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Want to Chase Talent Away? Don’t Talk Growth

By Lynn Cowart

In career speak, if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. It’s true. Standing still is falling behind.

If employees aren’t developing and advancing in their careers, they’re doing themselves a professional injustice, and they know it. Even worse? Talented individuals always have options. They know that too, and they will leave your organization.

The speed of business is so fast, and technology’s impact is so ubiquitous, employees literally acquire more information every single day. They’re savvy about professional branding. They know they owe one company no loyalty. And they’re fully cognizant that in order to keep up with the rate of business and market change, they must continually reskill and skill up in order to remain productive, effective and marketable.

When talent doesn’t see a way ahead… When there are no new challenges to meet, no new goals to conquer, they get bored. Engagement suffers. Morale bottoms out, and the ”difference makers” – the people who make or break a company with their contributions and discretionary effort – start looking for new organizational pastures to provide the stretch and development opportunities they want and aren’t getting.

Sadly, talent leaders know this. But a weird kind of inertia prevents many managers from having the conversations they should to keep their most valuable employees engaged. It’s usually a case of, “I’m too busy,” or, “There aren’t any positions to promote anyone into, so there’s nothing to talk about.”

That is a cop out. Growth can and should happen regularly in every role or assignment throughout an employee’s career. Finding ways to enrich employees can feed their passion for work, stretch them to build new capabilities, and be the spark to reenergize an employee in a job that has lost its appeal.

To prevent the best talent from seeking growth opportunities elsewhere, talent leaders must realize that when they’re advising someone on career, up is not the only way. We need to think about careers more like a kaleidoscope…one small turn provides experiences that make up a wide variety of development options and an amazing array of growth possibilities.  Career enrichment is mandatory, and lateral career opportunities are a great way to reskill and skill up.

How? The easiest way to start a meaningful conversation about talent and career growth is to talk about small changes in an employee’s current role. Managers should ask questions:

  • What talent do you have that I may not be aware of, that you would love to use more?
  • What is something that managers do that you’ve always wanted to take on?
  • What is something a colleague is currently doing that you would like to learn?

These are just a few of the many questions talent leaders can ask to identify ways for employees to stretch and learn that don’t require a traditional promotion or move. Further, the answers to these questions will lead to career development enrichment experiences that benefit employee, team and company.

Think try before you buy. You’ve probably heard that phrase in a consumer context. You want a new washer or dryer. Wouldn’t it be great if you could see how it handled your delicates before you forked over the cash to take the appliances home? But you usually can’t. That’s not the case in an organizational talent context.

Too often we see employees leap into a new role – or express a desire to do so – without knowing what that new position entails. How can they? They have no way to investigate life after a promotion, right? Wrong.

Exploration can be life and career changing, and it is absolutely possible for your talent to try a new role before they buy – or before you promote. If you have high potential talent or seasoned employees who have expressed an interest in advancement, let them try a new role on for size.

Let’s say an employee has expressed an interest in a position – they are so sure it’s their “dream job!” – have him or her fill in for two months while a colleague is on medical leave. Or, if there are no convenient absences pending, have the person in the “dream role” act as a mentor during a shadow exercise. The aspiring candidate gets a firsthand look at their job of choice, which they may or may not like once it’s all said and done, and the mentor gets an opportunity to develop their coaching muscles as they walk the newbie through the day-to-day challenges of the role.

That’s just one way talent leaders can offer their talent valuable learning opportunities. Remember, when it comes to career development, up is not the only way. To keep your best talent engaged, adopt a mobility mindset, and make sure your employees do too.

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