How to Have Career Conversations with Your People

How to Have Career Conversations with Your People
April 10, 2018 Linda Murray

I want you to stop and truly think about the answer to this question …

Are you helping your people to develop their skills so that they become more valuable to your workplace?

Today, most of us no longer expect to remain with the same business for several years until retirement. In fact, most studies show that workers now expect to change jobs numerous times during their careers as they seek new opportunities.

The most pressing question facing many managers these days is how can you keep your best people if they already have one foot out the door?

Are you an active partner in your team’s career development?

Developing talent, and retaining it, is critical. If you want to retain the best members of your team, you need to give them opportunities to learn new skills, develop their talents and advance their careers.

As a leader, take the time to sit down with them and talk about what they want from their work experience. Look for ways to partner with them to help them achieve their goals so that they will want to stay.

The following tips can help you have constructive conversations with your team, to learn more about who they are, what they want, and what skills they want to grow as people and to benefit their careers.

Open the door to two-way feedback

According to a whitepaper from, 89% of employees believe they are or need to be responsible for the development of their career. It’s personal, and it doesn’t necessarily lie with your organisation. The same whitepaper shows that 75% of employees would be more likely to stay with their current employer if they had open career conversations.

In saying this, start having real, two-way conversations with your people around their future goals and plans NOW. You’re not looking at a performance review because that’s focusing on the past. You’re not looking at current performance because you handle that as a coach. You’re looking at the future and discovering what your team members really want. Until you do that, you won’t be able to help them or help your organisation by retaining talented people.

A career conversation helps you choose steps you can take to help your people work better with a future focus and experience more enjoyment while doing it.

Make the connection between personal development and corporate performance

Do your people know how their work directly contributes to the bottom line?

Help your teams understand how their work fits into the big picture of overall corporate goals. Many studies have shown this to be very effective at increasing engagement and meeting the basic human need to be useful.

Show your people how acquiring new skills, and improving existing ones, helps them to grow along with the company and puts them in a better position to advance their career to the next level.

Remember, career conversations are not performance reviews

While an evaluation of your employee’s skills and performance is certainly necessary, don’t wait a whole year to talk to your people about their needs and goals. Have more frequent, friendly and informal conversations with your people.

Talk to them about how they enjoy their present position, what they want to learn from their work, and, where they want to go, learn, or do next. These conversations show you truly value your people and want was is best for them, and not just the business.

Tailor your approach to career discussions to the individual

As I said in the beginning, it’s personal. A career conversation can only be had with an individual if it’s to be relevant and useful. It’s not something you can do as a group. The person’s career history, current situation and future plans need to be taken into account. There’s no blanket solution available, so the conversation must be between just the two of you. Yes, it will take time, but the results are worth it especially in terms of improved engagement, performance and loyalty to the organisation.

Don’t be afraid to be open and honest

The best managers don’t just help us set goals and evaluate our performance. They help us learn more about ourselves, our roles and inspire us to keep pushing for improvement despite obstacles and hard times.

In effect, they lead us to become our best versions of ourselves. One way to do this with your people is by being honest, and coaching and mentoring your team members to grow and develop.

Don’t be afraid to tell your people the truth. Be genuine when you talk with them about their challenges, aspirations and goals. Share parts of your own story about difficulties you have faced as you have learned new skills, and how you coped. You’re building a relationship through this conversation.

As a leader, it’s your job to lead your team towards peak performance. Effective career conversations are one of the tools you can use to achieve that.

Do you have career conversations with your team? How effective have they been for you?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please share them in the comments below and let’s chat.


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