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How to make your career conversations less ‘frightening’



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Bridget Beattie, group executive vice president, Asia Pacific Middle East for Right Management speaks with Akankasha Dewan on the importance of having solid career conversations in the workplace, and the best ways to work with a changing workforce.

As a woman leader, what tips would you give to other women professionals who wish to rise up the ranks?

One of the things that I say to women is take the profit and loss (P&L) roles. Make sure you’re running a business. Often, women leaders will get shunted into some of the support roles – marketing/HR/communications where they perform fantastically.

But we’ve seen is that from those roles, they don’t rise any further. On the other hand, if they are involved in running a P&L role – they can even become the CEO.

We would advise women to get a variety of experience – marketing/HR/P&L experience early on in their careers so then they can make their career choices.

What do you think are the biggest causes of talent shortage in Asia today?

It’s bizarre- we have jobs that are unfilled and we have people who can’t find jobs.  There is a growing mismatch between skills and jobs.

The reason for this is that we have low-skilled jobs, and high-skilled jobs, and also medium-skilled jobs.

We have seen quite a few changes happening to medium-skilled jobs. A lot of those jobs are disappearing, and people aren’t able to transfer their skills up to high-skilled jobs.

We have seen quite a few changes happening to medium-skilled jobs. A lot of those jobs are disappearing, and people aren’t able to transfer their skills up to high-skilled jobs.

On the other hand, however, they don’t want to transfer their skills down to low-skilled jobs. So there’s a skills mismatch present.

We also see, in different countries around Asia, that graduates aren’t job-ready. In the past, graduates were given a little bit of time to acclimatise to the workplace, to settle into work and to get going. These days, their time to value has got to be really fast. I hear from companies that their graduates are not very good these days.

I don’t think they are that much different – I just think the demands made of them are greater in volume. So what we’re finding is that we need to start working with people who are still in university to help them get job ready. That makes a lot of difference.

We’ve also seen that mature workers, upon finding that their jobs have changed a lot, aren’t able to transfer their skills, because they haven’t kept their learning up. This is why Singapore’s SkillsFutureCredit is so important today.

On that topic, do you think the SkillsFuture programme will encourage Singaporeans to take more initiative of their careers?

I think it’s a wonderful initiative because I think instilling life-long learning is absolutely critical. It’s an absolutely great opportunity for organisations to help work with willing individuals in learning new skills.

If you can help an individual gain the realisation about what skills are going to be more useful and effective for them, and give employees that direction and opportunity to take charge, that is great. It’s about giving them the information about how others see the individual in the workplace, which is really valuable.

Indeed, the trend today is that more employees need to take ownership of their careers. What implications does this have for employers today?

Well, employers don’t feel like they’re in the driver’s seat anymore. There’s been a big shift quite quickly. Today, employers need to work with employees together, as in a partnership. Individuals, are actually happy, to be in a partnership.

The more that can happen as a conversation in the workplace, which is flexible and can ebb and flow between the individual and the organisation, the better it will be. We need this conversation to be happening all the time, as the needs and demands of the individual and the organisation change.

Employees should know in career conversations where they’re going in their career trajectory, how they fit in the organisation, where they’re valued, and where the opportunities are

Likewise, your whitepaper, Talk the Talk, discusses the importance of having career conversations with staff to manage their performance. What do you think an ideal career conversation looks like? 

[Check out the full white-paper here]

Employees should know in the conversation where they’re going in their career, how they fit in the organisation, where they’re valued, and where the opportunities are. That is the ideal conversation, with an ebb and flow and a give and take.

I also think that it is valuable if it’s not only their direct manager, but the next one up, who’s got a broader view of the employees and company to be involved as well.

Career conversations can be frightening for managers when it comes to really good direct employees, because they don’t want to lose them or hurt their working relationship in any way.

Speaking of that, what advice would you give to employers who have to give negative feedback to their high-potential employees?

Very good employees are pretty well-aware when things aren’t going quite as well. I always start those conversations by asking people ‘how do you think you performed in this assignment?’ or ‘how would you rate your contribution in this assignment?’

Often, people come up straight to me to say ‘it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be”. Then we can work at what went well, and what didn’t. I think just coming in and framing it as a negative conversation isn’t a great way.

People who don’t have this self-awareness aren’t nearly as strong potential as you think. If you don’t have this self-awareness you can never adjust in the workplace. Self-reflection is how development really happens in coaching, and coaching is all about helping people do self-reflection while giving them actual examples.

So what are some of the biggest skills leaders should have when conducting these conversations?

Ask questions – one at a time. And use silence. Listen. Wait for the answer.

Often, people need to reflect. So when I do career conversations with my team, when I first send out the calendar invite setting the date and time of the conversation, I give them three questions to think about to get the frame right. Then they would come, feeling equipped about the conversation especially because sometimes, it feels intimidating to have this conversation.

It’s really active engagement to have conversations. It’s not about me telling, but also actively listening.

Self-reflection is how development really happens in coaching, and coaching is all about helping people do self-reflection while giving them actual examples.

These conversations should happen all the time. A good leader should be happening quick one-on-one conversations with their direct reports regularly. They should be getting to know them, building trust, building understanding and also understanding them as individuals. If you were just sitting down and filling a form from HR – it’s no good.

I do believe in setting goals, I do believe in having measurement for those goals, so that individuals can know where they stand.  It should not be an HR process, but instead, should be a manager’s tool for being an effective leader.

But how involved should HR leaders be in these career conversations?

Not at all.What they can do is to train managers to be career coaches – that’s a great role for them. A career coach, as I mentioned, is a little different than giving direction. It is about asking questions, and helping the individual understand what their strengths and weaknesses are.

When you have these career conversations, how can you track their effectiveness?

One of the things that I always find is that I come out of those conversations thinking ‘I did not know that’. If you learn new things about the individual, then you have improved the organisational knowledge. Then I would typically go and talk to their manager to say ‘we need to give this person an opportunity to do this assignment here, because I think they’ve got a lot of appetite for doing this’.

Career conversations are personal, organisations are impersonal. So what career conversations do is that they make the organisation personal to the individual. If you can find out the individual’s interests, and act on it in the next few months, that will make the individual feel wonderful.

These career conversations are really important for agility and mobility in the US, and for engagement and retention in Asia.

In your opinion, what do you think are the biggest areas in which HR functions can improve on?

HR leaders get asked to do a lot of things that other people don’t want to do. And I think when they are left doing the things that managers don’t want to do, that’s not a recipe for success.

I think often HR leaders spread themselves too thin, and they try to take on 15-20 different programmes or initiatives and it’s too much.

Career conversations are personal, organisations are impersonal. So what career conversations do is that they make the organisation personal to the individual.

They might be working on engagement, or driving high-potentials into a particular area of growth for the business, but in essence, what they really need to do is to focus on the business strategy. They should understand the businesses strategy and help translate that into everything that they do. Keep it simple.

Beattie will continue the conversation on career development at Training & Development Asia, the region’s only learning and development conference for HR leaders and senior L&D specialists. For more details, check out the event website here.

TDA 2016

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