Why don’t we just talk about it? What is it that keeps us, leaders and employees, from having career conversations with each other? What is it that makes career conversations so difficult? These are the questions I was exploring in my last post and I shared some of the obstacles I’ve heard about in my work. In this post, I’ll give you some ideas on how can start to build your confidence as an employee, a leader, or both, to have career conversations.
This is an important conversation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can go into it unprepared and get a meaningful result. If you’re an employee who wants to talk with your leader about your career, plan what you want to say, why you want to say it, and how you’re going to say it.
What is it you hope to accomplish with this conversation? Maybe you’re looking for some new challenges within your role. If that’s the situation, bring some ideas with you to the conversation – ideas you have for new challenges you could take on that would help you stretch and grow while also adding value to the organization. When it comes to your career, as an employee, you’re the owner. A career conversation with your leader isn’t about passing your career “problem” on to your leader – it’s about ideas and solutions you’ve thought of for your career within the context of the needs of the organization.
Why is this idea important to you? If you can demonstrate in the conversation what’s led you to this discussion it’ll go a long way in getting buy-in from your leader. An employee who is actively managing their career engages in self-reflection to understand where they can best contribute, what skills they need to develop, and what’s most important to them so they can make purposeful career decisions. Self-reflection gives you the words to be able to articulate what you’re thinking about, and why it’s important to you.
What’s the best approach to take to get the full attention of your leader in this conversation? It’s unlikely that springing it on him or her is not the way to get the best result. I suggest you book a meeting in advance and send an outline to your leader with a high level summary of what you want to talk about. Also, think about your leader’s communication style and plan to present your thoughts accordingly.
Ask the right questions
Often as leaders we shy away from career conversations because we’re not sure we’ll know what to say or know the right “advice” to give. Think of your role instead as a facilitator and a guide, rather than the person with the answers. Learn how to ask the right questions to support employees through a process of self-discovery so they can identify career options for themselves. Your role is not to take ownership for your employees’ career but instead to empower them to take charge.
As a leader, it’s just as important for you to prepare for the conversation as it is for the employee. Plan the questions you might ask in advance, using the high level summary you received from your employee to help you prepare. Think about the kind of open-ended questions that will encourage dialogue. Questions like “What are some ideas you have about things you’re interested in for the future? What was the process you went through in coming up with these ideas?” or “To reach your goal, what kind of skills and knowledge will you need? What ideas do you have to develop the skills and knowledge you need?” As you engage in dialogue, it can be meaningful as well to share your insights and lessons learned from your personal career journey if they’re relevant.
It gets easier with practice
Anytime we learn something new, it’s usually uncomfortable at first but it gets easier with practice. The same is true about career conversations, whether you’re an employee or a leader. The only way to build your confidence in career conversations is through having them. For both parties, the initial discomfort is worth it because the potential outcomes are significant.
Next time you think about it – your career – why not make a plan and just talk about it? Hope you’ll let me know if my ideas were helpful.