Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want




Study after study confirms that career development is the single most powerful tool managers have for driving retention, engagement, productivity, and results. Nevertheless, it’s frequently back-burnered. When asked why, managers say the number one reason is that they just don’t have time—for the meetings, the forms, the administrative hoops.

But there’s a better way. And it’s surprisingly simple: frequent short conversations with employees about their career goals and options integrated seamlessly into the normal course of business. Beverly Kaye, coauthor of the bestselling Love ’Em or Lose ’Em , and Julie Winkle Giulioni identify three broad types of conversations that will increase employees’ awareness of their strengths, weaknesses, and interests; point out where their organization and their industry are headed; and help them pull all of that together to design their own up-to-the-minute, personalized career plans.

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go is filled with practical tips, guidelines, and templates, as well as nearly a hundred suggested conversation questions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609946326
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 09/17/2012
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Beverly Kaye is founder and co-CEO of Career Systems International, specializing in engagement, retention, and development. She is a well-known keynote speaker, writer, and developer of innovative learning tools.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is cofounder and principal of DesignArounds, a bicoastal consulting and instructional design firm specializing in leadership, sales, and customer service.

Read an Excerpt

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

By Beverly Kaye Julie Winkle Giulioni

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60994-632-6

Chapter One

Develop Me or I'm History!

Spending 40-60-80 hours somewhere each week ... I want it to mean something. I want to feel like I'm moving forward somehow. If I can't grow here, I've gotta look elsewhere. — an employee (perhaps yours)

The decision to assume a management role in today's workplace comes with a front-row seat to some of the greatest business challenges of our time. Day in and day out, you must

Do more with less. It's become cliché, but it permeates life at work. You've likely become a master at finding ways to reduce costs, time, and other resources below levels you never imagined were possible.

Meet ever-expanding expectations. Every quarter, you're asked to do a little (or a lot) more. Bigger sales. Greater numbers of service interactions. More projects. Higher scores.

Continuously improve quality. Good enough isn't. Given the competition in today's global market, perfection is the standard—until it's met and you have to do even better.

Deliver the next big thing. Most organizations believe that if they're not moving forward, they're sliding back. Innovation gets its picture on business magazine covers because it represents the promise of greater success.

And, no matter how long, hard, or smart you work, you can't do all of this alone. Success depends upon tapping the very best that each employee has to offer and enabling the highest possible levels of engagement.

Study after study confirms that best-in-class managers—the ones who consistently develop the most capable, flexible, and engaged teams able to drive exceptional business results—all share one quality: they make career development a priority.


Even during challenging economic times, your best and brightest have options. Failing to help them grow can lead employees to take their talents elsewhere. They become "history." But what can be equally as damaging as this sort of talent drain are the employees who stay and become disengaged. Their bodies remain but their commitment has quit. In this way, history plays out, repeating itself over and over again in too many organizations.

So, if career development is a tool that can deliver productivity gains, expense reduction, quality improvements, innovation, and bottom-line results, why isn't everyone using it?


Perhaps it's frequently forgotten because the term career development strikes fear into managers' hearts.


Take a moment to think about what career development means to you? What's involved? What's your role?

Whatever your answer, we'll bet that ours is simpler. You see, many managers are intimidated by or steer clear of career development because they have a mistaken, convoluted, or overwhelming definition of the term.

So, try this definition on for size:

Career development is nothing more than helping others grow. And nothing less.

Helping others grow can take a nearly unlimited number of forms. On one end of the continuum, you help employees prepare for and move to new or expanded roles in obvious and visible ways. But far more frequently, growth shows up on the other end of the continuum, in small, subtle ways that quietly create greater challenge, interest, and satisfaction in a job.

The problem is that too often career development evokes images of forms, checklists, and deadlines. And let's be honest—you've got to address them to support the organization. But administrative details are not career development.

Instead, genuine and meaningful career development occurs through the human act of conversation.

Whether it's a formal individual development planning (IDP) meeting or an on-the-fly connection, it's the quality of the conversation that matters most to employees. That's how they judge your performance and their development. That's also how they make the decision to go or stay—or to stay and disengage.

So, if it really is as simple as just talking to people, then why isn't career development a more common feature of the organizational landscape?


Over the years, managers—by sharing oral history and spinning lore—have created and continue to propagate several myths. And these myths (read: reasons or excuses) keep them from having the very career conversations their employees want. Which are familiar to you?

Myth 1 — There is simply not enough time.

No one will argue that time is among the scarcest resources available to managers today. But let's get real. You're having conversations already—probably all day long. What if you could redirect some of that time and some of those conversations to focus on careers?

Myth 2 — If I don't talk about it, they may not think about it and the status quo will be safe.

Why invite problems? Developing people could lead them to leave and upset the balance of your well-running department, right? Wrong. Employees have growth on their minds—whether you address it or not. Withholding these conversations is a greater danger to the status quo than engaging in them.

Myth 3 — Since employees need to own their careers, it's not my job.

No one will argue that managers don't own the development of their employees' careers. Employees do. But that doesn't mean that managers are completely off the hook. You have an essential role in helping and supporting others to take responsibility. And that role plays out in large part through conversation.

Myth 4 — Everyone wants more, bigger, or better: promotions, raises, prestige, power.

If you believe this one, then your employees all look like baby birds, their mouths always wide open, wanting to be fed. This image probably loses its appeal quickly even for doting bird parents—much less busy managers. But based upon our research, this image is patently inaccurate. When asked about what they want to get out of a career conversation with their managers, the number-one response from employees is "ways to use my talents creatively."

Myth 5 — Development efforts are best concentrated on high potentials, many of whom already have plans in place.

This one's a cop-out. You can indeed see a significant return on the development you invest in your high potentials. But they make up only about 10 percent of your population. You probably have another 10 percent of marginal performers who are on a very different kind of plan. But what about the 80 percent in between—the massive middle responsible for doing the bulk of the work? Imagine what even a small investment in their development might yield.

If you're like most managers, a few of these myths likely make sense to you. Dog-ear or bookmark these pages and come back to them after you've completed the book. We predict that once you are introduced to a different way of looking at your role, you may also look at career development and these myths a little differently. But, until then, remember this: growing the business means growing people. Forget that ... and the rest is history.

What IF ...

* you reframed how you think about career development?

* growth really was as simple as conversing with employees?

* managers could break through the myths that undermine their success and their employees' growth?

Chapter Two

Can We Talk?

I am realistic. I know your time is tight and that you've got lots of other priorities. My career probably isn't at the top of your list. Don't worry ... I've gotten the message that I own my career. I just need a "thinking partner" who'll help me step back every once in a while and focus on my development. — an employee (perhaps yours)

If you're like most managers, you care. You've become accustomed to taking on more and more, expanding your job description with countless "other duties as assigned"—and even some that aren't. Developing the careers of the people who report to you is on a growing (read: crushing) list of to-dos.

What if you could reimagine your role around helping others grow? What if you reframed this task (which, let's face it, gets put on the back burner most of the time anyway) in such a way that responsibility rests squarely with the employee? What if your role was more about prompting, guiding, reflecting, exploring ideas, activating enthusiasm, and driving action rather than actually doing all the work?

Guess what? That's how it should be. That's how you help people take responsibility for their careers. That's also how you can fit career development into your already full day.

Somehow the simple human act of helping people grow has gotten very complicated—processes on top of checklists with references to resource guides—and the to-do list keep growing. Is it any wonder that you want to steer clear?

But managers who do this well cut through the clutter and have figured out what employees really need. And it's much more basic than you might imagine.

"I got tired of orchestrating these development experiences for people who just blew them off like they were nothing. I finally saw that the gift of 'heavy lifting' I was giving my people was not appreciated. If I owned their development plans, they didn't. So I backed way off. Now, I'm totally there for them, will talk it all out, explore possibilities, help them think it through. But, when it comes to making it happen, they've got to take the lead. That's their job."

— Manager, Logistics

For years we've heard that "talk is cheap." Not true.

Astute managers have gotten comfortable with talking more and doing less. These are no slugs—they're strategists. They appreciate the power of conversations to inspire and generate change in others.

Conversation has the power to touch employees' hearts and minds more deeply than the well-intentioned steps a manager might take on their behalf. You need nothing more than your own words to spark reflection and commitment. From that can spring employee-generated actions. Actions that employees own. Actions that will help them realize their personal definitions of success.

Career development is all about the conversation.

"The action is in the interaction." — Douglas Conant, former Campbell Soup CEO and author of Touchpoints

Genuine career development is not about forms, choreographing new assignments, or orchestrating promotions. It's about the quality of the conversations between a manager and an employee, conversations that are designed to

* Facilitate insights and awareness

* Explore possibilities and opportunities

* Inspire responses that drive employee-owned action


In some organizations, time is set aside each quarter, twice a year, or annually for managers and employees to engage in career dialogue. If you find yourself in that sort of environment, appreciate it. It's rare.

If you're like the vast majority of managers, you don't have the luxury of such sacred time. Because you operate at the speed of business, it's hard to imagine slowing down for a leisurely hour to discuss development.

So, here's the good news. You don't have to hold lengthy summits with employees, solving all of the career problems of the world in one big meeting to help others get results. In fact, in many cases less can be more.

"After a few years, I realized what the annual development process reminded me of ... New Year's resolutions! It was energizing to set out the plan ... and we paid attention to it for a while. But pretty soon, it was tucked away until the following year when we'd smile at our folly and rededicate ourselves to a new batch."

— Marketing Director

When you reframe career development in terms of ongoing conversations—rather than procedural checkpoints or scheduled activities— suddenly you have more flexibility and the chance to develop careers organically, when and where authentic opportunities arise.


An interaction doesn't have to have a minimum threshold to count as a conversation. You don't get more points for length. You get more points for stimulating thinking.

Would you rather ...

Note: Do the math. In this apples to apples comparison, it's the same 120 minutes just offered up in smaller, bite-size servings.

Increasingly, time-starved managers are opting for shorter, more frequent conversations that can cover the same ground as their heftier cousins (maybe more) but in an iterative and ongoing fashion. The benefits are compelling:

* Shorter conversations fit better with the cadence of business today.

* Frequent, ongoing dialogue communicates a genuine commitment to the employee and development.

* Iterative conversations allow employees to layer awareness, insights, and action more naturally.

* The ongoing nature of the conversation keeps development alive in everyone's mind (vs. tucking it away for a formal meeting).

* These frequent exchanges sustain momentum, fuel progress, and act as an ongoing reminder of the organization's commitment to employee learning, growth, and progress.

Some call it embedded. Others catch-as-catch-can. We call it a contemporary solution to a perennial problem. Short, targeted, ongoing career conversations are efficient—for you and the employee—because they happen within the workflow where genuine opportunities exist.


Think about the most interesting and engaging conversations you've experienced. Either you got to do most of the talking or the dialogue moved fluidly back and forth allowing everyone to share airtime evenly. Now, forget all that.

A career conversation is completely unbalanced in favor of your employees. If you do your job well, they will be doing 90 percent of the talking. If you're talking more than that, you're likely taking on too much responsibility for their development and robbing them of ownership for their careers.

Striking this unbalance requires a particular skill on the part of the manager: asking quality questions.

"My first real manager had this way of asking these questions that wormed their way into my brain and ultimately demanded answers." — Supervisor, Finance and Accounting

If the work of career development happens within the context of conversation, then the primary tool of the trade must be the question.

Thoughtfully conceived and well-timed questions make things happen. They

* Provoke reflection, insight, constructive discomfort, ideas, and action in others

* Keep the focus squarely on the employee

* Demonstrate that you respect and value the other person

* Reinforce the shift of ownership for development to the employee

We are so sold on the value of questions, that we've included one hundred throughout this book.


Questions are a powerful tool. Add a spirit of curiosity, and you've got an unbeatable combination. People recognize and respond to genuine curiosity on the part of their leaders.

If you answered no to four or more, then you have an opportunity to cultivate greater curiosity. But you're likely an overachiever and realize that even one no offers a chance for improvement.

Curiosity might be the most under-the-radar and undervalued leadership competency in business today. Think about it: what could you accomplish if you practiced passionate listening—really listening with intention and a true sense of purpose to learn and understand? What ideas and possibilities could you cultivate if you honed your ability to wonder out loud with those around you?

Developing the ability to approach individuals, situations, and conversations with curiosity and even a sense of wonder can affect your own energy and enthusiasm, relationships with others, and hard business results—not to mention the quality of your career conversations.

Quality questions asked without curiosity will signal to employees that you've just come back from training.

Quality questions asked with the spirit of curiosity will facilitate conversations that will literally allow others to change their lives.


Given this focus on asking questions, it bears repeating that you don't have to have all the answers. Neither does the employee, for that matter. In fact, not having all the answers may actually drive more thought and energy.


Excerpted from Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go by Beverly Kaye Julie Winkle Giulioni Copyright © 2012 by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Listen Up
2. Can We Talk?
3. Carpe Coachable Moments
4. Confront Your Assumptions
5. Forget the Form
6. PS... Aren’t You an Employee Too?

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This pragmatic book is chock-full of easy-to-follow steps on how to have critical career conversations—conversations that are uncomfortable for many managers and too often are avoided. I love that Kaye and Giulioni demystify the process and motivate us ‘to talk individual development’ with our employees. Our employees will love it too!”
—Patricia Crull, Group Vice President and Chief Learning Officer, Time Warner Cable

“Filled with great examples, questions, and real-world approaches that fit into the workflow, this book brings much-needed simplicity and personal touch back to career development.”
—David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Marriott International

“Every manager will find this short book to be long on practical ways to make career development happen.”
—Jack Zenger, CEO, Zenger Folkman, and coauthor of the bestselling The Extraordinary Leader and The Extraordinary Coach

“Like eating your fruits and veggies, developing your employees should be done every day. Beverly Kaye and Julie Giulioni not only show how easy it can be but make the case that regular, short conversations can better develop people.”
—Charlene Li, founder, Altimeter Group, author of Open Leadership, and coauthor of Groundswell

“Life and business is all about where you pay attention. Pay attention to the growth of your people...and they will grow your business. The authors do a great job in spelling out the how-tos!”
—Chip Conley, founder, Joie de Vivre Hotels, and author of Emotional Equations

“Developing talent is essential for business success. This book provides a practical and easy-to-implement approach that can have a big impact on an organization.”
—Tamar Elkeles, Chief Learning Officer, Qualcomm

“One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to grow future leaders. The authors do a great job making development something that can happen during one’s everyday work life.”
—Gabriella Giglio, Executive Vice President for Global Human Resources, American Express

“Should be the career conversation bible for busy leaders!”
—Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times bestsellers Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

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