Managers need to have meaningful career conversations, here’s why…

Karina Brown
Dec 17, 2019 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post

It wasn’t too many years ago that managers were seen as one or two-steps removed from the rest of their team, perhaps residing in a corner office somewhere. This is a world away from how successful managers need to operate today.

At any one time, a manager is likely delivering work, overseeing a team and translating leadership strategies into daily activities. In all the hustle and bustle of a manager’s day, stopping to have a meaningful conversation with their team might quickly fall down their priority list.

However, achieving all of the other tasks on their to-do list can be made a whole lot easier when employees are engaged. One of the most impactful ways to do this is to have better conversations with team members about their career aspirations and development needs.

A career conversation is not an annual appraisal

Career conversations with employees are something that many organisations know that they should do. Many companies hope that an annual appraisal process will trigger a meaningful conversation between a manager and their team.

A good starting point — however, often these processes become more of a ‘checkbox’ activity than a valuable experience for the employee. Companies are also increasingly recognising the need for more regular dialogue between a manager and employees.

Managers are the first point for career advice

Most individuals seek career support from their direct managers and work colleagues — especially when first starting out. However, only 16% of employees say that they have ongoing career conversations with their managers.

60% of employees have also stated that they’d like more input from managers on career goals. This is especially important to younger generations now entering the workforce. These individuals have grown up with information at their fingertips 24/7 — so an annual appraisal simply won’t cut it.

Career conversations increase the chance to retain great people

Having honest career conversations with employees helps to establish their sense of value to their organisation. By unearthing individuals’ personal aspirations makes it easier to understand how they fit with their team and business goals.

Career conversations have been found to be an effective way of retaining talent, with 75% of employees stating that they would be more inclined to remain with a company that has regular career discussions.

Proactively addressing the skills gap

Due to the rapid pace of technological change, there is a skills gap in many organisations. An effective, modern approach to people development can go a long way in plugging that deficit.

It is estimated that 30% of jobs in the UK are currently at risk of automation. Businesses therefore have an imperative to build the human capabilities they need to compete. Futurist, Adah Parris, explains this well:

It’s difficult to train people for the future of work as we don’t know what [the future] will be. Soft skills will be really important

Every organisation is bound to have tasks that are at risk of becoming obsolete. Those that win will be the companies that harness the adaptable skills and talents of their people. Managers play a key role in uncovering those talents and helping their team to ‘future-proof’ their careers.

We need to keep moving to stay ahead, but we will stand still unless our people are always learning

Simon Grosse, CEO at FSP, 2017 Best Workplace Award

Increase profitability

Meaningful career conversations can positively impact a business’ bottom line. Regular conversations between a manager and their team will increase employee engagement, diversify their skills (and potential value to a business) and drive productivity.

Businesses holding effective career discussions report a 50% increase in productivity compared to those that do not. Developing employees’ talents can also help an organisation become more agile, increase its competitiveness, and assist with future-proofing.

Why managers might avoid career conversations

It’s clear why careers conversations need to happen, but many of us (managers and team members alike) will avoid having regular reviews for several reasons:

  • Most of us particularly around careers and personal growth that require a level of honesty, openness and vulnerability. Training and tools are really important to help build that confidence.
  • Many organisations where people feel able to have honest career conversations It can be awkward for the people involved if they aren’t prepared or if there isn’t a good interpersonal chemistry between the manager and their team member
  • Managers might have between hitting business targets and supporting their team — many consultancies have addressed this by separating line manager and career ‘coach’ roles and, more recently, Monzo made a similar move.
  • Managers . Some managers may not realise that having career conversations with their team is a requirement of being a manager.
  • Managers if they are supported to think about their wider aspirations or develop new skills.
  • Managers might worry about that they cannot meet
  • A or incentives can lead managers to not prioritise making time for and putting effort into effective career conversations.

By understanding these potential barriers to career conversations, leaders can more readily identify when these arise and find potential solutions for managers and team members.

3 important ingredients to enabling better career conversations

  1. — Many organisations we’re working with and speaking to are investing in training to build manager coaching skills. Importantly, they are also looking at the ongoing support they put in place once the 1–2 day training session is over to help managers embed new skills
  2. — Certainly easier said than done but encouraging a culture where people are able to be open and honest about their aspirations can have huge benefits — as seen at quite extremely at Bridgewater.
  3. — Just training managers won’t work. Individuals need to come to the table too. Giving employees the tools to think proactively about their career, growth and development is a good way to satisfy a craving for both autonomy and guidance.

Additionally, good career conversations don’t necessarily need to be had between a manager and team. Employees should feel empowered to connect to a wider network of colleagues and career mentors — eventually developing their own personal board of career advisors.

Great career conversations are team effort

Having a good career conversation is an art that every manager can master if they choose to. Equally, their ability to do this can be boosted if individuals are supported to play their part in having career conversations.

For many of the brilliant talent/HR leaders that we interact with, creating the conditions for great career conversations is front of mind with many experimenting with ways to help both managers and their teams.

Getting it right can take some time, but it is something no business can afford to ignore.


Articles on people development from the team at GroHappy

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store