How Regular Career Conversations Help You Keep Your Best Employees

Retaining the best and the brightest stars is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge for employers, especially considering the low unemployment rates that today’s job-seekers are enjoying. For that reason, smart companies are looking into the reasons why people are leaving their employers to understand what they can do better to protect their workforces. According to recent research, low pay is the top reason for leaving, but that one is easy for employers to solve. The second reason is the lack of career development and growth. In fact, 77 percent of employees feel as if they are “on their own” to develop their careers at their current job.

Keeping Your Stars

Talent has become the top competitive differentiator for organizations today. Culture, compensation and scope of work are important, but without some understanding of a career path, top talent will eventually exit your company. Creating experiences that encourage career mobility will help an organization attract, engage and retain the brightest talent, while also anchoring accountability for employees to take charge of their careers.

Most workers in the U.S. are used to the annual review process at work, one where they get a breakdown of what they’re doing well and what they should work over the next year to improve their performance. Traditionally, this is when any career conversations would happen, and it’s probably easy to see why these tacked-on talks are not productive. Not only is the annual review process a painfully outdated mode of assessing performance, but it is also one filled with nerves and fear for many employees. A good review is usually a relief, and there’s little focus left for future considerations. A poor review may leave many people too shaken to talk seriously about their long-term goals.

As organizations move away from this ineffective, backward-looking process and move toward more frequent conversations that are focused on empowering their workers for the future, big changes are happening for the people who work for these companies, and it can all be boiled down to one word: engagement. Providing an excellent employee experience is key to boosting engagement and, therefore, retention rates. In fact, 82 percent of workers who have conversations more than once per month are highly engaged employees.

What is a Career Conversation?

In the past, a career conversation may have included pointing out to a person which rung they are currently occupying on the corporate ladder and describing the steps needed for moving up to the next. Today’s career conversations must be far more dynamic as technology reshapes the workplace at a blinding pace, new jobs based on this tech are hitting the marketplace every day and the skills needed to keep up are continuously growing and evolving. It’s become almost impossible for employees to truly imagine where they see themselves in 10 years, let alone feel confident that the steps taken today will even be relevant at that time.

Yet only 16 percent of employees report having ongoing conversations with their manager about their career. Part of the reason why this number is so low is that managers don’t have the training or experience to have meaningful conversations about the careers of their subordinates, or they are worried that these conversations will set expectations for promotions or raises that cannot be delivered. However, most people will be happy having opportunities to grow within their current position and are concerned with stagnation far more than they are in hot pursuit of a promotion.

Successful Career Conversations

The first way to ensure that career conversations are successful is to have them in the first place and to make sure that managers are equipped with the tools they need to direct these talks and empowered to provide growth opportunities to their crews. Sheryl Sandberg, current COO of Facebook and founder of, suggests that people should have a long-term vision for their careers as well as an 18-month plan with actionable steps. Employees should have a big goal that they are working towards, but plans shouldn’t be so detailed over the long-term that unforeseen opportunities are missed because they’re not part of the plan.

We encourage three key elements for employees to consider and managers to discuss in a healthy career conversation.

  • Look Inward: Assess interests, work values and skills. Ask yourself: “What do you want from work?” and “What do you have to offer your organization?”
  • Look Outward: Gather functional, regional, company, and industry information to assess current or future options and development needs. Identify trends in your organization, industry or profession that you need to consider.
  • Look Ahead: Create an action plan to meet your career goals. Identify what experiences are desirable for you now and clarify your long-term career goals.

To help guide people through the process of planning, managers need to be ready to talk about people’s pasts to understand how they arrived in their current position and to uncover details that might inform underlying goals and motivators. Next, it’s important to know what a person’s dreams are, even if they seem far-fetched or not directly connected to the person’s current trajectory. Then, it’s time to create a career action plan based on the motivators and dreams uncovered, including steps that can be started right away.

Other important points to consider is that career conversations should be focused on the employee, and this means that they won’t always be in the context of the current employer. They don’t have to be a formal meeting as productive career talks are often spontaneous, but formal discussions should also be scheduled to ensure they’re happening regularly. Career development should also include helping people see their options from different perspectives as their career goals may be unnecessarily limited from a lack of understanding or awareness of possibilities within an operation or industry.

Start Talking About Careers Now

If employers want an engaged workforce, then they also must begin engaging with their workers on a more regular basis and a more honest and personal level. Career conversations are more than just a feel-good measure; they have a direct impact on retention rates and overall success for the organization and the employee, too.

According to one study, if career conversations were more regular, workers would be 82 percent more engaged with their work, 78 percent more likely to share ideas, and 76 percent more likely to look for opportunities for growth from their employer rather than jumping ship to gain new experiences. If you want a highly productive and successful workforce that sticks around longer, it’s time to make career conversations a part of your company’s culture.