Why We Avoid Talking About Career Development

By Kristen Hayer

Every time I cover the idea of one-on-one meetings with managers, the topic of career development comes up. When you’re a new manager, the idea of putting yourself out there as some sort of career expert can feel embarrassing, awkward, or even like a lie. Seasoned managers worry about things like mediocre team members wanting a promotion, or great team members demonstrating that they really don’t have much career drive. Here's why you need to make these discussions a regular part of your one-on-ones, and a quick tutorial on how to make the conversation valuable.

Common Objections

Don’t think you need to talk about career development?  Here are the common objections I hear on this topic, and why it’s important to push yourself to have this conversation anyway.

Career development is an HR topic, why do I have to talk about it?

The HR department doesn’t have a relationship with your team members. You should. You are in the best position to understand what your people need, and to serve as an advocate for them. Your HR department isn’t going to proactively reach out to your team, but they are going to ask you at the end of the year who should be getting raises and promotions. If you take the time to have career conversations with your team, you’ll be able to make solid recommendations that align with each person's career goals.

How can I offer advice when I feel like an impostor myself?

I often hear this objection from new managers. Whether or not you feel qualified, you’re a leader. You are someone who has progressed further than the members of your team, so you are in a position to offer advice. Don’t think that you need to offer sage wisdom of the ages; you just need to tell your own story. How did you get promoted? What did you do to progress? What would you do in their situation? Working from your own experience is generally all that people expect.

What if they want a promotion or a raise?

Realistically, this will happen sometimes. However, whether or not you bring it up, your team members are already thinking about promotions and raises. It is better to have an employee’s expectations out on the table than hidden from view. At best, you’ll be able to coach your team member into a new role or perspective. At worst, you’ll have a heads up on when you expect them to pursue other opportunities.

My team member is brand new. It feels awkward to bring up their career so soon.

It can feel awkward and scary when, on their first week in the office you ask something like, “So, where do you want to be 5 years from now?” You can set the expectation that this is a safe topic by saying at your first one-on-one something like, “Hey, as your boss part of my job is to help you grow your career. In our weekly one-on-one meetings I want to talk about where you want to go after this position. That will help me make sure I give you the assignments and coaching to move you in the right direction.”

What if they don’t have big plans or goals, and this is just a job to them?

Every team has people who think of their job as, well, just a job. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer career development conversations to those employees. Everyone can improve their performance in their current job. Sometimes people don’t have big career aspirations because they have never been shown where their career could go. Having a conversation about their potential could provide the vision and motivation they need to go further.

How to Have Career Development Conversations

These discussions don't need to be some deep talk about life plans (although they can be). This part of your weekly one-on-one meeting is just an opening for people to give you hints about the direction they are going in. Sometimes they turn into longer conversations, and sometimes they don’t. Here are some questions you can ask to spur the discussion:

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years, and what can I do to help you get there?
  • What did you do this week that helped you push your career forward?
  • What kinds of projects would you like to work on to help boost your career?
  • What kind of career training would you like to pursue?
  • Which other departments in the company interest you?
  • What can I do to help you progress in your career?

Make career development part of the conversation in all of your one-on-ones. You’ll find that you can help your team progress, ensure that you assign projects to the right people, and have your finger on the pulse of your group. Your team will appreciate that you care about their long-term development, and are their advocate within your company.

Are you a leader who wants to learn best practices for customer success and management? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that will work with you to build the metrics, goals, processes and practices that create top performing teams.  www.TheSuccessLeague.io