This holiday season many of us missed out on something that used to be part of our lives – office parties.
Or did we?
Find Your Own Way
When we focus deeply on another person, give them time and space to express themselves, we create the conditions that allow them to thrive, feel appreciated, be brave and ready to succeed. When we slow down even for a few minutes to rest and let our thoughts wander, not only do we feel better, but we can cope better with whatever life throws at us.
This wisdom even started spilling into the corporate life – in the shape of occasional “coaching training” or even “mindfulness sessions”.
However, once out of the classroom, most of the inspired attendees turn back into “employees”. They say that the reality of the business world demands completely different approaches – instead of “taking time” you need to be fast, succinct, provide quick solutions, be efficient, keep all “irrelevant” thoughts and feelings to yourself.
But is this truly “the reality”? Or is it just an adopted artificial “business style”, which we picked up stupidly during the acceleration of the industrial age? On this wrong path we have turned ourselves, living beings, into just cogs in what our organisations have become - machines “that have no brain”.
How harmful this style could be to the businesses themselves?
If an employee is encouraged to come with the ready solution and never divulge a thought that is not fully formed, is just emerging and needs co-creating – it will never be co-created.
If a team are not allowed time and space to really debate an issue, exploring patiently all diverse opinions without shutting them down – no new ideas will come forward, new reality will not be reflected in the way they do business.
If managers come to a meeting under strict agendas, have to contribute within a set number of minutes on their assigned topic and are ridiculed if they take to long to think or talk – nobody will ever look outside their own silos, taking responsibility and risk beyond what is “prescribed”.
If everybody feels that to be successful you should always be “business like” – no emotions, “no nonsense” - how will they ever allow themselves to be human?
And the result of all that is the corporate world that lacks compassion, intelligence and creativity – the dead place where nothing grows, including so overvalued efficiency or profitability. In a place where there is no patience and positive intention to listen, people do not realize their true potential, loosing our only advantage over other species – and machines - deep connection to others, ability to think and innovate.
I have recently run a workshop for a group of bank managers on how to conduct good career conversations. We started with the managers’ own careers and the way they are recognised for their contribution. One of the participants was very clear: “If they
If your manager does not talk to you about your future, you have a choice to make. You can wait for your boss to be educated by someone about the importance of career conversations, or, if it does not happen, you can just leave without a word and hope the situation will not repeat itself elsewhere. Or … you can take matters into your own hands. I am not talking about an ultimatum, a vocal demand of a pay increase or a wining session (all of these might have a place, but are unlikely to provide a good start for a constructive dialogue).
The conversation, which could open the doors to the future, needs to be first of all … a conversation. This should be a prepared and balanced adult discussion that could help you and your manager understand each other better, explore opportunities and lead to some realistic actions. If you know your career goals, you should be able to formulate them clearly, yet before sharing them, it is worth considering what the company (or your team’s) goals are, how you have contributed and will contribute in the way that would be beneficial for your employer AND yourself. Use the conversation to ask and find these ways, offer help, but remember to reveal your own needs and ambitions. Listen to what the restrictions (real or subjective) might be to getting what you want right now and discuss a possible plan to overcome them with time. Surely it will be easier when you and your manager start working together in partnership – after all, you have found the common goals!
You could say I make it sound easier as it is in the real life. I don’t. I understand that these conversations take thought and courage. But they are possible and much more welcome by your busy manager than you may think.
I am happy to help with preparation of both parties to these crucially important conversations.
“Our people want to be clear about career progression”. This demand from their workforce caused many companies a lot of heartache costing money and time – nearly every respected big company undertakes a project called something like “Career paths” or “X (name of the company) Way” or “Build your future with Y” etc. Depending on the company’s size and budget, the project can result in a very sophisticated web site, or a simpler web page, or a comprehensive booklet or even a poster. These would show the possible roles on the company’s career ladder, sometimes listing skills or competencies needed to get there and various testimonials from the people who made this journey. Usually there is a big launch and an expectation that everybody will now be using this site/booklet as the Bible and will stop complaining in engagement surveys that their career progression opportunities have not been made obvious to them. HR is proud that this game-changing project is delivered and can happily include it in the list of massive achievements
What is the issue with “career paths”?
I do not want to discredit efforts of HR to create those – in fact I used to be involved in doing it myself. But now I see 5 big problems with the whole concept of “charting career paths”.
1. Career paths age as soon as they are published – people leave, jobs and their content change, the company’s focus and structure shift.
2. If the paths are made less specific to avoid “aging”, the content becomes too generic, giving the people no new or really useful information.
3. The testimonials may be interesting (if those providing them were open and personal), yet they are not really relevant, as it is difficult to repeat somebody else’s experience. Those who want to become a Sales Director now, probably don’t need to start their sales career selling second hand cars.
4. The beautifully structured paths do not prepare people for an ever changing business environment, where restructure or changing business model are always “in the air”. In fact, the paths might become counterproductive, as they anchorpeople into keeping things as they are: to be able to follow the coveted path, the least thing you want is to disrupt the current organisation.
5. The most important thing though is that all the hard work of creating the “paths” does not seem to answer the questions people wanted answered in the first place
What do people really want?
Talking to those who asked for “career progression” clarity, here are the things that I’ve heard:
- I want to know what opportunities are available to ME
- I want to know how I can be promoted and what exactly I have to do to ensure it happens
- I want to understand how much I will be paid if I take this role
- I want to feel that MY future is certain and guaranteed
- I want to be able to decide if MY future is better with this company or elsewhere
Can Career Path charting deliver the above?
Very few of these requests can be delivered by generic material describing the content of the current roles available in the organisation,or other people’s careers. Even if you list the qualifications and skills required for a particular job now, unless a person applies for it within 6 months, the expectations are likely to change, and anyway the promotion is not guaranteed for any individual with these qualifications.
It is helpful to know that a role that seems interesting and suitable in principle exists in the organisation, but this is not want people asked for.
So, how can you really help?
The main reason for companies trying to chart career paths is a laudable desire to help the employees to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty of the future. Most of us feel better when we know exactly what to expect. However, by setting to eliminate the ambiguity, the well-meaning employers are doomed to fail - it is just not possible in our VUCA world. So don’t sell them a dream that probably wont come true. The better way is not to try to eliminate ambiguity, but help people accept and adapt to it.
1. Talk about skills needed for the future, not the “jobs” you will have guaranteed.
Encourage people to learn new things and discover something that current successful managers do not even know. Shift from Employment to Employability– if a person has more future oriented skills, the chances are they will be in demand, both within the company and outside (yes, be brave to admit it, your employees will consider it anyway).
2. Introduce the concept of Job crafting.
If someone has the skills and motivation to do something useful for the business, which was not done before – why limit them by existing titles, grades and structures. Welcome ideas and help create new roles and teams to support them.
3. Create and promote tools for improving employees self-awareness.
Rather than copying someone else’s experience or following the market trends, to be more successful in what they do, people should base their choices on their own individual strengths and motivations.
4. Build a culture of constant career conversations.
To keep up with changes in business context and strategy as well as with changes in individual development and ambitions, it is vital to have regular checks. Train the managers to have a tailor made approach to individual careers, coaching their people to find the next steps that are good for them and the organisations.
5. Provide support for those anxious about the future.
It is true that uncertainty is uncomfortable. Do not infantilise people by giving them a false sense of security, instead, invest into communication and learning opportunities about dealing with change and ambiguity.
What is certain is that readiness to learn and change will be key for success in the future - as well as ability to see your future career not as a predetermined track, but an unchartered territory full of exciting new opportunities yet to be discovered.
Whatever are the goals for a coaching assignment (improve career prospects, work on a particular personality trait, get unstuck with an idea), the main purpose of Coaching is to help a person move forward, grow personally and professionally. And what are the conditions needed for Growth?
It was great to listen to David Rock last week at CIPD conference. He talked about Learning through the lens of cognitive neuroscience.
Years ago, when people came to me for career advice, the main question they wanted answers to was “How do I need to develop to become X”. It could have been shaped like “What training programme should I go on?” or “What qualification do I need?” or – much better – “what qualities do I need to have?”
Environment for your thinking on your own topic. The ever-changing (VUCA) World has influenced the way we learn. By the time someone has spotted the problem, worked out a solution, created a learning intervention (training, a course or even a paper) on the topic and made it available, the World will have moved on.