With the slashing of L&D budgets across the private and public sectors in recent years, L&D teams have worked creatively to maximise the budget they have to help employees grow. The 2019 Workplace Learning Report suggested that L&D budgets are on the rise again, paving the way for talent development in organisations with more money to play with. That said, an initiative that remains from those frugal days is the emphasis that employees’ careers are in their own hands, something that should still be actively promoted today despite the budget increases.

Employees are expected to plan their careers and be proactive in driving career discussions with their manager, but there’s an assumption made by businesses that the onus is solely on them. What some businesses can overlook is that the organisation must be willing to facilitate career planning and development in an environment that recognises individual skills, strengths and personalities. The most direct way to enable this is through managers, who have significant input for helping employees manage their careers.

Some managers might be reluctant to support broader career development initiatives, thinking it might encourage behaviours where skills are being taken outside of company. They might ask:

“Why would I put time and effort into developing an employee’s skills if they have made it clear that they intend to move onto other and better things?”

Whilst managers can’t stop employees from doing this, there are aspects of these skills that injects creativity, entrepreneurism and autonomy into the team’s dynamics and collective abilities, while also having a positive effect on the individual’s engagement and wellbeing. In fact, facilitating an environment that encourages employees to broaden their skillset to move onto something else that is more aligned to the career goals can bring someone from the brink of total disconnection to active engagement in the time they have left in the team, something I have personally experienced myself.

With the introduction of these new skills to the role (and not just the individual), their leaving may present some opportunities to re-craft the role for their successor. What might have been considered an irrelevant skill compared to the team’s work could actually demonstrate something particularly useful for the team once it’s taken away. And should they change their mind about leaving the organisation or perhaps instead decide to progress upwards or sideways into a different team the long-term talent is not lost from an organisational perspective.

Having experienced the effort the organisation and its managers to facilitate their career planning, the employee might have re-engaged with the organisation, valuing the trust it has in them to explore their career aspirations.

What does this mean in practice? As a manager, you might want to consider these five steps together with the employee in dedicated and regular career discussions once they have shared with you what they want to do in their career:

1. Ask about what they enjoy in their role

Exploring specific elements of the role with the employee helps them identify what gets them excited, and drawing these specific duties or activities out means that you both have a basis upon which development opportunities can be built. It is usually these elements that have spurred their career aspirations on, wanting to do more of what they enjoy. This is a great, early opportunity for the employee to compare certain relevant development opportunities with their career aspirations as well as meeting the developmental needs of the team.  

2. Find out their Strengths and Weaknesses
Assessing the employee’s strengths and weaknesses provides a good indication on areas of development; developing strengths also develops specialisms that might take them closer to the next career goal, while on the flip side developing the relevant weaknesses bridges any skill gaps. I’d encourage the two of you to come up with their skills and weaknesses separately, and then compare notes with each other – we sometimes tend to undersell our strengths either through modesty or assuming that, as a particular skill comes so easily to us, it’s not considered a strength. This is why it’s great to complete this with them, to help them acknowledge their strengths that they might overlook. Similarly with their weaknesses – you might actually consider one of their weaknesses a strength, for example, if they view their obsession with small details a weakness when in fact you feel this attention to detail is very much indeed a strength that so many others lack, especially if it’s a desirable trait within their chosen career path.
3. Explore projects they have they worked on with other departments 

The two of you should then think back on the projects they have worked on in collaboration with other teams or departments, and assessing which ones were related to their career goals. Whether it worked well or not, these are key opportunities to help develop their career – where they went well, strengthening these skills and traits demonstrated in these projects will be just as good as developing skills and traits that perhaps didn’t go as well as planned.

4. Identify what development opportunities are available at work

Really embrace any breakthroughs you both might stumble upon during the previous three steps and follow them up with opportunities within and outside of their role.Knowing the direction they want to go in, the strengths and weaknesses they want to work on, and the different teams they have worked with will indicate a number of tell-tale opportunities for development that benefits the employee and the team. In addition to this, you may also discover a number of key contacts that they may be able to tap into across the organisation, ultimately broadening their network. Incorporating these opportunities into their developmental objectives will not only reassure them that you treat their career aspirations seriously, but, for their own sake, it provides accountability having them formally written down so to ensure momentum.

5. Identify what development opportunities are available outside of work

Not all development opportunities will be available at work – sometimes it’s just not feasible to develop the skills needed for a master florist within a call centre role, for example (although there are a host of other transferrable skills that can be developed like dealing with customers, processing orders, and working to deadlines). While ultimately as their manager you can help them identify development opportunities in work, having invested a lot of time and effort in this process, it would be a shame to keep any external ideas to yourself. Between the two of you, identify any areas that feasibly and realistically cannot be addressed within the work environment or within training budgets, and discuss ways of how these can be developed outside of work. For example, MOOCs, evening classes, volunteering or blogging/vlogging about their specialism – these extracurricular activities can still be discussed. As mentioned, you might be surprised how these skills impact their role within the team as they develop outside of work so it’s always worth the time to have these discussions.

Career Coach is one of your many hats you wear as a manager. While each individual is responsible for their own career management and development, working with them and facilitating a trusting environment in which they can explore new and seemingly unconnected skills means there’s potential to recraft the role for their own job satisfaction and engagement, as well as introducing unexpected yet helpful skills into the team and the organisation.

What other tips do you have to support career development in your employees?