Webinar Q&A | Can the “Plan”: How to Have Conversations Employees Really Want

The goal of establishing a “multiyear plan” for career is long gone. The question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?” once seemed like a strong indicator of an employee’s goals or aspirations. But in a world that didn’t even have jobs like app developer, social media manager, or Uber driver 10 years ago, the question is now almost comical.

Career isn’t something people are planning to do in the future; it’s happening now. Today. All around us people are thinking about and are engaged in actively growing their career. Their day-to-day decisions are what drive career satisfaction, and they need a flexible approach to managing their career. Annual discussions, career ladders, and uncomfortable approaches to networking simply aren’t relevant anymore.

Our research on career points to the need for organizations and managers to think differently about career. A much more realistic approach is required—increased frequency, connecting on what matters, looking broadly for support, and being prepared for the inevitability of change are critical for today’s career discussions. Our research also points to profound results when organizations focus on career the right way—and when they miss the mark.

During a recent webinar, we discussed what today’s employees want from career conversations, how to look at career through a new lens, and the impact these conversations can have on retention and engagement. If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available for you to watch online. However, if you are looking for the abbreviated version, I wanted to offer a quick look at some of the key takeaways:

  • Employees want to talk to their managers about their careers much more than they are.
  • Employees are looking for more than raises and promotions; they want work that is meaningful, interesting, and balanced.
  • Employees are looking to their managers for help with connecting to the right people.
  • Our approach gives equal attention to the competing lenses of introspection and interconnection that are key to career development.
  • Our framework—what’s now; what’s next; what if—deals with the distinct challenges and seasons of every career path, whether it’s making the most of the current role, planning strategically for the next move, or dealing with inevitable career disruption.

During the presentation, several great questions came up from the audience, and I wanted to share them with you.  This is an ongoing conversation, and I encourage you to keep the questions coming in via the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Q: There was a lot of discussion around research. What were the demographics of the audience surveyed?

A: BlessingWhite has conducted research on leadership, engagement, coaching, and career for many years. We also partner with thought leaders like Future Workplace and benefit from the information gleaned from the research they conduct. We first conducted research on career in 2011 and repeated that research in 2013 and 2015.

The pulse survey we conducted in 2017 builds on the prior research by including several common questions, and we introduced some new questions to gauge where people are today with respect to their thoughts around career development. This year’s pulse survey draws from a population of just over 500 participants: 62% female and 38% male. Our research is informed by results from several generations, including Baby Boomers (42%), Generation X (30%), Millennials (25%) and Generation Z (3%). We gathered information across organizational levels including Frontline Employees (48%), Frontline Managers (32%), Managers of Managers (12%), and Executives (8%). Finally, we looked at the tenure of respondents and 39% have been in their current role for 0–3 years; 19% have a 4–6-year tenure; 13% for 7–10 years; and 29% have been in their current role for 10+ years.

Q: Do you see a dramatic difference in attitudes about career across different generations? Are Millennials more likely to switch careers?

A: The verdict is that, no, Millennials themselves are not job hoppers. The consistent trend is that people tend to job hop before they reach age 35 and then spend more time at employers after age 35. This finding is consistent across Gen X and Gen Y so far (researchers didn’t ask the question about tenure for earlier generations) based on research done by Pew.

While generational differences can create interesting sound bites, the truth is that when you dig in to generational differences about career, those differences are not extreme. Across generations, individuals say they would stay with, or leave, an employer for similar reasons. People want work that works for them—work that helps them fulfill their personal values, work that is interesting and meaningful, and work that allows them to have balance.

Career is an individualized equation. We advocate for getting to know each person on your team individually in order to truly ascertain what’s important to them, understand their values, and help them navigate their individual career growth.

Q: After all is said and done, whose responsibility is it to initiate career conversations? If people want to talk about career more often, why don’t they initiate the conversation?

A: When we’ve asked questions about who has the biggest control over your career, individuals reported that they, in fact, had the biggest control over their own career. While managers and others in an individual’s larger career community can support and influence, each person owns their career development individually.

While we didn’t ask that question in the research, it is our belief that individuals don’t initiate career conversations for likely the same reasons managers don’t.

First, they may be afraid of sending the message that they are dissatisfied and looking to leave. They might have concerns that bringing up the conversation would inadvertently put them at risk or expose them as a disgruntled employee in some way. This is a myth we need to break on both the manager and the individual’s side.

We think managers and individuals need to start small. Begin making space in your regular conversations for questions that have more to do with job fit that will give way to more natural conversations about career. To begin to determine larger career needs and aspirations, managers should ask questions such as: “What skills do you enjoy using?” “Where do you want to develop?” “What would it take for you to be more satisfied in your job?” Career conversations need to take place in an environment of open communication with the goal of not only increasing organizational contribution, but also personal satisfaction.

In short, this plays to the relationship between introspection and interconnection that comprises the foundation of our point of view. The employee must do the work of clarifying their identity (introspection), and the manager must collaborate with them (interconnection) to help align that identity with their reputation so that they can attract more opportunities that align with their values and strengths.

Q: What kinds of strategies do you employ to help build resilience?

A: The chances that an individual will experience career disruption in their life are high. And for people to be able to move on from a disruption, to be resilient, they need two things: buffers and tools. Buffers are things that allow you to get some distance from disruption—things like friends, spirituality, yoga, sports, or whatever helps you personally better cope. These will not only come in handy when a big disruption happens, but they will also provide ways to cope with life’s day-to-day challenges.

Another strategy to help build career resilience is to have tools. Tools are things that support movement after the disruption occurs—this may be the development of new skills or the addition of some type of continuing education or pursuit of another interest. It can mean different things to different people, but it adds up to something that helps you redirect yourself after the disruption occurs.

Buffers and tools provide healthy distance and options, respectively. Ultimately, resilience is about forward movement following disruption, and buffers and tools help us create that movement. A powerful way to activate these ideas is through storytelling. Storytelling itself can serve as a healthy buffer as we acknowledge the subconscious narratives we’re using to frame the disruption, thereby gaining control of the story. By doing this, our disruption is placed in context, which allows us to strategically use our tools to write a new ending.

Q: Could you share the X Model of Engagement and talk about it a bit more?

A: Organizations are keen to maximize the contribution of each individual toward corporate imperatives and metrics. Individual employees, meanwhile, need to find purpose and satisfaction in their work. Consequently, BlessingWhite’s X Model of Employee Engagement focuses on an individual’s:

  • Personal satisfaction in the role
  • Contribution to the company’s success

Based on our employee engagement theory, we believe that aligning employees’ values, goals, and aspirations with those of the organization is the best method for achieving the sustainable employee engagement required for an organization to reach its goals. Full engagement represents an alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organization”). The index we use to determine an employee’s level of engagement contains items that reflect the two axes of contribution and satisfaction. By plotting a given population against the two axes on our engagement model diagram, we can identify five distinct employee segments: The Disengaged, The Honeymooners & Hamsters, The Crash & Burners, The Almost Engaged, and The Engaged.

Q: Can you elaborate or provide more examples for the fallback component?

A: Fallback is about anticipating the inevitability of disruption. Change is a guarantee in career development, yet most of us aren’t proactive or strategic in developing a plan to cope with it. We tend to be shocked when our plans don’t pan out, and we become reactive in our responses. Creating a fallback plan is as simple as acknowledging that the current path is likely to change and then being thoughtful about what kinds of changes might occur, the implications those changes may have, and the best possible solutions for dealing with those contingencies.

However, not all disruptions can be anticipated (if only it were that simple), so another important component of creating a fallback strategy is to begin practicing right now. Resilience is directly related to this conversation, and a key component of resilience is perspective. Buffers create healthy distance, but then we must explicate the narrative that has brought us to the present. Much like observing a chessboard from above, storytelling allows us to see the context of our disruptions, which illuminates our options for forward movement beyond the disruption.

Q: How do you advise managers to keep in mind individual preferences (i.e., Myers-Briggs) as they tailor their conversation plans for team members?

A: Individual preferences, most specifically individual values, are one of the most important things managers need to know as they tailor their career conversations with employees. In addition to values, talking about skills and abilities as well as preferred work conditions are important areas of emphasis.

An assessment like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be an important launching point for a conversation with employees about how they can do work that works for them. In particular, reviewing an MBTI assessment can get the conversation started about preferred job conditions. By discussing how individuals take in information, where they get their energy from, and how they prefer to interact with others, individuals and managers can ensure the components of their job are aligned with those preferences. On the flip side, an MBTI review can also point out where some adjustments to working conditions might need to be made to enhance individual satisfaction.

Whether a manager and an individual delve into a job satisfaction conversation based on an assessment like MBTI or as a result of thoughtful coaching on the part of the manager, the point is that a conversation that focuses on each individual’s personal definition of job satisfaction is key.

Q: How can organizations move beyond notions of career pathing to be more helpful to employees?  

A: Organizations need to model support for career moves that go beyond traditional pathing. Talk to employees about what matters to them and explore ways they can satisfy their personal values and make better use of their skills and abilities within their current roles. Emphasizing stretch assignments or job rotations can provide employees with the opportunity to expand their skills even if they are not “moving up” a more traditional ladder. Help employees find sponsors and mentors across the organization so they can continue to enhance their reputation. Finally, look at what messages the organization is sending about career pathing and consider if those messages need to be adjusted. For example, if the company announces promotions with big fanfare, is that sending the right message about the value of more non-traditional moves? Provide equal weighting to career decisions that emphasize the other ways people can grow and expand their careers (mentoring, stretch assignments, etc.). Finally, consider what types of incentives and rewards are provided to managers who support career development. Make sure there is organizational motivation and reward for being an individual who shares, not hoards, good talent.

Q: In today’s work environment one can often experience a revolving door of managers. It is not unusual to have more than three managers within the span of one year, for example. How do you suggest people manage this lack of continuity as it pertains to their careers?

A: While your manager almost always plays a critical role in supporting career development, we advocate for expanding your career community so you are getting support from others. Within an organization, finding mentors and sponsors is an important way to make sure your reputation is well known and that you have advocates beyond your direct manager. By working on projects or stretch assignments and by building your relationships beyond the scope of your manager relationships, you become less dependent on a single individual to assist you with career growth.

Furthermore, manager changes are just one of a multitude of discontinuities that employees will face along the career path. This is why it is vital for employees to understand their identities, manage their reputations, build strong communities, and develop tools to cope with change.

Q: What is the role of tapping external coaches throughout your career?

A: Our support of the concept of a career community suggests that tapping into broader career assistance is very important. An external coach can play an important role in that community. Consistent with our point of view, we believe a good coach would help an individual explore how to maximize their satisfaction within their current role while also keeping open to the possibility that satisfaction may be obtained elsewhere. Our clients have understood that while they want to retain their employees, they want to retain employees who are engaged and who want to be a part of their organization. If career conversations lead to the conclusion that an individual is not doing work that works for them, and there isn’t a path to increased satisfaction with their current organization, a change may be warranted.

Q: A significant part of our workforce are frontline blue-collar folks. How does this apply to their careers when they have a different way of looking at things?

A: We believe that regardless of the level of employee, individuals need to find work that works for them personally. Managers need to understand what’s important to the individual, and career conversations need to be framed in that context. Every individual has their own definition of personal success, and even if there are some common needs, for example work-life balance, every individual needs to define what success looks like for them personally. For some, work-life balance might be minimizing overnight travel; for others it might be a modified schedule; and for some, it could be making sure they are home for dinner every night. Our career development philosophy encourages employees, from individual contributors to executives, to start by reflecting on their personal definition of career success. Introspection is a necessary precursor to career development. It’s also then important to connect with others who can support you. Regardless of level, introspection and interconnection are critical elements of career development success.

Zach Curtis

Zach Curtis

Zach Curtis graduated with an M.A. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and spent the past 8+ years in the not-for-profit space as a Leadership Development & Team Effectiveness consultant. As a new member of the BlessingWhite team, Zach brings a fresh perspective and approach to the career needs of an ever-adapting workforce.
Zach Curtis
One comment on “Webinar Q&A | Can the “Plan”: How to Have Conversations Employees Really Want
  1. Margo C says:

    Informative webinar on a critical area of focus for employees and employers.

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