I sat down with a leader to talk about succession, and her biggest concern was the age of two key people and the timing of their retirement. When I asked if she had initiated a conversation about their career plans, her answer was, “My lawyer told me not to because they could sue me for age discrimination.” When I asked what their counsel has told them they could do, she answered, “He never told me that.” I was tempted to ask if they had only paid half the standard hourly rate for that conversation, but held back.
This is not a post about age issues, but a conversation around the barriers I see in leaders around career conversations. The reality is there are risks in these conversations because plan <> promise, and yet having these conversations will make you stand out as a leader and will engage your best people even more.
Reason 1: Don’t know where to start (Ignorance) – When I lay out my proven process to leaders, you can see the tension release. They realize how simple it is and come to see their role as more guide/partner than a leader.
Reason 2: Bad past experience (Scared) – The example I shared above is a great example of scared. The other situation is a bad past experience with career plans because they were laid off in 2007-2009 and still see ‘keeping my job’ as a career goal. They are afraid to say it or assume that is what the answer is. One reason I start my own process with capturing strengths and successes is to energize people.
Reason 3: Too much other work (No time) – I received this from a leader, and when I asked, “How much of your time do you think this will take?” they started a list: meetings, having to fill out a bunch of forms, constantly monitor progress, schedule future meetings, and generally do lots of extra work. When I shared with them my process and their role of being present, asking questions, and giving the ownership to the individual, they were pleasantly surprised and this barrier disappeared. It is work, and the work is largely on the individual if it done correctly. Time is a concern, but it should not be a barrier.
In 2015, I wrote Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance. This stemmed from my experiences helping leaders become more people-centered, in which I noticed them struggling with some of the basic performance conversations with their people. Own It! was written to be handed to someone so they saw their role and each tip becomes a step in the conversation between leader and team member.
Step 1: Ask if it would be of value? If they say yes, hand them Own It! and Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review) to read. If they say no, and you are okay that they have no plan, then focus your efforts on other people on your team.
Step 2: Have them pick the questions around long-term or short-term goals (p. 4 of Own It!). Make the first meeting about reviewing their answers. Ask questions to better understand their answers, and provide them with input on how those fit into some of the challenges you face as a leader and organization.
Step 2.5: Write down their answers and any goals/actions set because of the conversation; set a date to review them in 6-12 months. (Here is a template if you need one.) Around 80% of the time there will be some tangible things the individual can do, either start exploring their plan through gathering more information or actually doing work or start learning around a role they aspire to do.
One of my favorite quotes to frame this whole effort is:
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song ~ Maya Angelou
How would it change your own journey if you saw your career plans as a song you wanted to sing instead of an answer you were trying to find/provide?
Go Own It!
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