3 Tips to Make Career Conversations Easier

My clients often tell me doing performance evaluations is their least favorite activity.  Guess which runs a close second—talking with employees about their career development.

What makes this so stressful?  From what I’ve seen, managers often have unrealistic expectations about what these discussions can accomplish.

So I thought it would be helpful to put together a list of tips for managers to keep in mind. My hope is that these tips might help make these discussions become more effective and fruitful—for both the manager and the employee.

Tip # 1:  The employee owns his/her future.

Too many managers believe it is their responsibility to ensure rapid career progress for all their staff members.

The truth is it’s the employee’s responsibility to take the necessary steps to make career growth a reality.  The employee must be constantly improving performance. The employee must be willing to take on new assignments or responsibilities and own the process and the outcome.

From my experience, employees who have been most successful in developing their careers are those who have accepted responsibility for their own career growth and acted accordingly.

Managers: think of yourselves as facilitators in the conversation with your employee and by asking questions, help them define their career plan.

Tip # 2:  Realism is good.

When managers discuss career development with an employee, they naturally want this discussion to be positive and to end on a good note.

Toward this end, some managers believe they have to promise too much, whether future promotions or career advancement.

In any organization, but especially in smaller ones, opportunities for advancement aren’t always available when the employee wants them to be.

Managers:  be courageous and willing to be frank and candid with your employee about their opportunities for advancement. It’s better than making promises that may not be kept, and is the respectful way to treat someone.

Tip # 3:  Career development is not simply all about promotions

Both managers and employees have a tendency to think about career development solely in terms of promotional opportunities.

And of course, promotions are important.  But career development also includes other actions:  broadening one’s knowledge; adding new competencies; gaining different kinds of experience; improving one’s performance.

All of this can occur in the present job, even if a promotion is not available at the time.   Managers do well to try to get employees to think of career development in two ways: vertical and horizontal.

Vertical career development involves promotions, where an employee moves to a higher level within the organization.  Horizontal career development is where an individual continues to develop his/her skills in the current job, when promotional opportunities are not available.

If managers can follow these three simple tips, they will be well on their way to making the career development discussion relevant, realistic and productive.

Good luck!

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