“Being a leader is a privilege you have. Your job is about being able to help people realize their full potential. That’s what, in fact, is expected of you.”
– Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft
Investing in employees’ growth and career progression is becoming increasingly important to retain and motivate high-quality talent. Studies consistently show that career and development opportunities are one of the most important reasons why talented people stay with an organization. Yet, career development is arguably the most overlooked HR and talent priority in business today.
Far too many managers don’t invest time and energy in high-quality career conversations. This leaves people feeling undervalued and undermines engagement, morale, and performance. Some managers even undermine career development and internal mobility with demotivating practices such as hoarding top talent, engaging in favouritism when it comes to filling vacancies and actively blocking the advancement of people they dislike or find threatening.
However, encouragingly, most managers we meet understand the importance of supporting the growth and development of their people. They just lack the framework, skills, and toolkit to provide meaningful and high-quality support. Time is also cited as a major problem by many managers, particularly when top leadership and HR don’t establish career development as a core HR priority. However, the time argument is paradoxical. Without investing time in career development, organizations end up spending a lot more money and time hiring replacements for top talent leaving the business.
So, as the New Year begins, show employees you are investing in their growth and development by applying the following six strategies:
Prioritise time for career conversations
Effective career conversations require time and focus. They should not be reserved for the annual review, as this typically leads to a meaningless tick-box exercise. Rather, you should plan a cadence of quarterly (or at least bi-annual) career conversations that are separate from regular performance dialogues. In addition to these structured sessions, it is important to provide ongoing guidance, coaching, and feedback during your informal check-ins and coaching sessions.
Encourage mentoring and peer support
Mentoring involves the transfer of knowledge and wisdom from a more experienced person to a less experienced one. Unlike coaching, which typically focuses on near-term performance goals, mentoring provides professional guidance and insights beyond the person’s current role. As a manager, you play a crucial role in helping employees understand the value and benefits of mentoring. You are also in an ideal position to recommend mentors within and outside the business, who may not be known to the employee.
However, mentoring can be done within the team and doesn’t have to be one-on-one. Peer mentoring and coaching can be powerful ways to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills, and insights. For example, you can assign more experienced team members as “buddies” to help onboard new hires. This helps to fast-track their transition into the team and organization. You can also set up small peer coaching groups (groups of 4-6 are ideal) to encourage collaboration, shared learning, and fresh perspectives around priority topics, challenges, or opportunities. These can either be self-managing or facilitated by a skilled external or internal coach.
Magnify people’s strengths and individuality
Many managers make the mistake of providing well-intentioned career advice that falls short of the mark, as it is based on what motivates them, not the personality and motivations of the employee they are typing to help. A vital part of providing effective career support is to understand the unique motivations, values, and strengths of your people. You can do this by asking some of the career coaching questions listed below during career conversations. However, it is also advisable to use an accurate and objective assessment of work-based strengths, motivations, and values such as TalentPredix. This will pinpoint the top strengths of each of your people, as well as what is most important to them at work. Once you have this clarity, you can provide support and stretch assignments that are closely matched with their strengths, potential and motivations. The aim of any great manager is to magnify an employee’s strengths so they can excel in areas where they are particularly talented and energized.
Provide appropriate stretch assignments
Stretch assignments are one of the most important ways for employees to grow new skills and build confidence to progress in line with their aspirations. But an assignment that is seen as positively stretching by one employee might demotivate or undermine the confidence of another. It is therefore important to pay attention to each employee’s strengths, appetite for challenge and self-confidence. You should also ask them what additional tasks and responsibilities they would like to take on, as well as the support they need from you to succeed. To avoid any confusion about priorities, you will need to highlight to employees that their priority is to perform their core job effectively and any stretch assignment should not interfere with this. Talented employees will rise to the challenge and with your support, work out how to shine in both.
Be transparent about success criteria and pathways
Employees get frustrated and demotivated when they are kept in the dark about career pathways, skills needed to progress and how vacancies in the company are filled. Explain to your employees the skills and capabilities they will need to progress and coach them on how to develop those skills. Create opportunities for them to learn directly from others by connecting them with colleagues in the company doing the jobs they want to do in future. Inform employees about how to find out about upcoming vacancies they may be interested in. Insofar as possible, ensure your vacancies are posted internally before they are filled with external hires. Nothing crushes the motivation of talented people more than seeing roles they believe they can do filled by external hires without being given a fair opportunity to apply for the role.
Provide coaching, feedback, and guidance
A key part of your role as manager is to coach and guide your employees to help them progress their career and achieve their full potential. Coaching is a collaborative and supportive relationship involving mutual trust, reflection, and exploration. Through a process of discovery, goal setting, and focused action, it can facilitate better learning, career advancement and well-being. Coaching and supportive behaviours that promote effective career conversations include:
- Creating a supportive and empathetic environment that’s conducive to meaningful conversations
- Helping employees understand what it takes to get promoted to the next level
- Guiding employees on how to create a focused and stretching personal development plan that enables them to optimize their strengths, improve weaker areas and explore challenging opportunities outside their comfort zone
- Providing ongoing encouragement, recognition, and confidence building, ensuring people feel valued, supported, and empowered
- Offering timely and constructive feedback on both areas of strength and opportunities for improvement
- Giving practical advice and help with career topics such as networking, mentoring, career opportunities, how to earn a promotion, recovering after a professional setback, etc.
If you want to be a great leader who inspires, supports, and enables people to achieve exceptional results, you need to invest your time, energy, and expertise in helping people realize their full potential. This involves planning and undertaking high-quality career conversations; developing, and honing your coaching, feedback, delegation, and other key people skills; recognizing and magnifying strengths, progress and achievements and acting as a role model by prioritizing and progressing your own development. In today’s modern workplace, where unpredictable and disruptive change is the norm, there are few more pressing priorities than the growth, development and upskilling of the people you lead.