Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell


Nowadays, progressing your career is more akin to navigating a rock-climbing wall.  For any of you who have tackled the dizzy heights of rock-climbing, you’ll know only too well that there is rarely just one way of reaching your goal.  Sometimes it pays to move sideways or even take a step back to improve your chances of getting where you want to be.

With career paths now less pre-determined, employees have an even greater desire to understand how they can ‘get on’ in their careers.   This month’s article explains how managers can play a vital role by engaging in career conversations that inspire their people to think about how to progress their career.

If you’re willing to kick-start a career conversation with your people, there are 3 important aspects to consider:

1. How do I squeeze it in?

Simple. Make career conversations a part of everyday conversations with your team.

It’s far easier to fit in shorter, more frequent discussions than to set aside 1 or 2 hours.

Make sure it’s on the agenda when you’re talking to your people about their current workload, when you’re delegating a piece of work or during a general catch-up.

2. What do we talk about?

Use thoughtful open questions to help you uncover people’s aspirations.

Remember that not everyone is looking for promotion! Some people will be looking to stay where they are and deepen their expertise while others may be interested in broadening their experience in other areas of the business. There are two areas to explore through questioning:

Today, e.g.

  • What parts of your role give you most satisfaction/ enjoyment?
  • Which strengths do you rely on?
  • When are you most engaged in the work you’re doing?

Tomorrow, e.g.

  • Where do you see yourself 2 or 3 years from now?
  • How would you like to see your role evolve over the next few years?
  • What excites you about this?

One of the key questions to ask on hearing the answer to any of these questions is “Why?” Asking why that’s important or of value to them can give you real insight into what’s driving your team member.

So stay curious. Try to build a clear picture of what your team member is looking for.

3. And then what?

Keep an open mind.

One of the most common concerns managers have is what to do if someone expresses an interest in being promoted but a position isn’t available yet or they don’t feel the person is quite ready.

In this situation, talk to the individual about how they can get themselves ready for the next available position. What experience or skills do they need to develop further?

To be effective, any form of personal development should contain 3 elements:

  • Education – this relates to development that provides us with the know-how. Training courses, online learning, professional qualifications and reading are all examples of this. This is the most popular development choice but shouldn’t be the only one.
  • Application – to be truly effective we also need to start applying our know-how to situations. That way we get the chance to test and refine our knowledge and skills. This might include being assigned project work, taking on new responsibilities, going on a secondment to another team or being promoted into a new role.
  • Connection – this element allows us to refine our learning still further. By connecting with a mentor, coach or linking in with professional groups online or in person, we can access more support and get more feedback.

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