As a leader, there are a few basic responsibilities that you really need to take on as a bare minimum. For example, you need to provide a safe, stimulating and fair workplace in which your employees are compensated for their work and treated with respect.

But is that all that your employees want or need from you? Absolutely not. One of the most important things that you can do to increase engagement, retention and productivity is to provide mentorship to your team.

People want to feel like their career is on an upward trajectory. If they can see where their career is going in 2, 5 and even 10 years from now with your organisation, they are far more likely to give you their ‘all.’ When your team feels like they have a future with you, the results can be exceptional.

With this in mind, you would think that every employer would consult with his or her employees about career planning and upward trajectory, but that is not the case at all. A recent study from HR consulting firm ManpowerGroup found that nearly half of all British workers have never had a conversation with their boss about their career.

In a recent interview on this subject, Sarah Sweetman, Head of Consulting & People Strategy at Black Isle Group was asked why this might be the case:

“Managers often avoid these conversations because there is a belief that career and progress are synonymous with promotion or more money and that’s a conversation they’d rather avoid, or feel they cannot deliver against.

Many organisations have caused this issue for themselves by creating a vacuum of dialogue, discussions about development, demonstrations of appreciation; and general evidence of day to day care and human interest in their people.

So, in the absence of these fundamental, human needs that ought to be delivered through good leadership and management, people turn to what they feel the business can potentially offer – promotions and money.”

Most leaders would agree that this is not something that companies can afford to ignore. If your employees are feeling like they are stranded in a dead end job, it will be very hard to motivate them to do their best. Why would they give you their ultimate effort and their best ideas when they don’t foresee a future with your firm? In fact, they may be saving their best work for the next company that they plan to work with.


The easiest way is to get out in front of it and start talking!

During the interview, Sarah Sweetman went on to say:

“The courageous and broader thinking manager isn’t diverted away from having these conversations. An honest discussion about career and general development does not have to end with a promise of promotion, or more money – often people are highly appreciative of a discussion that is demonstrative of recognition and appreciation.   

Of course, development can mean lateral moves, broadening of experience, trying something new, enjoying some profile and a sense of greater responsibility by taking on a particular piece of work and so on.

Ultimately, the cost and opportunity cost of not having the honest conversation is far greater than the cost of having it.

As a leader, you can make an immediate change and start by scheduling one on one development conversations with each member of your staff and make sure that they know the different opportunities available to them in the near and distant future.

Once they have expressed interest in a specific career path, it is time to set out a clear plan that will help them to achieve their goals. This plan needs to have five key components.

1. Specific – Ensure that their goal is specific. “I want a promotion” is far too vague. “I am seeking a promotion into the HR department at the next pay grade above mine” is a much more effective goal.

2. Measurable – Again, their goal needs to be measurable. “I want to feel more challenged” is great, but then you need to develop a rubric against which this can be measured on a regular basis.

3. Achievable – We all want to think that the sky is the limit, but we also need to be honest about what is possible. “I want to be the company president,” is a fun goal, but does your employee have the right education and experience? Besides – that job is already taken – by you!

4. Relevant – While important to overall happiness, travel ideas, family planning and other parts of your employee’s personal lives should be kept out of the discussion (unless they directly relate to work goals).

5. Time Bound – Remember – for a goal to fit the above listed criteria, it must be time sensitive and achievable by specific dates.

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