People First HR Services

Why don’t we just talk about it?

Bev Braun-Allard

Most leaders at one time or another have experienced the loss of one of their top performers to another company. News of their departure can be tough news to take, especially when as a leader you may have had big plans for the employee’s future within your department or organization.

Many employees, me included, have made the decision to leave an organization, believing there’s more opportunity elsewhere, only to have their leader tell them they’re highly thought of at the time of resignation.  In my personal example, I remember my leader asking me what it would take for me to stay. I thought about that for a while, and gave him some ideas, but even when he committed to deliver on the things that were important to me, I decided to go. It was too late for the conversation when I’d already made the decision to leave.

Why don’t we just talk about it? What is it that keeps us, leaders and employees, from having career conversations before it’s too late? Before the decision to leave has been made?

Recently I heard a story about an employee; let’s call him Jeff, who was becoming discouraged with the monotony in his role. He’d been with the same company in the same position for a while, and the work had become routine. He wasn’t feeling challenged anymore. He was beginning to think he’d have to look elsewhere for a new opportunity. Fortunately for Jeff, his manager chose just that time to talk to him about an exciting new project he wanted Jeff to run with. The new project will give him the challenge he’s needed without the need to leave the organization. With a simple conversation, Jeff was saved from looking elsewhere and the organization retained a valued employee.

In Jeff’s example and in many others, the conversation turned out to be a win-win. Both employee and leader got what they needed. Begs the question once again – why don’t we just talk about it? What is it that makes career conversations so difficult?

I do a lot of work with leaders and employees in the area of career development. Here are some of the things I hear about that get in the way of meaningful career dialogue:


  • If they don’t feel they can trust their leader – if the relationship isn’t strong – they have a tough time opening up about ideas they have about their careers.
  • They worry that initiating a conversation about career might be perceived as dissatisfaction, which isn’t nearly always the case.
  •  Many times, they get caught in the outdated thinking that career conversations should be initiated by their leader; that it’s not their place to initiate the discussion.


  • Often, they lack confidence to have a career conversation with an employee, because they don’t know where the conversation will go, or if they’ll know the right thing to say.
  • They worry as well that the conversation may lead to heightened expectations on the employees’ side, and as a result might cause disappointment or dissatisfaction.
  •  Maybe worst of all, leaders think the career conversation is a once a year thing, reserved for the very end of the annual performance discussion.

How can you build the confidence you need, as an employee, a leader, or both, to have career conversations? Check back – I’ll give you some ideas in my next blog.