How to Do Career Development Discussions Better
Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go
Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni
Due to my own personal interest in career development and leadership, I chose to read “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go” by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni. The book is written with the viewpoint that it’s read by managers who want to learn to facilitate employee growth. Thus, the book makes many interesting claims and made me revise my own career goals again.
The book begins with explaining that all employees want to develop their careers but often do not know how to do it. Which might be due to them not knowing what their true goals are or who to turn to with questions. This is not helped by most big companies having a yearly development day or development discussion where there is a lot of talk about how everyone wants to develop different skills. All this is then forgotten for the rest of the year until the next yearly development day or discussion. Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni explain how the “simple human act of helping people grow has gotten very complicated”. There are too many processes and checklists attached to the idea of growing one’s potential. The extra tasks make it cumbersome for managers and is problematic in modern workplace where they are constantly asked to reduce time processes take and to focus on bringing savings for the business.
To me it was interesting how Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni asked what would happen if career discussions would be held often? What if they were short 10 minutes conversations where the employee and manager discuss the wishes and goals the employee has? In my opinion this would allow the employee to spar ideas with their manager. The truth is that a caring conversation can touch a person more than any career building day ever. Managers should teach employees that they, the employees, are responsible for their own careers and skills development and thus must own their development plans. The employees need to realize what actions will lead them to their definition of success or goals. And this can be only achieved by reflection and commitment which are hard to spark with programmes that someone else has designed for another. To help managers do this Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni advise that they shouldn’t aim to give closure to the employees in the discussions but instead ask them questions that will stay in the mind of the employee and cause them think the questions over many times.
Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni argue that for better career development discussions a manager should explore three key areas of a framework: hindsight, foresight and insight. The three parts of the framework are used in order where you begin with hindsight that looks backwards and focuses on where the employee has worked in, what have they done, what do they love and what are they good at. Then you move onto foresight where they look at the big picture in the broad environment (world, industry and company) in order to determine what is changing and what those changes mean for the future. After that you find insight that exists in area where hindsight and foresight overlap. Insight is where you find answers to career development and planning.
This is how hindsight, foresight and insight are positioned relative to each other. (Giulioni & Kaye. 2012.)
Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni explain that good hindsight questions stay in the mind of the employee and guide them to make choices that lead them to be where they want to be. There are three approaches that are recommended for hindsight conversations: get to know them backwards, quarterly check-up and never-ending interview. The point of getting to know them backwards approach is that you establish where have they worked before and how those jobs made them feel. Themes arise based on what types of jobs or tasks made the employee bored or disengaged and what type made them energetic and joyous. The themes then give ground for foresight investigation (where to focus). The quarterly check-up approach differs from the getting to know them backwards because the manager wants to encourage the employee to reflect on things that happened at the workplace and notice which satisfied them, which pushed them to their limits and which frustrated them. This teaches self-awareness and shows themes. In the third approach, called never-ending interview, the manager uses questions to find the employee’s skills, strengths, values, interests, dislikes, preferences and weaknesses. The answers are then studied to discover the bigger picture and themes. As you can see all three approaches centre around finding themes that can then be used in the next part of the framework.
For the best foresight findings Dr Kaye and Ms Giulino introduce two approaches. The aim of both approaches is to discover what is going on in the world, industry and the organization so that employees do not choose to develop skills that are becoming obsolete. The first one approach is done in a group where employees gather data and research issues together in order to gain a deep understanding on the changes and challenges in the business. “Encouraging employees to interact directly with the environment is just an interesting exercise until you debrief their experiences and encourage reflection.”, argue Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni. Debriefing and encouraging reflection are important so that the employees learn to connect the findings with the organization and themselves. The second approach is to ask an employee to fill in the blanks in statements, such as “I predict that the next big thing will be . . .”, “I can imagine a time when . . .”, “Our business would be turned upside down if . . .”, “Everything will change with the obsolescence of . . .”, “I was most personally affected when the organization changed . . .”, “It really made a difference when management . . .” and “To keep my edge and pursue my career goals, I’m going to need to . .”. These partial sentences force the employee to think strategically about the world around them and how it affects their careers.
As mentioned before, insight is found in the area where hindsight and foresight overlap. It opens development possibilities for employees and the most important finding is that career development is not limited to just moving up (promotion), down (demotion) or over (transfer to another department) but can be staying in place. According to Dr Kaye and Ms Giulioni the most underutilized career development strategy is growth in place. It is also the most cost and time effective as managers can find ways to help employees to grow talents, explore interests and build capabilities within the context of their jobs. Many people associate the change of titles with career growth when it can just be a gesture to show appreciation towards work well done without any growth possibilities. Due to changing world of work it might not even be possible for most employees to change title as gig work, freelancing and consulting are becoming more common career paths. Managers should help employees to shift their focus from titles to what do they needs to experience, know, learn and be able to do. The book has and example of this where a technical documentation specialist wants to become a not-for-profit grant writer. She worked for a for-profit manufacturing plant and it seemed like that there was no way to develop the skills she was interested in. After she and her manager thought about the situation together and realized that there was a way for her to improve her writing skills which allowed her to not only improve the quality of her projects but also prepare for creating grants. She also worked with the sales team helping them write proposals and other influence pieces. And all those actions raised her engagement and commitment levels as it showed that the organization is willing to help her grow. The story was ended with a glimpse of the current situation where she still works for the same company and does volunteer grant writing on her spare time.
So far there has been many points on how to engage in career planning, and why career conversations and development are important. But what I noticed throughout the book is that the authors emphasized the importance of debriefing. Dr Kaye and Ms Giulino explain that managers should debrief employees often to help the employee find and retain learnings (help them self-reflect). What did they take away from discussions or activities and how did those benefit them? In my personal experience I agree with the authors. I find it important to debrief my learning experiences as it allows me to realize what I learned and how I can use it.
Giulioni, J. & Kaye, B. 2012 Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go. 2nd edition. USA. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.