Employees want career management help — HR needs to ensure they receive it

Q&A with Barbara Moses, author of <i>What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life</i>

Few people will work for one organization for their entire lives. This is particularly the case for highly skilled knowledge workers who are constantly on the look out for new opportunities, new challenges, new work and, if need be, new employers so that they can realize the most fulfilling careers possible. This is the new reality and the sooner HR acknowledges it the better. Canadian HR Reporter talked to Barbara Moses about this new reality and how organizations need to adjust. Moses is one of Canada’s leading career management experts and author of What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life.

CHRR: What does career management mean in the modern, knowledge economy?

Moses: It is basically about the individual taking an activist stance in relation to her career, thinking about who am I, what do I care about and what is important to me. The number one issue that people deal with today is how they can find work which speaks to their core values, that uses their unique talents, makes them feel good about themselves and still allows them time for a life.

Everyone has to take responsibility for their own employability which means they have to make sure their skills are up to date as measured by the standards of their profession, not their company. And they also have to take responsibility for managing the very complex and quirky line between their work and personal life. Everyone has to have the mindset of a temporary worker. That really is what career management is.

CHRR : If it is first and foremost about individuals taking charge of their careers, why should HR care?

Moses: HR should care because if people are not doing work that utilizes their core strengths and they don’t feel that the organization cares about them, then they are going to feel distant at best and demoralized at worst.

In order for people to perform effectively they need to have their work play to their strengths. They need to feel appreciated and they need to feel that there is something in it for them — whether it is something that looks good on their resume, or they are trying to please their boss, or they are going to have a huge level of personal satisfaction. That is why HR needs to care, not because they are nice people.

Today’s new worker is an empowered individual and when I talk about the new worker I am not talking about the person who is not educated or who doesn’t have skills. This is very much, sadly, an economy that favours the new knowledge aristocrat.

These are people who understand their value and, by understanding their value, they also place a great deal of importance on their personal life. They feel that good work is a right not a privilege. They feel it is a basic right to have great work and to feel good about themselves for the huge number of hours they are going to spend at work. If they are not getting that satisfaction they are just going to vote with their feet and leave.

CHRR: Even with the economy the way it is?

HR unfortunately, and leaders at most organizations, have very short memories. When the economy is up then you have three million conferences on retention. And then three months later there are no conferences on attracting and retaining the new worker. But the reality is that there is going to be a skills shortage. The reality is that if you want to have a cadre of talented and committed people you need to treat them well.

CHRR: What about the concern that at a certain point making people more employable will hurt retention as they are picked off by other organizations?

That is such an old-fashioned concept. First of all what comes around goes around. You may invest in Peter, and yes there is a good chance that Peter will move on. Not investing in him may mean he’s less likely to move but you also have a less skilled worker — you don’t win on that one.

And if Peter does move on, the chances are you’ll be able to pick up Carol who left her employer because she heard your organization offers good opportunities and she now comes to work with you.

Besides, I have a problem with the word “retention.” You don’t want to retain people. You don’t want to hold people. You want to inspire them and you want people staying with you because they are doing great work and they love what they are doing. And if they leave, so be it.

CHRR: It seems that in many organizations today everyone is so busy just trying to get their work done. How can they find time for career management?

It is true, productivity demands are such that managers feel constantly torn — and I always hear this in workshops — they say, “That is fine and well when you tell me I should coach and counsel my people. But the bottom line is no matter what the organization says about developing people, they really pay me for how many widgets I get out at the end of the month.”

On top of that, it is particularly a problem because managers aren’t very good at helping their employees with career management because they themselves have not benefited from good development opportunities. There are a lot of young people who have been parachuted into senior positions and sadly, because of the downsizing that took place and the bleeding of middle management talent over the last 10 years, they didn’t get the kinds of support they needed so they aren’t very good at helping employees with their career management.

CHRR: How important is it to have a manager on board?

Managers play an important role in employee career management in so far as they support the employee and are aware of how the employee feels about his work. Managers need to be having regular conversations with their employees about whether or not they are happy and if they are not, what can the organization do to help.

One of the problems of typical coaching scenarios is that employees aren’t encouraged to really think about these things. Instead an employee goes to her manager and says, “I want to talk about my career.” And the boss says, “Okay, what do you want to do?’ and the employee says, “Gee, I don’t really know. What do you think I’d be good at?” and they go round and round and round. That is because we are asking managers to behave like clinicians or counsellors. They are not clinicians. Employees should be able to go the manager and say, “I want to talk about my career. I want more opportunities to present or I want to get some exposure to the kind of work they are doing in another division.”

But unless you give people the tools whereby you enable them to think about who they are and what they care about, they can’t be best utilized by the organization.

CHRR: Are performance management systems an effective vehicle for career management?

Well, the key to facilitating great performance from employees is putting them in the right work and giving them the tools to manage their careers and the opportunity for meaningful self-assessment and meaningful reflection. Organizations should be encouraging employees to think about whether or not they are happy, and they can only truly understand that if they have taken the time and really consider what they want to be doing with their job.

CHRR: So should career management replace performance management?

No, because organizations do need a way of enabling people to set meaningful objectives for the organization and to give them feedback. So they do need some kind of performance management program, but career development should not be about a formal program anyway. In some cases it may be necessary to legislate a change in behaviours and get everyone acting like career management matters, but eventually it should be a living, breathing part of the organization. It is how people feel about what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. You can’t legislate that or fill out a form at the end of the year to confirm that people have been thinking about their career.

Career development isn’t necessarily the individual sitting down with the manager setting career management goals for the year ahead. That could be part of it, but it doesn’t have to be. The important aspect is not manager involvement. It is the organization really encouraging its employees to think about whether or not they feel good about their jobs.

CHRR: How does that improve job performance?

Many organizations today spend most of their development money on improving weaknesses. That is naive. People come to the table with particular strengths and aptitudes. If someone has the potential to be a really great leader, and you spend $100 on leadership development, that will have huge benefits. But if someone, by nature, has no desire to lead, you can spend a $1,000 on him and you won’t get a noticeable difference. Every time I talk about this with managers, they say they spend a lot of time doing performance management and looking for areas for improvement or weaknesses or opportunities for development — all of which are polite ways of saying you are not very good at it. Instead, we should be looking at things that people are already good at and that they feel most passionate about, and making them gifted at it.

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