Advancement vs Development
There’s been a shift in employee conversations.
To people managers, it feels a lot like a long car ride with young children. “Are we there yet?” is asked so many times that it stirs feelings of frustration and exasperation. Ask any people manager, and they would say the most common question from an early career employee is “Am I there yet? Am I ready for promotion?” And while most people leaders have a faint memory of feeling eager and impatient themselves, there is more frustration and exasperation with their newest employees and the repetitive “Am I there yet?”
No doubt it creates an impression of someone who seems self-focused. But it’s worth noting that this generation of newest employees are considered to be a very smart generation. They have a skill set that many around them in the workforce don’t have. They’re tech natives, so they can do almost anything faster. And in the early steps of their career, they’ve experienced unusual trends with a workforce shortage and hiring salaries off the charts. So, it stands to reason that they’re being coached at home and by friends to “ask for anything… and you’ll probably get it.”
It makes sense that their focus is about what’s next. And if people managers take a deep breath and a step back, they’ll find that enthusiasm and motivation is driving the annoying impatience. We all made mistakes in our early steps, and this group‘s impatience will likely be one of their missteps.
But if you have a motivated, even an impatient employee, you can shift the conversation.
Some managers feel hesitant to do this. They, too, lived through unusual trends. And they were told to look after people, to be very flexible with people. So having any conversation that stands firm or offers a little humble pie, makes them nervous. But when you balance the worry of disappointing someone with the responsibility of guiding someone, you’ll find that honesty is the best policy.
Here’s how you shift the conversation.
First, compensation can’t be a gray area: Every employee needs to understand how compensation works inside a company. 90% of individual contributors don’t understand pay bands. They don’t really understand how talent ratings work within companies, and so they’re very naive about their manager’s capabilities and limitations around advancement. 50% of managers don’t understand how this works beyond their team.
People leave companies because they make assumptions about how things work, and they assume managers can do whatever they want to do to advance them. Advancement is a process within a company, and the assessment behind it happens for most employees at the same time each year. Navigating advancement requires instruction. When an employee understands the rules, timing, and the process companies use to advance an employee, they realize they’re asking their manager for the wrong thing in those weekly conversations.
Second, distinguish between advancement and development: Good managers lean into development which makes the annual advancement conversation easier. If Joe is your employee, the conversation shift may sound like this:
“Joe, I have an advancement conversation with you twice a year from a standpoint of compensation, position changes, and increased responsibilities. Our company does that once a year, and at midyear, I’m happy to talk to you about how you’re tracking. But I’m more a steward of your development plan than your compensation plan. In terms of growing your skills and experiences, I’m happy to have an on-going conversation with you. As your manager, I have a lot of ownership for helping you get the experience that will lead to advancement down the road. And while the company guides the conversation we have once a year, you and I can set a unique and individual development plan to set what you want to see and what you want to learn.”
Third, build a multi-step career path with an employee: Shift their thinking from what they want to do next to where they want to be in ten years. This paints a picture of multiple experiences and relationships that will happen over time versus a specific event of taking one step up the career ladder.
If an employee can’t tell you where they want to be, explain the importance of having a path. While the path may change, it will help them shape the experiences that they need along the way, and it adds some direction to what they should explore. It also gives them something to talk about as they network within your company.
As companies continue to evolve and reset quickly, we see many people who get stuck or sidelined because no one understands the longer journey they’re pursuing. They only see an employee’s current skills, and it may be too much or too little for a company to apply their skills. But when companies have more intel, where someone is today AND where they’d like to be in the future, it’s easier to adjust a role short-term and keep an employee on course from the longer career path.
This missing element, the ability to talk about your career path, was the inspiration for our book, Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career. In fact, people managers have their own stories to share about how experiences led to career opportunities. And managers should share them often. Young employees need a broader view and a longer game plan. They also need relationships.
And that’s the Fourth element. Encourage relationships that may lead to mentorship: This is another misunderstood corporate norm. Young employees are “coached” to find mentors quickly in a company. Maybe the right intent, but it’s often executed poorly. Leaders get frustrated when someone they don’t know asks: “Will you be my mentor?” The answer is maybe, but probably not. To the employee, mentorship means someone who is going to tell me what to do to accelerate my success. To a leader, it means added time focused on someone you don’t really know. So maybe, but probably not.
Mentoring happens over time, and it’s a one-in-a-hundred relationship that grows beyond advice to common interests and trusted camaraderie. No one knows who will take hold as a mentor, but coaching an employee to build multiple relationships starts the beginning of a network that may reveal a mentorship.
People managers are the critical factor that gets high performance out of employees today and guides career development for where employees will end up tomorrow. But it takes a shift in conversation, and a people manager who can put the four steps above into place.
If you’re finding employee conversations challenging, let us help you shift the conversation.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!