Everyone wants to feel they have a fulfilling career, yet at times the term ‘career’ can be so ambiguous. Especially when it comes to the question around who should lead this discussion — the employee or employer? All research points to the fact that both employees and employers could (and should) be having more effective conversations around career paths. I say both employer and employee because I firmly believe it should be a shared initiative, but most certainly lead by the employee… after all, as I have always said:

“No-one is losing sleep over your career”

Why should you make this a priority? Well, the research is here and confirms that unless we become better at having these conversations, then what appears to be a revolving door of talent in and out of organisations will only but continue. Resulting in more disruptions and more costs that will definitely hurt bottom line results. Firebrand Talent recently surveyed 1200 digital marketing and creative employees in Australia on what’s keeping them awake at night and the insights are fascinating — especially in the area of career progression — or what appears to be a lack of.

Of those working across the digital marketing and creative sectors, on average 51% are looking to leave their jobs in the coming 6 months. That is high mobility and a huge cost to an organisation to be replacing that many roles. Think of all the resource that goes into hiring, onboarding and driving productivity of people. This is a huge issue that needs addressing.

Then let’s take a look at why people are leaving organisations. This question was asked in our Talent Ignition Survey and ‘lack of career progression’ sits as 1 of the top 3 reasons.

How about we take a look at what’s important to people when looking for their next role. Surprise, surprise…..or maybe not so – ‘career progression opportunities’ is number 1 in most instances.

But when the question was asked whether employees have had longer term career conversations in their current role, 75% indicated that no conversation had been facilitated at all.

Based on all of this research, it would be right to say that if we got better at having these longer term career conversations, we might find that we have a more engaged workforce that in turn would improve retention and even provide great stories that could be used to attract the best talent.

Firebrand Talent Ignition Report 2018 Download Banner

Here are some steps that leaders should take to improve staff engagement and retention:

1. People managers, don’t be afraid to have long-term career conversations with your team member, even if you don’t have specific opportunities to discuss. The fact you showed interest will often be hugely valued.

Having a clear understanding of each team members aspirations allows you to help them build out their skills and experience by involving them in specific projects. Whilst this may not lead to a step up into a new role, you might just find that you extend the time you are working together, resulting in greater engagement and productivity.

2. Begin the conversation by getting the team member to define what career means to them

I did this recently across my teams and what caught me by surprise is that a career means very different things to different people. Following the diagnostic, we found that people fell into 1 of 4 groupings.

  • Those who were still relatively new in their roles, their 1-3 year focus was really getting a handle on their immediate role and perfecting their craft.
  • A second group emerged that had been in their roles for some time, had no ambition to step into leadership roles, but loved the idea of coaching and mentoring others.
  • The third group of people had a clear direction of wanting to step into leadership roles
  • And finally a group of people, that whilst they enjoyed their role, they didn’t see themselves in this position in the longer term — perhaps an industry and/or role change was on the horizon.

By being able to group people into one of these categories, it, in turn, allowed us to develop programmes that were unique to individual careers drivers.

3. Start the conversation with the end in mind

Knowing where they want to end up (in 1-3 years) allows you to ‘backward’ plan what they skills/behaviours they need to develop in preparation.

4. Be transparent around the behavioural and performance expectations that each person must meet to position themselves for career growth opportunities

Too often I see (and hear) of disengagement with individuals who feel bereft that their careers have become stagnant. Upon review, it appears that this is due to the individual’s performance and/or behaviours. Creating a ‘Career Progression’ charter that in turn is made visible across the team can help diffuse these situations and puts the onus back in the hands of the individual.

5. Get comfortable with feedback — both receiving and giving.

Real stretch and growth comes from timely feedback on what’s working well and what’s not working well. Discussing performance should be done all the time. Please don’t wait for the dreaded ‘Performance Review’.

In fact, here’s an idea — scrap performance reviews and replace them with ‘Career Conversations’.

6. End with action

It’s really important, following the conversation, to look at what has been agreed to move things forward, who is responsible for what (employee and employer should have actions) and to put a timeline in place. A vague conversation without any tangible actions will only result in resentment.

7. Informal is best

Don’t feel the necessity to create formal procedures and documents. Remember, it is a conversation. Keep things authentic.