Is The Art Of Conversation Being Lost?

September 16th, 2015

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“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place ”

-George Bernard Shaw
Many of us have become only too familiar with the frightening workforce engagement statistics that suggest only 18% of the Australian workforce is actively engaged and this lack of productivity costs Australian businesses $42 billion p.a. (Source: RED)

Organisations are spending bucket-loads of dollars on measuring their employee engagement scores and countless hours on developing strategies for increasing it.

But for all of the dollars spent and efforts made it seems that the simple art of Career Conversations is being lost in our work places today. What do our employees want to do with their careers and how does that align with the business objectives and direction? What are my career ambitions and where are the opportunities for me to make a valuable contribution to my role and organisation?

Whilst most of us appreciate the need for open communication and the associated benefits of having regular career conversations, there still exists an enormous reluctance – and often for understandable reasons – for managers to embark upon having them. Misunderstandings, confused expectations, individual sensitivities, lack of trust and uncertainty about business directions all form a part of this reluctance. But are these reasons enough to prevent the conversation from happening at all?

The reality is that if business leaders and line managers don’t acknowledge or understand the career aspirations of their people, the following scenarios tend to emerge:

  • Individuals who are in the wrong place at the wrong time will under-perform
  • High performing employees who are looking for fresh challenges will begin to coast along
  • Outstanding employees who are often deemed to be critical to future success, will leave in search of other opportunities

All scenarios are problematic and unfortunately are often not addressed in a timely or appropriate manner because our business leaders and managers simply don’t know how to have the ‘career chat’ in a genuine and authentic manner.

This issue is not only tricky for organisations but also for the individual business leader / manager, for when they fail to have these conversations they actually risk their own performance impact and the value of their own career currency.

Regardless of what it is that we do, we all like to know that we are adding value and contributing to both our own and our organisation’s success. Whilst performance reviews tend to highlight this contribution and value retrospectively, Career Conversations focus on future contributions and help employees and organisations align this contribution for mutual success.

We all like to feel we are making progress – it motivates and inspires us. For some professionals it is moving up the career ladder as quickly as possible, while for others it is the desire to experience new things and diversify skill sets. As business leaders it is imperative that we know this about the people we lead; and as individuals it is critical that you are able to convey what your ambitions are and feel comfortable in communicating this with your manager in order to develop and shape your career.

So what are the keys to conducting successful Career Conversations?

Preparation: Preparation as they say is the key to success. In order to maximize the time and opportunity it is critical that both managers and employees are well prepared for these conversations.

As an individual, understanding your own career ambitions and how your current performance is regarded within the organization is essential. Preparing thoughts and ideas on how your contribution could be elevated also demonstrates a proactive approach to managing your own career.

As a manager or leader, a clear understanding of the businesses needs, your employee’s current performance and any development opportunities that may exist within the role and organization is necessary if you are to provide accurate and honest feedback about the employee’s career ambitions.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the timing and environment for these conversations to ensure that the opportunity is maximized.

Communication: Establishing honest, open and transparent communication between managers and employees is often one of the greatest challenges individuals and organizations face.

Given that trust and transparency are built over time and through active collaboration and positive interactions only reinforces the need for regular conversations.

Freedom to explore options free of judgment and with honest constructive feedback will help employees set realistic career goals and drive career ownership.

Accountability: In order to ensure that the conversation doesn’t remain just that, it is important to conclude any meeting with a clear plan that has mutually agreed actions, timelines and milestones. This will also ensure that all follow up dialogue is relevant and action orientated and further demonstrates the importance and value placed on defining and supporting career ambitions and progression.

Follow Up: Regular conversations are crucial to ensuring your own or your employee’s plan is moving forward. As well as offering opportunities to provide or gather support, they also consolidate purpose and strengthen relationships. It is also worth remembering that informal conversations can also add enormous value.

Creating an environment where employees feel confident to have these conversations will ultimately determine their validity and success. Breaking down the communication barriers and encouraging greater discussion about career direction in a trusted environment not only encourages career ownership but also promotes an engaged and productive workforce.

I would love to hear of your experiences with participating in or managing these conversations and any other top tips you can offer.

Margot AndersenIf you would like to explore ways to build confidence, clarity and choice in your career please contact Margot on 0400 336 318.

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