7 Career Conversations You Should Be Having

According to a survey by Express Employment Professionals, 40 percent of employees consider a lack of career advancement in their existing companies as motivation for finding new employment. Further proof of the importance of career development to employees comes from a Gallup poll which revealed 59 percent of Millennials, 44 percent of Gen Xers, and 41 percent of baby boomers report career advancement and opportunities to learn new skills are important considerations when they apply for jobs.

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In such an environment, managers who don’t consider their employees’ career goals risk higher turnover rates and low employee motivation. Despite this, managers are sometimes reluctant to initiate career conversations, seeing such discussions as problematic: unrealistic career expectations, after all, can create their own problems.

Understanding employees at a personal level makes career development conversations more productive.

If career guidance isn’t in a manager’s skill set, career conversation training is readily available. For those ready to tackle this important topic, the following career development discussion questions and suggestions can help you–and your employees–identify and develop career goals.

Get to Know Your Employees

Before you start working with the career development discussion questions listed below, do you know what your employees really want? Understanding employees at a personal level makes career development conversations more productive, as you’re aware of how their personalities, values, and dreams affect their goals. An employee who plans to raise a family in the near future will have different career goals than one who sees work as a means of funding travel and adventure. Both may be committed to their careers, but their motivation and goals will be very different.

Do Employees Understand Their Current Roles?

Any action plan needs a solid foundation. In the case of career development, that foundation is an understanding of each employee’s current role in your organization. Employees need to know how they contribute to the organization, and how their current role influences possible career directions.

A discussion of an employee’s current role acts as a starting point for future career development discussions. Working together, identify the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, professional interests, work preferences, and skill sets. This information helps identify areas for improvement as well as existing skills that could be used in future positions.

Do Employee Goals Align with Organizational Goals?

Career development does not occur in a vacuum: the needs of the organization must align with employee goals. When goals align, the possibility for a long and mutually beneficial relationship increases.

Should employee goals not align with those of the company, several options exist. It may be possible to modify employee goals to match organizational needs, or the employee may choose to focus on developing the skills needed for his existing position. The risk of turnover exists when goals don’t align, although this doesn’t mean you’ll lose the employee overnight–or at all if circumstances change.

Lateral or Vertical Career Goals?

Career development is typically thought of in terms of advancement and promotions, but this isn’t always the case. While many employees work towards vertical advancement, others favor lateral moves within the company.

The reasons for lateral moves are manifold. The move may be triggered by a desire to learn new skills, a motivation that’s especially common among younger workers. Interest in a different position with new responsibilities can trigger lateral moves, as can an urge to develop a more holistic view of the company. On a less positive note, lateral moves can be triggered by conflict with coworkers and a desire to “start fresh” in a different department.

What Skills Do Your Employees Need?

Once an employee’s career goals are identified, explore which skills the employee will need to further that goal. As with career development, skill acquisition must align with organizational goals. Employees, particularly younger employees, value opportunities to learn new skills, which they often prize more than progress up the traditional career ladder. The chance to learn new skills can greatly improve employee engagement.

Skill acquisition must align with organizational goals.

This enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword, however, as employees will often jump at a chance to learn new skills, regardless of whether those skills are appropriate for their current position or career development. Managers need to guide employees to the skills that benefit both the employee and the company.

Create an Action Plan

With the most important career development discussion questions answered, it’s time to create an action plan that moves the employee along her chosen career path. The plan should identify logical career development steps, using SMART milestones and goal management strategies.

Define the first step in the process, and set tasks to be completed between meetings. Tasks may include extra training, attending conferences, shadowing mentors, or temporary reassignment to another department–whatever helps develop the employee’s career path while strengthening her as a company asset.

Is This Still What You Want?

Life circumstances change. The employee who was planning a family may experience a divorce. The adventurous, travel-hungry employee may find himself caring for a sick parent. Changes in personal situations can drastically alter a person’s career development path.

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Periodically check in with employees to see if their career plans have altered, and work with them to make changes as needed. Career development is not set in stone with the creation of an action plan. Rather, it’s a fluid, dynamic conversation that, done correctly, benefits employees, managers, and the larger organization.