PEOPLE ARE OUR MOST IMPORTANT RESOURCE…TIME PERMITTING
While managers recognise that career development and counselling create a better ‘fit’ between employees and their jobs, which increases efficiency and elevates morale, they still don’t make employee development a priority, shares DR BEVERLY KAYE.
Contemporary organisational practices rely heavily on managers’ abilities to get the most from their employees, but with the ranks of middle managers shrinking, those who remain have more responsibilities and less time to devote to employees’ critical developmental needs.
Employees can’t put their career needs on hold until managers accumulate the time and talent to offer them comprehensive career guidance. HRD specialists can help managers substantially meet employees’ needs by teaching managers to incorporate career development into their day-to-day routines. Some managers do this naturally— they recognise employees’ interests through casual conversation or by observing how employees work. They give feedback that can help workers develop professionally. These managers take advantage of ‘coachable moments’—opportunities that occur in the context of ongoing work and open the door for valuable, if brief, career counselling.
‘Coachable moments’ help managers address career development within the small amount of time available. They represent an informal, spontaneous opportunity for career development. While they do not substitute for formal programmes and in-depth counselling, they can produce important results. To take advantage of coachable moments, managers first need to understand and commit to the need for career development as a way to use human resources productively. To act on that commitment, managers must take three steps: recognise, verbalise and mobilise.
Managers need to recognise opportunities for coachable moments when they occur, picking up on cues from employees whose words and actions indicate openness to immediate developmental feedback.
An employee demonstrates a new skill or interest
Lorianne hands her manager a flyer she produced on her computer. It looks almost as good as one that might have come from the company’s graphics department. She takes great pride and shows enthusiasm for more of this type of work. This type of cue indicates that an employee is taking a crucial step in career development: self-assessment. Most who take this step will not end up in an entirely new career or different job; but with help, by broadening their skills, they can expand their contribution to the organisation and gain more satisfaction from their work.
An employee seeks feedback
Marc, a new supervisor, has drafted a detailed proposal for reorganising tasks in his purchasing unit, including a budget that demonstrates annual cost reductions. Several days after submitting it to his boss, he asks her, “Did you get a chance to check out those figures in the budget I gave you for the new organisation?” An employee who asks for feedback or evaluation might be examining strengths and weaknesses, not just fishing for a pat on the back. This type of cue indicates that an employee is conducting a reality check, the second critical step in career development. When managers recognise these coachable moments, they should relate feedback on the activity to the employee’s potential; this helps the employee discover areas to enhance and develop.
An employee is thinking about change in the organisation
Lindsey, a computer programmer, mentions to her manager, “I heard that the advertising office might develop a slot for its own network management person. Is advertising growing that fast or do many departments already have their own network managers?” When employees show interest in better understanding the organisation’s structure and development, they might need an opportunity for organisation study. Managers can help employees see how their aspirations fit with organisational realities and directions. Employees might use this information to develop a career path that eventually could take them outside their current units; in the meantime, they will add value to their present positions.
An employee is experiencing a poor job fit
Barry, a payroll supervisor, recently has become the subject of complaints about sloppy work in his unit. When his manager points out an error, Barry responds, “I guess that one just slipped by. The only way to make sure nothing slips is for me to monitor my people more closely and I really don’t want to do that. That’s not my job.” When an employee sends cues about poor job fit, it might mean the employee is considering his or her options and goals, a vital aspect of the career development process. An employee might have outgrown the job or the job might not match his or her interests or abilities. If managers recognise these signals as opportunities for coachable moments, they might be able to help unhappy employees find a better match.
An employee is searching for development opportunities
Julie, who deals with new-client prospecting for a large construction management firm, tells her manager, “You can probably count on me being here in this job forever. I thought I might be good at project planning, but those people are all hired from outside with previous experience.” Most employees who have clear goals but don’t know how to achieve them need only minimal encouragement and suggestions to help them map out career plans; but typically, they don’t ask for help outright. Instead, they vent frustration. Managers must recognise that these employees are not just asking for empathy; they want help in planning the actions they should take to attain their goals.
This step opens a dialogue and establishes a rapport that says, “I noticed; I care.” By verbalising, managers confirm that they have read employees’ cues correctly and they demonstrate their interest. For some employees, a coachable moment requires only a brief verbal response—assured of support from above, they are motivated to pursue their own career development. Other employees need more help in sorting out how they want to direct their energies and develop their careers. In either case, the verbalisation step is not meant to provide solutions, but to help employees define their goals and needs.
- When Lorianne showed her boss the flyer and mentioned that she had produced it with new software, her manager could have taken advantage of the coachable moment by saying, “This is really good. Is it something you’d like to do more of?” or “Nice job. I had no idea you were interested in graphics.” This type of brief response shows approval and opens the door for the employee to discuss a new area of skill or interest. It goes beyond the disinterest of “Thanks. We can use that.”
- When Marc asked his boss if she had checked the budget figures in his reorganisation proposal, his manager could have responded, “I like your use of a programme budget rather than an expenditure budget. How did you decide that would provide your point best?” or “Budgeting really seems to be a strong point for you.” This opens a dialogue that might prompt Marc to talk about specific job interests—the skills he might want to enhance and develop in his work. Dialogue would be cut off if the manager had simply responded, “I’ve only skimmed the report, but it looks fine.”
- When Lindsey asked if many departments have their own network managers, her manager could have said, “Sales and research have their own network managers, and I think we’ll be seeing more departments going that route.” or “We’re growing in that direction. Is it something you’d be interested in?” This kind of response provides the desired information and the opportunity for the employee to confirm his or her interest in a different area of the organisation. If Lindsey’s manager had simply said, “I’m not sure; you might check with HR,” the coachable moment would have been lost.
- When Barry said it was not his responsibility to prevent errors by supervising his staff more closely, his manager could have asked, “What do you see as the critical functions of your job?” or “Why don’t you want to monitor your people more closely?” The key is to open a dialogue that can help identify the source of the problem. Is the employee bored or disinterested? Does the employee lack training or knowledge? Managers need to confront these situations, not just shrug them off with a vague directive.
- When Julie told her manager that she believed her lack of experience would prevent her from ever trying project planning, her manager could have suggested, “Some of your experience in our area could be applicable with just some additional training.” or “If you’re serious about it, there might be some ways you can get similar experience here.” Such a response lets Julie know her manager supports her development desires and has ideas that can help.
Verbalising requires a commitment on the managers’ part to keep the conversation going, but it does not require a lengthy interaction that seeks to explore and solve all issues. Even if a manager decides to stop at this step, verbalising can make a valuable contribution to an employee’s pursuit of career development.
MOBILISE THE EMPLOYEE—ACTIVATE
Once a manager has recognised a cue and opened a conversation with an employee, the manager can ‘mobilise’ the employee by suggesting steps the employee can take to develop his or her career. At this stage, the key for managers is to be candid and specific. Mobilising still leaves the responsibility for career development with the employee, but it helps the employee focus on realistic, do-able steps.
- After recognising Lorianne’s new skill at computer graphics and confirming her interest, her manager could say, “You might want to take a shot at the invitations for Steve’s retirement party” or “Why don’t you ask Michele down in graphics what other new programmes are available that you might want to learn?”
- After Marc has requested and received feedback on development of a budget proposal, his manager could suggest, “Let’s put this on the agenda of the next administrative meeting so you can show the other supervisors how performance budgeting might help them” or “This year, why don’t you draft your unit’s budget for my review, instead of me doing it?”
- After Lindsey had expressed an interest in computer-network management positions within the organisation, her manager might mobilise her by saying, “If it’s something you’re thinking about for yourself, you might want to talk to Jane Hunter, who does computer personnel work, about the kinds of training those positions require” or “A computer-network manager is something our division might eventually need too. Why don’t you talk to some of the network managers in other divisions and work up a proposal for me about when and how our unit might phase into that?”
- After confirming Barry’s poor job fit, Barry’s manager might say, “You have some valuable skills, but we might not be using you in a way that fits your interests. If you make a list of your skills and interests, I’ll look at it with you to see what we can do to improve the situation.”
- After Julie indicated that she can’t identify strategies to develop the opportunities she seeks, her manager could suggest, “You got to know Alan pretty well when he was planning the university project. Why don’t you talk to him about courses and projects that might help you learn the ropes; then bring a list of them to me so that we can see what we can do” or “If I were you, I’d review some of the job descriptions for planning positions to check out qualifications. Then you’ll have an idea of exactly what gaps you might need to fill and what you already have to offer.”
Mobilising employees takes more creativity and awareness than time on a manager’s part. This step leaves an employee with concrete suggestions he or she can act on and demonstrates that managers are interested in employee developmental needs and willing to be involved.
SEIZE THE MOMENT
With practice, acting on coachable moments can become routine and almost instinctive for managers. Seizing the opportunity for ‘coaching moments’ creates a caring environment that can alleviate many employee frustrations about development on and beyond the current job.
Coachable moments can go a long way towards meeting employees’ needs for job satisfaction and the organisation’s need for effective use of employee talent. These brief encounters enable managers to seize the moment for employee development when lengthier discussions and planning sessions aren’t possible. Acting on a coachable moment might add up to only a five-minute discussion, but that discussion can initiate important partnerships between caring (but extremely busy) managers and employees who need help and encouragement to focus on career goals.
Dr Beverly Kaye is an internationally recognised authority on career issues, employee engagement and retention in the workplace. She is an author of bestselling books Up is Not The Only Way and Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay and CEO of Career Systems international. Having worked with a host of organisations, she has developed and delivered cutting-edge, award-winning talent management solutions. For more information on solutions in career development, employee engagement and retention, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.