There are so many conversations that leaders never have with employees; good on-boarding discussions, informational talks to prepare the employee for a new project, quality coaching conversations to help barrier-bust. But none are more inexcusable to miss/muck up than career conversations.

I've witnessed far too many leaders fail to see something basic; if their boss never engaged in discussing their career with them or did so in a half-ass fashion, they'd be furious. So what makes them think they can get away with the same when it comes to their employees?

Google would say they can't. Then it would give those leaders the tools to deliver the goods. The company even shares those tools publicly on a company site. The tools ask the leader to do two things.

Prepare for career conversations with employees by thinking about these questions.  

  • What is the team member's performance and trajectory?
  • What kind of work do they enjoy doing?
  • What kind of work do they do well?
  • What are they currently doing?
  • What does the organization need them to do?
  • What is one area for development?
  • What type of career development support do they want?
  • What would help this person feel valued?

Here's what these questions accomplish. They foster honest discussion about an employee's performance, strengths, and opportunities for development, in a balanced fashion.

Too many leaders focus too much on the opportunities and make the discussion disheartening, or focus too much on the strengths, not being forthright about where the employee really stands. Neither approach does the employee any good--balance is key.

These questions also intersect what the organization needs the employee to do with that the employee wants to do. I've been part of discussions where an employee has something they want to do, and a desire to start doing it immediately. They forget the company trained them to do a certain job that might require continuity, at least for a while. Again, it's about balance, this time to enable a plan that takes into account the short- and long-term needs of both the employee and the company.

Google also gives its leaders guidance for the second part.

Give the career conversation structure.

To structure the conversation, Google suggests the GROW model, to which I recommend some alterations. The blended GROW model is:

Goal: What do you want in your career (not what are you supposed to want)?

I added the parenthetical. I've had many career conversations where I had to push 
employees to be honest with themselves. They'd ask to get promoted to the next level, because that's what they felt was expected of them. Probe to understand their goals and unearth what they really want to do.  

Find out what they view their purpose as, what their core values are, and what they'd be doing if there were no "outside expectations" placed on them. Help them connect the dots (or not) between short-term wants and long-term wants. For example, they might be in a rush to get that promotion because they're watching their peers get promoted. But when you ask what they want to do long-term, you see the short-term promotion doesn't really support their long-term goals. It creates a different conversation.

Reality: What's happening now?

This is the "getting real" part and I kept it as Google has it. This is where you discuss current performance, strengths, weaknesses, what they enjoy about their job (and what they don't) and assess if they feel challenged or not. This nets a realistic discussion about where the employee is at so you can compare it to where they want to go and identify the size of the gap.

It's also important for expectation setting. If the gap is massive, that's important to know. Wouldn't you want to know?

Orchestration: How do we advance your cause?

The Google version of the "O" is "Options: What could you do?" But I believe it's more about an orchestration, employee and manager working together (so it's not one-sided). It's about co-building a skill-building plan for the employee to close the gap between current state and desired end state. Employees tell me it feels empowering and supportive when I discuss a joint plan to "advance their cause."

Will: What will we do?

I changed this from Google's "What will you do?" to make it more of a partnership. This is where you both lay out the specific steps and commitments--who will do what by when, and what specific help is needed.

Have career conversations with employees that are so good, they see the experience as "once-in-a-career." They deserve nothing less.