A Recipe for a Career Conversation

April 4, 2014 Tara Veysey

When it comes to having a career conversation, there are many ingredients that contribute to success, and - like in any great recipe – combining them artfully is usually necessary to create the best finished product.

As a leader, you are going to have to be willing and open to trying a few different recipes to see what works with your employees. Each person on your team is an individual and what works for one member won’t necessarily work for someone else.

Career fluidity is very much alive for all generations in the world of work. And given that career development is one of the top drivers of engagement on corporate engagement surveys, it's worth spending some time to hone your skills in this area.

The Basic Ingredients

Here are some key ingredients to keep in mind when cooking up a conversation:

  1. Each team member’s own definition of career success. Like yours, these change over time depending on age and stage in one’s career.
  2. Your willingness to listen, question, keep an open mind and avoid assumptions. It is not your role to find your employee their next opportunity, but rather to support them in achieving their career goals while supporting the organization’s objectives.

The Directions

Start by listening. The goal of every career conversation is to get to know your employee by asking some powerful questions to understand their view of themselves and where they are at in their career.  Listen actively, re-state your understanding, and check in frequently. What you don’t need to bring to the conversation is your plan for how to get someone from A to B in their career because your plan may not be their plan. Hold back on "solution pollution" and be willing to listen and seek clarity.

Provide feedback and build trust. In light of their career goals, skill set, and aspirations, give your employees a sense of what’s possible. It’s about helping your employees understand their choices and alternatives, and allowing them to play with possibilities. Sometimes those possibilities will become realities and sometimes they won’t, but together you’ve explored what matters most and this action helps to build trust and deepen your relationships with each of your employees.

Be realistic, but don’t avoid the conversation. It is not uncommon for leaders to avoid having career conversations when they feel that there is nowhere for employees to ‘move up’ in the organization. Yet this is the most critical time to engage in career conversations, and not an opportunity you want to miss. By not having the conversation you may put yourself at greater risk of losing or dis-engaging good talent. You also don’t want to assume that employees are looking to move or change positions. Many are seeking enrichment in their current role, to gain new experiences, exposure to different projects or people, and to learn new skills.

Allow the employee to take ownership. The keys to having effective career conversations are to listen, to ask questions, and to encourage a commitment to action which aids in the development of lasting personal growth and change. Successful conversations focus on the future and on the employee’s strengths, skills, unique needs, motivations, and goals. It is important that you remain supportive and non-judgmental of your employees, their views, lifestyles and aspirations. The employee needs to take ownership of their career: let them drive it while you enable it.

Discuss and acknowledge progress.  Build and sustain momentum towards achieving career goals with your employees. When you recognize progress or change towards a goal, this establishes an environment of trust and mutual respect. As a leader, you have a terrific opportunity to recognize employees’ strengths, capabilities and the unique qualities they have displayed towards their own career goals.

The End Product

Career conversations would be easy if, like most recipes, they came with a beautiful picture of what the end result should look like, but they don’t.  The end result of a career conversation is not predictable or pre-defined, but that doesn’t make it any less important to have them.

Knightsbridge research has shown that nine out of 10 respondents say that career conversations increase employee engagement, but they struggle to make time for such a discussion.

Can you really afford not to have a conversation knowing that engaged employees drive discretionary effort within your organization?

The thing about recipes is that you can find many variations to produce the product. In the end, what you need to remember with a career conversation is that it’s not about your preferences or tastes, but about what each one of your employees is looking to achieve within their own careers.

What’s missing in this recipe for successful career conversations? Have you any tips or techniques that lead to great results every time?



About the Author

Tara Veysey

Tara Veysey is a Senior Consultant at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge. She is an experienced facilitator and coach in the areas of career transition and management. Tara works with executives, senior leaders, and senior-level technical individual contributors where she excels in helping individuals understand their potential, how to position themselves in the world of work, and creating action plans for success.

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