staff to reflect the desire for more flexible employment and better work/life balance
- Tailor development tools and programmes to support the mindset shifts the organisation needs, and the ways individuals prefer to learn
- Influence executive decision-making and change management to reflect bottom-up, as well as top-down priorities
‘It’s important to connect the insight dots’
One participant talked about the impact of sharing powerful individual stories to develop a better understanding of the lived experience of some employees and the need for others to change. Another attendee mentioned the value of sharing career-related insights with HR colleagues who lead other people development initiatives.
‘It’s not gaining insight that makes the difference, but how we use this information to influence change’
The roundtable concluded with a discussion of ways to maximise the impact of employee insights:
- Combine personal stories and hard data – to win hearts and minds when making a case for change
- Create a clear line of sight between the implications of how employees feel about their work and careers and the metrics that matter most to senior executives
- Connect findings within your discipline with employee insights gathered by other functional teams across the organisation
‘We need to be honest about what our insights mean for the organisation’
Participants shared these takeaway actions:
- Recognise the depth of data that can be obtained from facilitative conversations
- Advocate for democratisation of access to development opportunities
- Seek insights from a 360 degree perspective
- Really listen to what matters to employees
- Gather insights from all parts and levels of the organisation; everybody’s opinion counts
- Keep working on the best ways to land the insights with key stakeholders
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