Career conversations help individuals gain clarity about their professional lives as well as how that plays into their personal goals. These conversations occur every 6 months, starting 6 months after employment. Each conversation takes about 2 hours and focuses on the person’s growth trajectory by developing a custom-tailored growth plan based on their medium and long-term aspirations.
People choose different career paths and have varying professional goals. While some people seek constant growth and more responsibility, others want stability and time to master some skills. An overarching career framework helps, but it is not enough to ensure everyone’s success. While it is a good first step that presents general guidance and direction, we must supplement that by providing each individual clarity on how to achieve their specific goals by developing a personalised growth plan. Career conversations help managers understand the values, dreams and professional aspirations of their direct reports, which further helps create the right opportunities.
We recommend using the following framework for effective career conversations.
Recommended time: 30 - 45 minutes
To offer an individual enjoyment and satisfaction at work, it is imperative that the organisation supports the person’s value system. Values are different than goals. In fact, values are what remain intact when goals change. They are what one practices daily without expecting short-term results. For instance, honesty, safety, and teamwork are examples of personal values.
To understand a person’s value system, you must first understand the individual. One-on-one conversations offer a solid opportunity to know your direct report’s personal life story, slowly building a rapport over time. Depending on how well you know your direct report, you may only spend a few minutes recapping your understanding and offering them a chance to tell you more. Or, you might concentrate on learning more about them, especially if they are new.
Once you break ground in knowing your direct report better, use that information to incorporate their value system into their personalised growth plan. For example, a person who enjoys playing team sports might have effective teamwork as a core value. So, part of their growth plan should ensure that they work on projects with collaborative teamwork instead of projects that rely heavily on deep individual contribution.
Recommended time: 30 - 45 minutes
The only way to ensure people bring 100% of themselves to work is by making sure that they find their work interesting. A conversation about aspirations can help make this happen. This conversation can be broken down into 3 steps:
1. Dreams: A good way to start the conversation on aspirations is to ask people to imagine what the pinnacle of their career looks like. Ask them to articulate the most important things they want to achieve when they are at the top of their game. This question can elicit interesting responses, such as “I want to deliver a TED talk”, “I want to be a community leader for women in tech” or “I want to be an expert in typography and create a series of typefaces that will last for decades.” Together, try to create a list of 3 to 5 such dreams with your direct report.
2. Skills: Achieving dreams often requires one to gain new skills or improve existing ones. For each dream, write down a few necessary skills. For example, to become a community leader for women in tech, one might need deep technical skills, public speaking skills and people management skills. These are the competencies that will help the individual make their dreams a reality.
3. Values Check: Sometimes, people’s dreams do not align with their skills and values. For example, a person might want to be an entrepreneur (dream) managing a large team working on complex problems (value), but at the same time she might want to contribute really high-quality code (skill) herself. It can be quite difficult to contribute deep technical work while fulfilling the entrepreneurial responsibilities of running a company with a large team. As a manager, your job is to work with your direct report to help them find their area of focus and be successful by aligning their values, dreams and skills.
Recommended time: 45 - 60 minutes
Now that there exists a list of skills that the individual needs to achieve their dreams, it is time to create a personalised growth plan that creates opportunities to hone them. For instance, if your direct report needs to enhance leadership and product direction skills, create a growth plan that allows that individual to work on a project where little or no product direction has been set. Provide an opportunity to lead a small team. If your direct report needs to develop a deep technical skill, offer an opportunity to work on a project filled with challenging technical problems.
A personalised growth plan helps one choose their own career trajectory at a pace they are comfortable with. Alongside helping the individual feel like they are moving towards achieving their dreams every single day, it helps the organisation align business priorities and expectations across the board.
At your next meeting in 6 months, go through each step again but with a mindset to adjust and course correct. Shifts in values and aspirations occur constantly, so check in to see what changes have occurred. Update the growth plan to account for these new expectations. Healthy businesses are a function of happy individuals who bring 100% of themselves to work every single day. That only happens when individuals see a path to their ultimate success at their organisation.