Top 3 Career Conversations Mistakes you can avoid

Top 3 Career Conversations Mistakes you can avoid

We at EricaSosna Ltd are really very blessed to have the opportunity to work with a wide range of organizations helping them to use career conversations to drive engagement and retention in their business.

And, yet, we see over and over again, the number of mistakes and errors that people make in their thinking about the role career conversations plays their organizational design. So, today, we want to share some of these with you in order to enable YOU to dodge them.

1. The first, and possibly most common mistake, is that talent conversations are avoided altogether. 

“When it comes to those who are planning on leaving, Career still tops the list at 27% – to which we can add “a desire for change” (which career mobility inside the organisation would address).” Blessing White, 2013.

This happens either because there’s no natural place for them or perhaps they don’t quite sit with the manager population or the coaching community and thus there is no go-to place.

Other times we find career conversations are missing simply because managers don’t feel equipped or comfortable to handle the conversation.

There can be a number of reasons for this.

If your organization doesn’t have a clear career plan and career structure or career model, it’s not surprising that your managers might feel awkward about what they should say on the subject. If they are nervous about saying the wrong things, they will skirt the subject – we are all only human!

If it is impossible to clearly signpost to where the opportunities lie or how one might achieve development to achieve one’s career goals, this also might make a manager feel awkward about beginning the conversation.

And lastly, managers tend to have an erroneous perception that they are responsible for the careers of the people in their team.

This puts them under a lot of pressure to find suitable opportunities, to promote and develop their individuals in a way that enables them to progress within the organization. But the fact is that managers are not responsible for the careers of the people in their team. Of course, their job is to identify and nurture talent and to manage the activity that talent is engaged with, but they’re not recruiters, it’s not their responsibility to manage someone else’s career.

One way or another though, talent conversations just often don’t happen. And as a result of that, individuals are left in the dark about the possibilities in the organization, they’re left without inputs about where they could go next, and ultimately, because they want to talk about their careers, they end up talking to the competition or to recruiters, simply because you haven’t created the right space and time for a career conversation to happen in your business.

In fact, in one organization I was talking to recently, careers are so taboo that the word itself is actually verboten.

It’s not allowed within the common lexicon of the organization. So, if you search their website for careers or my career in this organization or for career plans, you’ll find nothing at all. What message does that send to your people about what you think and feel about their career?

So, here are some tips if career conversations don’t currently happen in your organization.

First off, you need to be able to indicate and clearly state what your messaging is around careers.

Now, it might be that you do want people to come and go, it might be that you think it’s entirely their responsibility and not yours, or it might be that actually you’re keen to understand people, to nurture them, and to manage their career proactively within your organisation with your support.

Whatever message it is, and there’s a right one for your organization, you need to be clear about what that is and how you want to communicate it. Then the next step is to set up the systems, mechanisms, websites, presentations, comms, that makes it clear to both staff and to managers, what can be expected in relation to your career ‘here’.

Secondly, you need to head off the anxiety of the management population.

It might be that managers are the go-to people to discuss your next steps, and certainly, if you have a positive relationship with a proactive manager, they can be a fantastic mentor and coach for individuals within your organization. But that may not necessarily be the case, there may be a variety of reasons why an individual doesn’t want to speak to their manager.

Perhaps they want their manager’s job, perhaps they have an awkward relationship with that person, perhaps they know that it will cause stress or anxiety in a tightly-formed, highly-performing team if they were to moot the idea of potentially moving on.

It may also be that your managers are not the right people or the go-to people, they may be too overwhelmed right now, they may be weaker at the core management competencies than you would like, or it might just be that you can see there’s a different population, with whom it might be advantageous to invest in career conversations training.

So, for example, in a very well-known, social media company, it was decided that instead of putting the expectation on managers to have quality career conversations, they would create a population of ‘career ninjas’.

These individuals came across the business, from a variety of roles and backgrounds. What they shared was an interest in acting as a sounding board for their peers around their careers. This meant that individuals who wanted to have a career discussion could find someone in a completely different division of the business where they felt they could speak more freely.

And last, of all, you need to address the anxieties of your managers or your internal coaches, wherever they sit, about the content of the conversation itself.

You need to be able to equip them with some straightforward and practical tools that make the conversation easy, effective, timely, and short & sweet.

You need to make it fit for your organization, and you also need to support them heading off some of the scare stories that are going to stop them having the conversation.

For example, to help them to know where to go, in terms of resources and next steps and what to signpost in your firm. Managers and coaches need to know that the individual is ultimately responsible for their career, and not the manager or the coach. And they need to feel able to have the conversation without the anxiety, that if they bring the subject up, it’s going to be disruptive for their team or for the continued success of the organization.

Career conversation training is remarkably simple, and we deliberately make it simple and practical so that it’s easily applicable within an organization. It’s not rocket science, but there are some specific tools, tricks, and processes that we’ve developed over many years of career coaching that make this much easier a conversation to start, and it does require a little investment of time and energy.

2. The second accidental mistake that our clients can make is forgetting that the world of work has changed.

We all know that the job for life is now dead, and that tenure in organizations is getting shorter and shorter. People feel more confident about exercising their right to mobility, both within your organization and outside of it.

The perception of job-hopping, as being inappropriate or unprofessional, is over. The time when a certain amount of tenure was necessary to be credible is no longer and the risk perceived in moving from one organization to another has got much lower.

As a result of that, many of your people will be on a passive job search, with even new recruits keeping their eyes peeled once the first 50 or so days are up. Your staff are available for poaching by the competition. It’s really important that we have sight of this and that we’re conscious of it because the world of work has fundamentally changed and only the companies who are quick to embrace this and adapt will survive.

Not only is tenure shorter, but the ways in which we contract are increasingly changing, with around 25% of roles in organizations being outsourced, and another 20% being provided by a fixed-term contract and consultancy support. That means that there are less permanent jobs within an organization, and more and more people are adapting to the opportunities that exist when working remotely, working on contracts, and managing their time, their income, and their job structure, differently.

You ignore this at your peril because the war for talent now is on two fronts.


“83% of organisations are actively revising their career programmes and models.” Deloitte’s 2017 Report on Human Capital Trends

It’s not just in relation to your competitors in your industry, although, of course, that remains an important consideration, there’s actually also another front, and that front is the entrepreneurial and freelance space.

The temptation to be a digital nomad, to wear your flip-flops, to work from bed, to be able to manage your own time and manage projects in your own timeframe, can be very, very alluring for certain communities within your talent population.

And, in fact, this freelance and consulting lifestyle is going to expand over the next ten years, where more and more of the best people will stop exchanging their time for money in the formal 9 to 5, and instead, will work on key projects that they choose as and when. So, we actually won’t even be able to hire them.

However, firms of all sizes do offer really valid and exciting opportunities within the career space, and the opportunity to promote what you’ve got going for you should not be missed.

For example, if you want to compete in a sexy area of work, if you want to deal with the latest technology, if you want to do projects at a phenomenal, large, global scale, if you want to be part of a real community, a family, if you want to be invested in and developed by mentors much more experienced than you, it’s much, much easier to do all of those things within an organization like yours.

You provide the stability, the structure, the infrastructure, the mechanisms, the route to market, there are huge opportunities in your organization for people to learn, grow, enjoy themselves and do great work. And yes, it might be that in the longer term, their goal is to take what they’ve learned from you and to work for themselves, but that’s just the way work is going.

So, instead of fighting against that, try messaging to show that you are aware of that, that you’re aware of the choice that they’re making to stay within your organization.

“Companies that focus on engagement deliver a 368% higher return to shareholders than their industry peers.” Sirota Consulting Study.

This recognition can be extremely powerful. The truth is, that not everyone dreams of working for themselves and actually the day-to-day reality of it can be very challenging. Income tends to be lower for the first few years, you have to constantly pitch and hustle to get work, you pay for all of your own investment in education and development. There are lots of downsides, and we can play these up in relation to the opportunities that are presented in our organization.

For example, why not present the opportunity for people to be entrepreneurial at your expense? Let them have a trial run of the things that they want to do in their career.

They might enable you to do all sorts of innovative and more agile things that wouldn’t be possible if you kept them within their role description – like launch a new product line, enter a new market or take a whole new approach to your online marketing.

And, this is the way you drive employee engagement…

A career conversation can enable you to better understand what experiences your key talent are looking for and to provide opportunities to meet those that are not only a win for them as an employee but potentially, a huge win for you as an organization.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend at the Aspinall Foundation, which is the phenomenal space on the Kent coast, where you can see rhinos, giraffes, and all kinds of exotic, safari animals being bred safely. If you think about a safari park or a wildlife conservation space, each of these has guards carefully patrolling the perimeter.

It’s important to keep the animals safe from poachers who are out to get them. And it’s also important to keep the animals in, to enable them not to wander off in random directions where they may not be so well protected, the food may not be abundant, or life may just be dangerous, they may be in risk getting shot.

The same is true for your talent. Over and over again, we see companies carelessly allowing their perimeter to go unguarded, that is, they’re allowing recruiters and the competition to sneak their way in through the perimeter fence and steal their very best talent. Nowadays, your competitors’ access to conversations with your talent is better than it ever was with things like LinkedIn. At a moment’s notice, they can find out who your key engineers are, find out how long their tenure has been, and make contact with them directly.

This is your perimeter, you need to guard it.

3. This is the third most common career based mistake that we find in organizations. If you are not having robust career conversations, then you are not maximizing the return on your investment.

“Gallup’s survey of over 50,000 businesses, found that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their jobs.” Gallup Study, 2015. 

In fact, in one financial services organization, I was coaching a very talented woman who told me that when she wanted to negotiate a pay rise and a promotion, she was told that she needed to go and find the equivalent offer elsewhere, and then it would be matched by the organization. She was very surprised by this, she’d worked very hard, she wanted to stay.

So, she went and got recruited somewhere else.

When she came back and told her boss that she was going to hand in her resignation, they said that they would now match that offer, but it was too late. She had escaped the perimeter fence, she has mentally and psychologically checked out of that organization, and she moved on to other organization that hadn’t haggled with her about her value and her gifts in the market.

Don’t let this be your key talent.

The perimeter fence strategy also relates to those people who did escape, but are now having buyer’s remorse about it. So, you may find that organizations that keep a strong alumni network have a huge opportunity to re-recruit and have their talent return to them, whether it’s in the longer term, where your talent might return at a more senior level some years later, or whether it’s a few months after they’ve left you, perhaps unexpectedly, because you weren’t keeping close tabs on what the next step in their career looks like to them.

A fabulous story, told to me by a colleague, was I think in relation to one of our big airline brands, and at this brand, they discovered that it was about three months after a person had left an organization that they started to wonder whether or not this was a good idea. They in effect start experiencing buyer’s remorse in relation to their new organization.

The euphoria of a new job had worn off, and they were starting to feel that perhaps they had made the wrong decision. At this point, the previous organization intervened. They sent each of their alumni a custom, handwritten letter with a packet of Forget-Me-Not Seeds, and with a simple message “Have you forgotten us?” “We haven’t forgotten you.” I was astonished to discover when I heard this story that up to 30% of people who received those Forget-Me-Nots, came back to the organization just a few months after they had left.

What an astonishing way to drive engagement and keep track of your perimeter fence!

So, are your talents escaping under the fence by accident? Are they moving out and taking you by surprise? If it’s the case, you need to invest in plugging the gaps through an effective career conversation.

Career conversations and published career plans can allow you to stay close to the best people in your organization, to really understand what’s missing for them, and to see what can be done to capitalize on it. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything, because even the conversation in itself is an engagement tool. It can drive engagement, loyalty, action and interest.

Secondly, you want to be able to keep tabs on the people who have left your organization. They’re an incredibly valuable resource and a network from which you can tap, not only really good high-quality talent who know your organization but in fact, their network too of people and opportunities that could be useful to the business.

So, consider extending career conversations and career support, out to your alumni also, because you never know when it might be time for them to start getting nostalgic about working for your wonderful company.

Last but not least, keep your talent safe from the poaching community, from the competition.

Of course, you can’t stop them from applying for roles and opportunities, but you do need to be able to have a conversation with them, that means that you are close to the things they need, that means that they are going to come back to you first before they engage in a conversation with your recruiters.

Career conversations also enable you to maximize the levels of employee engagement. And when people are fully engaged, when they feel that their roles are maximizing their learning opportunities, that they’re doing interesting and meaningful work, they become immune to approaches from other organizations because it really is better the devil you know, and they just love being loyal and working for you.

So, I hope these three elements have been helpful to you, and we’d be happy to come in and have a further conversation to help you to plug the gaps, and make sure that these mistakes are not the reasons that your talent goes elsewhere.

Contact us today to discuss your talent strategy at team@ericasosna.com.

The future of work

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