Creating An Environment To Better Support ‘Career Conversations’

6 Minutes

By Kate Mansfield, Career Coach and Programme Development Director at Career Counselling Ser...

By Kate Mansfield, Career Coach and Programme Development Director at Career Counselling Services

Much has been written about the benefits of making performance-related conversations less formal and emphasising instead a ‘continuing and ongoing dialogue’ rather than a one-off review approach (CultureAmp: 5 ways to humanise performance management 2022). This article also references organisations such as Adobe and Deloitte and the ways in which they have been trying to address this.

However it appears to be fundamentally challenging for organisations to move from more traditional yearly performance appraisal discussions to conversations that that feel more fluid and organic. As Roly Walter recently said in Elliott Scott’s HR Insights podcast, “these conversations tend to creep back even in more progressive organisations”. So why is it so difficult for organisations to shift their approach? We are often approached by organisations keen to understand how to create and embed cultures and approaches which are more focused on ongoing ‘career conversations’. Often the catalyst is unsatisfactory feedback on career development in their employee engagement surveys. Many well-meaning HR professionals recognise there is a need to address this but make the mistake of trying to tag on career conversations processes to their performance appraisal processes. However, there are some crucial differences between a performance conversation and a career conversation… In its simplest form, a performance conversation looks backward and a career conversation looks forward.

Performance conversations measure attainment to date and are evaluative. They may be linked to financial reward. They are usually aligned to the organisation’s goals and are a way of the organisation highlighting strong performers from poor performers. Career Conversations are forward-looking and focus on growth, development and future opportunities. Effective conversations help individuals think about how their own goals and aspirations can overlap positively with those of the organisation. And therein lies the challenge. It is inevitably difficult for individuals to think about future growth and learning if their minds are preoccupied with how they will be evaluated and whether they will get a merit increase in the same conversation. It’s also incredibly difficult for Managers to think about how to give performance-based feedback and simultaneously create the environment in which to have an open conversation about career development. So what can organisations do? Our view is that the two approaches need to be treated in a distinct but complementary way.

Conversations about performance and extrinsic motivators such as pay should be done separately to conversations about career, which should be fundamentally linked to an individual’s intrinsic sources of motivation. And this is something that needs to be understood by both Managers and their teams if organisations truly want to create environments which embrace a career conversations culture. The evidence is all for it with 86% of employees saying that they would be more engaged in their work if their managers had regular career conversations with them (Right Management Global Career Conversations Survey 2016). What are your top tips on how to set up effective career conversations? Ensure that both Managers and employees have the skills to approach the career conversation from their relative perspectives.

Managers are so used to problem-solving that they often struggle not to jump in with solutions. Ensuring they are trained and confident in using simple techniques such as how to listen and question effectively; how to help employees identify goals and how to explore non-linear career development opportunities are critical. Ensure that your organisational resources are able to support a culture of learning and development. Career conversations risk being undermined if the wider organisational structure offers limited access to opportunities such as on-the-job learning; secondments; informal training; mentoring etc.

Consider your organisation’s wider approach to coaching. Does the culture typically place individuals into pro-active roles with supportive leaders and managers around them? Ensure that the processes in place enable employees and managers to recognise that the purpose of the career conversations dialogue and the ‘contract’ agreed for these sessions is seen as different and distinct to a performance conversation. This might be about avoiding a sense of the career conversation having to be ‘documented’ or recorded in the way a performance conversation might. It needs to be confidential and for the individual to know it’s a safe space.

Career Counselling Services (CCS) is based in London and works all over the world. They offer a combination of career coaching; career management services for Employers as well an Accredited Career Coach Training programme which is taught both in-house as well as through open courses. CCS has run career conversations training for both Managers and Employees in many organisations both in private and public sector environments, and in the UK and internationally.

More information can be found here. To contact Kate, please email