How Can HR Create an Internal Career Coaching Culture?

10 mins

Much has been written on the benefits of establishing a coaching culture within organisation...

Much has been written on the benefits of establishing a coaching culture within organisations. The Center for Creative Leadership describes such an approach as ‘building’ conversational and coaching skills on a daily basis which in turn, creates an environment where people can freely:

  • Give and receive feedback 
  • Support and stretch each other’s thinking 
  • Challenge each other with support and stress-test ideas where appropriate 
  • Engage in development conversations that are short in length but are strong in impact 

 Yet much less has been written on the topic of creating a career coaching culture. Let me clarify what I mean by the term. 

A career coaching culture cultivates and creates an environment where employees have access to regular, confidential, effective career conversations, and those facilitating the career conversations, be that Managers, Mentors or Internal Coaches, have the skills to do so, as well as the awareness of the organisation’s career development resources. Additionally, there is an infrastructure within the organisation that supports employees to be pro-active Career Managers but where access to development and learning opportunities are facilitated by the organisation and colleagues and peers all regularly demonstrate supportive behaviours towards one another’s development. 

It sounds good, doesn’t it? Yet it is almost the last taboo of developing a coaching approach within organisations. Coaching approaches are drawn on to talk about performance, to improve impact and communication; to build in more creativity and problem-solving – yet what about when it comes to coaching each other on the topic of career development and exploring people’s goals and aspirations?

Both our research and our own experience tells us that this is still not happening consistently within most organisations. 

What are the barriers to creating a culture focused on career conversations? 

In our work, we find that there are many common factors that get in the way of organisations creating environments where effective career conversations can take place consistently. Such reasons can include:- 

  • Career Development is a complex area. Employees aspirations and the organisations needs do not necessarily easily align and navigating this takes time and effort. 
  • Managers feel they are not qualified or lack the skills to have a career conversation. 
  • Managers may feel nervous that they can’t fulfil colleagues’ aspirations. There is often a mis-guided notion of who is responsible for career development.  
  • There might be fear that an employee could leave if their ambitions cannot be met and therefore career conversations are avoided. 
  • Employees may also fear being truly open about their interests and career goals in case it is perceived as career limiting in the short-term. 
  • Lateral development may be encouraged, yet not recognised by the organisation’s reward structure. 

What are the risks to not creating an environment where career conversations happen regularly? 

We know that many organisations invest significantly in creating talent pools and succession plans, as well as in annual talent acquisition budgets. Yet the avoidance of career conversations risks undermining these strategies and investments in a number of ways:

  • Employees may decide to leave the organisation as they think no-one is interested in their career development. This tends to be the conclusion when no-one is talking about the matter. 
  • Internal succession plans can fail because nobody took the opportunity to ask the individual whether they wanted that new role or promotion. 
  • It is hard to map the potential for skills mobility across the business as there is a lack of information on which areas employees are interested in pursuing as development opportunities and this means opportunities to move employees across and boost retention are missed. Organisations risk hiring twice rather than once in these sorts of scenarios.   

What are the benefits? 

When career conversations happen, there are many positive consequences: 

  • Employees feel motivated and appreciative that their organisation takes valuable time to explore their career. 
  • The organisation builds data through which to inform succession plans and skills mobility/workforce planning (although ethically any development goals and aspirations should be captured by the individual not a Manager/Coach/Mentor). 
  • Employee engagement scores are likely to improve particularly when measured over a longer period of time. 
  • A career conversations culture and infrastructure may create more diverse role models and encourage networking across the organisation as employees seek to find out more about career development opportunities and to seek out ‘inspirational stories’.  
  • Career Champions can come forward organically to help develop the infrastructure and boost momentum and positive behaviours in relation to career conversations.  

How can HR build such a culture? 

Many HR professionals are already convinced by the benefits. However, we are often asked how they can build the case for the rest of the organisation to buy-in to building a career conversations culture and infrastructure. And they are right, without that, you risk interventions that get employees and potentially Managers excited only to become quickly disillusioned as the wider career development landscape undermines the initiative itself. 

For example, you might offer a career strategy workshop to employees for them only to then talk to their manager, who lacks the skills and interest to have a career conversation, leaving them feeling blocked or stuck. Subsequently, you might train your Managers to have career conversations without having first thought about the organisation’s career development frameworks and resources that Managers need to signpost employees towards as part of a career conversation. 

Where can HR start to navigate a move towards a career conversations culture? 

Here are some of my top tips for putting the building blocks in place to build a career coaching culture and infrastructure: 

  • Building your business case which outlines how such an approach benefits the business is critical. Ask yourself, what are you trying to achieve and issues are you trying to solve? Are your drivers about retention, engagement or skills mobility across the organisation? Or perhaps a combination. Creating this type of environment can boost motivation and performance but your senior leaders need to be behind this for it to work. Any data you can capture is critical. You might also like to consider a benchmarking exercise to see how your current Career Development infrastructure benchmarks against other organisations*. 
  • Map out your vision for Career Development. We suggest creating a model which you can clearly articulate across the organisation which outlines which areas of Career Development are owned by a) the Employee b) the Manager and which are shared responsibilities. 
  • Consider what training or upskilling you might need to consider. This will hinge on the different routes you decide to offer to your employees for career conversations. You might decide to invest in creating a pool of internal Career Coaches; Career Mentors or to offer bite-size accessible training to all of your Line Managers. Employees also need to be prepared for a Career Conversation so providing them with resources, templates and potentially workshops to support them having a pro-active career conversation can also be invaluable. 
  • Review your Learning and Development Resources. How easily accessible are they? Do your Managers need further education on how to signpost employees towards them? Simplifying as far as possible is always the best way. Can employees access case studies showcasing others career development journeys? Role models and inspirational stories are incredibly powerful. 
  • Reviewing legacy reward systems and assessing what changes might need to be made can be also critical. Encouraging lateral career development moves is challenging if the reward infrastructure only recognises linear career moves. What changes can be made? 
  • Finally, think carefully about how you will capture data to help you measure what is happening in career development. What systems do you already have in place? Can they be adapted to capture better data in key areas such as engagement, retention, and the career development goals of your employees? Can you for example, have a more detailed sub-section on your annual survey that measures different areas of career development? 

Rome was not built in a day of course. For most organisations, there needs to be a starting point; a building block from which some of these other key aspects can grow and develop over time. Your business case may start with one aspect such as the buy-in to create an initial pool of Career Champions or to create a Careers Week through which you might start to share inspirational stories, resources and other development ideas. From here, you can continue this journey over time with increased buy-in, data and feedback. You might also like to consider accessing CCS’ FREE Career Strategy Insights Benchmarking report as a first building block in gaining insight into your current Career Development infrastructure. I would be delighted to discuss this further. 

Kate Mansfield, Programme Director, CCS 

To contact Kate to arrange your free Career Strategy Insights Benchmarking report, please email or call her on 07976 623601 

For more information, to download the research, or to book a call online see: