It may be heresy, but I have to express it. In organizations today, well-intentioned talent management systems are frequently to blame for undermining the quality of career conversations. Time and again, the natural human need to grow, develop, and increase one’s contribution is actually being hampered by the very systems designed to enable these things in the first place.
Unfortunately, career development today has become characterized by:
- Elaborate processes with multiples steps, gates, and approvals that permeate many organizations
- Forms and online tools that allow you to catalog everything employees have done and will do to move ahead
- Systems, structures, skills inventories, or competency frameworks designed to simplify the complexity
- Deadlines leaders always find themselves scrambling to meet
Managers are frequently so exhausted by the current organizational responsibilities associated with development, that they have nothing left to give. By the time they’ve done their ‘duty’, they just don’t have the appetite for more – more feedback, more discussion of skills and experience, more strategizing and planning. So, career development becomes a once-a-year routine rather than an integral part of day-to-day work life.
Turning this around may require the counter-intuitive move of de-emphasizing the helpful systems that are actually hurting the process, and returning to a more organic approach to development…. because development doesn’t occur on schedule, according to the deadlines imposed by the talent management system. It happens:
- A little bit every day in a layered fashion that adds depth and dimension to employees’ capabilities
- On the employee’s schedule around the work that needs to be done, not according to the organization’s timeline
- Through intentional interactions and conversations – not forms and processes
Putting the focus back on quality conversation may mean the leaders need to put aside long-standing processes and attend to the human dynamics associated with conversation. They need to cultivate curiosity – in themselves and those around them – and to learn the fine art of asking questions. When it comes to an effective career conversation, the leader doesn’t need to have all (or any) of the answers… but he/she must have the right questions.
When leaders begin to focus on the conversational dimension of development, they quickly learn that conversations don’t have to be long, involved, sit-down meetings à la the annual IPD. Two minutes on the factory floor or between shifts can yield powerful career results for leaders who are sensitive to the cues and willing to seize the moment.
Developing a daily habit that includes quick and frequent career bursts like this – embedded right within the workflow – can allow ‘conversation’ to regain its rightful and central role as the seat of employee growth and career development.
So, what do you think? Am I a heretic? How can we put the focus back on the conversation?