A Manager’s Guide to Career Planning Conversations
10 Aug 2017
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By: Ashley Topuschak, Human Resources Consultant


Despite my school days being long gone, each year when September is approaching, I get that back to school feeling. With it, I think of the season as an opportune time to check in on career plans and goals.


What is a career plan?

A career plan sets out a clear understanding of what an employee hopes to achieve for his/her career in the short and the long-term. Most people may think about their career plan but they don’t put it on paper. The act of putting the plan on paper gets people to think about their motivations, interests, and opportunities. Ideally, a plan is supported by an employee identifying goals to achieve the plan. Of course, the chances of success are far greater if an employee outlines and commits to their goals. The other piece of the puzzle is the assistance an employer can provide to support the plan (within reason).


Why is a career plan important?

For employees, it encourages them to do a self-assessment and think about where they want to develop and grow. A career plan can mean setting a goal to move up in an organization but it doesn’t have to. It can be as simple as identifying areas that they want to grow in, right where they are and that is just as valuable.

For organizations, it helps to engage employees when you have a genuine and focused conversation with them about their careers. It demonstrates that you care about their plans beyond the achievement of day to day working responsibilities. It also provides the chance for organizations to see who is interested in moving up in an organization and can be a starting point for succession planning.

Sometimes employers wonder if shining a light on this topic will make employees leave. Although it’s true you want to minimize turnover, the greater danger is having a disengaged, unhappy employee stay. 


Whose responsibility is a career plan?

There has been debate around this question, but a career plan is owned by the individual employee. The manager can encourage employees to think about their goals, facilitate the conversation, explore options, and provide opportunities or support when possible. Ultimately the employee owns their plan and this needs to be clear at the outset.


How does it work?

Plan a time to hold the conversation with the employee. This can be in conjunction with a performance evaluation or separately. It is important to ensure that if the employee needs to improve performance in their current role this needs to be addressed first.

Ask the employee to think in advance about and come ready to discuss questions such as:

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you good at?
  • What talents do you have that are underutilized?
  • What areas do you want to grow in?
  • What do you want to be doing in 3 years? 5 years?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the next year? 
  • What can you do to make progress on this?
  • What resources or support could the organization provide to help?

As the emphasis is on a conversation with employee ownership, it is important for the manager to ask questions and do a lot of listening. This is the time for letting the individual formulate their plan. Your job is to prompt, guide, reflect, explore ideas, and encourage.

Direct the discussion to the questions while still being flexible in your approach. Be open to options that the employee may suggest while still upholding your organizational policies and not over-committing.  There are many ways you can support employees in their development including professional development opportunities such as the Leap program, coaching, job shadowing, or self-assessment and reflection. 

Ask the employee to put their plan on paper and share it as this helps them be accountable to themselves.  Commit to check in with them at a future date before the next performance evaluation.

There’s definitely steps involved and things to think through ahead of meeting with employees.  What is clear from research on employee engagement is that embarking on career planning goes a long way to increasing employees’ connection to their workplace. 


Are you looking for more information on Retention Strategy Development? SARC’s Human Resources Consultant, is available free of charge to assist Regular and Associate Members who would like to have additional expertise on a variety of HR topics. Learn more here.


Further reading:

  • Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, by Beverly Kaye & Julie Winkle Giulioni
  • What Colour is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles


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