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Preparing people for the career conversations that matter most now


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We know from our Careers of Tomorrow research that employees value an honest, constructive career conversation with their line manager or mentor. In uncertain times these conversations take on additional significance. However, for a variety of reasons, leaders and team members often avoid or fail to prioritise long term development conversations.

So what topics are employees likely to want to explore, and which career-building capabilities should managers be encouraging them to develop? In this VRT Valerie Rowles explored how to prepare managers and employees to have these critical future-proofing conversations, and how you can address the cultural barriers that often get in the way.

Roundtable summary

Part 1: Insight

Recognising the evidence that highlights the value of career conversations, and also the reasons why these conversations don’t always take place, the discussion focused on what sort of career conversations are most vital now and how to make them happen.

Participants started by describing the career conversations that are a priority in their organisation. These included:

  • Sustaining a recently introduced routine of informal career check-ins, now everyone is working virtually.
  • Supporting people who are feeling unsettled about the future, whether it be their career direction or working arrangements.
  • Helping people to on-board, spot opportunities and build networks while working remotely.
  • Influencing people to understand that lateral moves and a commitment to continuous learning are legitimate routes to career progression.
  • Deploying coaching skills and experience maps to improve the relevance and focus of individual development plans.


Part 2: Innovation

Our provocatrice Valerie Rowles put a spot light on the benefits of boosting efforts to enable career conversations because, when organisations go through disruption, there’s a danger that leaders might focus all their energy and attention on dealing with the crisis, and forget about the employees they’re leading. This is a big mistake because engaged and productive employees are essential to succeeding during a crisis.

The best way to achieve this is by staying connected with team members so that you understand, and can respond to the realities of each person’s circumstances and state of mind. The positive benefits of candid, clear and compassionate communication will be felt long into the recovery.

The HR team has an important role to play in supporting leaders with targeted guidance and information during this period. The type of conversations, and preparation needed, will depend upon whether:

  • The organisation is adapting, or transforming.
  • The manager sees opportunities for the employee to build on existing strengths, or there’s a need for the employee to up, or re-skill.
  • The employee wants to talk about capitalising on a new skill or interest, or discuss their long-term career prospects.

Open, productive career conversations will balance these differing perspectives.

Valerie offered the group two models to use as guides to transformative career conversations: Owning/Discovering/Cooperating/Growing, and our own 7 future proofing skills. Both approaches highlighted the importance of employee agency, networking, and experimentation.

In conclusion, Valerie warned us not to assume that career conversations are happening. It’s vital leaders understand their importance, are clear about their responsibilities, and are offered ongoing support.


Part 3: Impact

Addressing organisational barriers to embedding a culture of career conversations, David North said it’s not enough just to provide training and development resources. It’s important to adopt a systemic approach that builds understanding of the business benefit of these conversations, and connects them to other key HR processes such as recruitment, performance management, and reward and recognition.

In building capability, a multi-faceted approach including skills practice, coaching support, video clips of good practice, and mobile-friendly performance tips should be adopted.

Participants felt the VRT had been a call to action, and highlighted the following takeaways:

  • Equipping people to have career conversations to support a commitment to internal talent mobility.
  • Ensuring long term development planning balances organisational and individual needs.
  • Providing quality career conversations to the many and not just the few.
  • Applying existing coaching capabilities to career conversations.
  • Clarifying the distinct purposes of performance and career conversations.
  • Encouraging employees to own their careers, and using the 7 future proofing skills as a reference point.
  • Not just checking that conversations are happening, but ensuring they’re delivering helpful outcomes for all parties.

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