How to Have a Purposeful Career Conversation with Your Employees

Retention is one of the top priorities for HR professionals - find out how to have purposeful career conversations with your employees and retain your top performing talent.

While employee retention remains high on the priority list, many organisations aren’t proactively putting the correct measures in place to develop and retain top talent. 

In fact, our research found that seven in ten (73%) employees would be more likely to stay with their current employer if they had regular career conversations, yet just 17% of employees have on-going talks with their managers about their careers. 

What we find is that a lot of businesses still believe that annual performance reviews are a sufficient way to measure an employees’ success in their role. 

But, having a conversation once a year is simply not enough. A successful career development programme should be based on regular, honest and open career conversations that keep staff motivated, engaged and more likely to want to stay in the business. Below, we outline how to have a purposeful career conversation with your employee. 

Train managers to talk 

Managers must be able to sit down with employees and talk to them about everything from their successes and goals, to their aspirations and development needs. However, many organisations aren’t paying enough attention to providing effective training to help managers learn to instigate compelling career conversations. Our ‘Manager as Career Coach’ programme supports managers in understanding the business imperative for an open dialogue and equips them with the crucial skills needed to have a courageous and meaningful dialogue with staff. 

Clarify motivations and aspirations 

While daunting at first, identifying what an employee really wants, whether that is to move sideways within the business rather than upwards, or even leave the organisation altogether, is very important. This can be a difficult conversation to initiate, but means that effective action can be taken to meet their goals, while helping the business drive performance and retention rates at the same time. Our ‘Personal Career Focus’ programme comprises of individual or group coaching sessions which help employees chart their personal and career development paths, focus on where they can make a positive contribution, make more informed career decisions and commit to action. 

Use SMART goals to uncover hidden capabilities 

As our research suggests there are limited career conversations occurring, which means employee skills aren’t being developed and utilised effectively. Having regular discussions will identify individual’s aspirations and help them to define ambitious, but reachable, goals. Using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals will help to clarify the work they need to achieve within a specified period of time. This will ensure that individuals take responsibility for their own progress and it will confirm hidden capabilities that could be leveraged in new and different ways. 

Ask questions that engage 

This might sound obvious, but depending on the type of questions you ask employees, you will get a different response from them. For example, asking ‘how are you doing’ questions, which are handled through on-going conversations, rather than ‘how did you do’, which is part of a formal performance management process will put employees on their back foot feeling like they are being held accountable. Changing the tone and style of your questions will help reveal employees honest thoughts and what they think they could do better at. 

Answer the ‘what’s next’ question 

Instead of being treated as the elephant in the room, the ‘what’s next’ question should be perceived as a collaborative conversation between an employee, their manager and the wider organisation. It’s important to highlight the future a professional has within the company. While you might not be able to answer the question with certainty, it will empower individuals to better themselves at work and perform to a higher level – benefiting both them and the business. While revamping the long engrained tradition of the periodic performance review might be met with scepticism, it is a necessary part of modern management. Employees will benefit from better career development and the business will benefit as a result. 

For more insights on the topic, download our new whitepaper: Career conversations need to change, the future of British business depends on it