Let’s Talk: Make Career Conversations a Pillar of Your Talent Management Strategy

Recognizing the value of career progression conversations is one thing; making it a pillar of your talent management strategy is certainly another. It can be done with a patient strategy to equip frontline managers with the tools and mindsets to start the conversation, and a focused process to translate the outcomes of those conversations into talent management.
Adam Alexander

Two simple words could be the key to helping employers motivate their top talent, encourage them to build new skills, and ensure they do not leave to pursue other possibilities.

“Let’s talk.”

The world’s best employers have known for some time that the key to employee engagement and retention can be found in simple conversations with employees focused on career progression. It makes a lot of sense. Employers that demonstrate a sincere interest in helping their workers achieve new levels of achievement and satisfaction tend to attract and retain top talent.

And yet, a global survey from LHH and The Adecco Group has found that many employers are failing to utilize this simple but incredibly effective tool of talent management. The result is lower engagement and retention at a time when skilled labor is still very much in demand.

A lack of career progression is driving many voluntary resignations

People who have options to develop their careers to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities tend to be the happiest and most loyal employees. Those who feel stalled in their careers and see no immediate prospect to progress tend to be those who are the greatest flight risks.

Indeed, the survey confirmed that even when faced with volatile economic conditions, the embers of the Great Resignation still burn brightly. Several motivating factors continue to drive voluntary separations, but three top issues stood out: salary (45%), better work-life balance (35%), and a lack of career progression (34%).

Employers may dismiss those findings because they are merely a sample of employees who have already embraced the idea that job happiness will only be found at a new employer. What about the survey respondents who were confident about staying in their current jobs? Among that group, only 16 percent were satisfied with their career progression opportunities, and only 13 percent were satisfied with upskilling/training options.

The results combine to produce a compelling story: if employers want to provide their skilled employees with an argument for staying, career progression is a must.

The foundation of career progression can be found in a simple conversation

It’s one thing to promote career progression as a concept and quite another to put it into practice. However, one thing is certain: progression can never occur unless employers take the time to ask their employees what support they need to find more fulfilling careers and how they can best be supported.

The career progression conversation is such a simple and elegant tool of talent management: face-to-face meetings between managers and their direct reports to discuss performance in their current roles, and what aspirations they may have, to take on new roles and learn new skills.

Unfortunately, although it’s a simple concept, the survey shows it’s not being widely practiced.
An alarming 23 percent of all workers surveyed have never had any kind of formal career conversation with their managers and another 17 percent are only afforded one opportunity per year. On the other end of the spectrum, 17 percent have career progression conversations at least once per quarter, and another 17 percent have them once a month.

Lack of conversations = lack of internal opportunities

Another major finding in the survey was the increased emphasis that top talent puts on internal mobility. In other words, top talent wants opportunities to learn new things and pursue new roles without having to leave and join another organization. However, it’s impossible to create those internal opportunities without first having career progression conversations.

The survey found that two-thirds of all respondent workers (66 percent) believe that companies should look to redeploy internal candidates to fill a job opening before looking for an external candidate. However, an organization’s ability to deliver on that expectation tends to rise and fall in lockstep with the frequency of career progression conversations.

The survey found that among respondents who reported having career progression conversations at least once per quarter, 61 percent said their employers regularly share internal job openings so that they can apply, while 50 percent said the company and their managers encourage them to apply for internal job openings. However, the converse is also true: among those who report never having career conversations, only 18 percent said they get access to internal job openings and only three percent get encouragement to apply for those jobs.

How to make career progression conversations a pillar of talent management

Recognizing the value of career progression conversations is one thing; making it a pillar of your talent management strategy is certainly another. It can be done with a patient strategy to equip frontline managers with the tools and mindsets to start the conversation, and a focused process to translate the outcomes of those conversations into talent management.

Career progression is not a performance review. There will always be a place for performance reviews in talent management but it’s important to remember that they have a different purpose and feel than career progression conversations. The former is about assessing past performance; the latter is about charting a course for the future.

Good career conversations drill down to find motivators and drivers. It would be wrong to assume that a career progression talk is only about identifying aspirations. Properly curated, a career conversation is about finding the skills or roles that truly excite and motivate employees. Research has shown that workers who are good at something can still be unhappy if they are performing a role that does not excite and motivate them. Look for the career challenges that drive career satisfaction.

Ensure there is up-/reskilling resources to back up these conversations. Having career progression conversations with your employees without providing them with learning opportunities to achieve their career goals will only discourage your top talent. Once you know what your people want to do, make sure they have the tools and leadership support to get there.

Managers need support and encouragement to have career progression talks. Overseeing a career progression conversation is a leadership skill in and of itself. Before organizations can mandate these regular talks, support and training must be provided to frontline managers to help them feel comfortable and confident in this forum.

Organizations need to discourage talent hoarding and adopt a team perspective. One of the reasons that organizations do not use career progression conversations is because managers prefer to develop and then hold on to talent rather than share them with other departments or teams. Managers need to be enlisted in a team approach to career conversations, a strategy that stresses the importance of development and retention on an organizational scale, not a departmental or team scale.

The career conversation remains one the simplest and most effective ways to tap into employee motivators, which in turn cultivates greater engagement and retention. Organizations need to appreciate the importance and usefulness of these conversations, equip managers to hold them, and then provide the structure and processes that can turn those conversations into new career opportunities.

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Download our report, “Global Workforce of the Future: Unravelling the Talent Conundrum” for insights into the attitudes of the current workforce and food for thought to help organizations and leaders future-proof their talent.