The Conversation People Want to Have With Their Boss – But Aren't

August 19, 2016

Here is every manager’s fear, which eventually happens to everyone (and often happens many times): you have a great employee, you start building around them, and then, out-of-the-blue, they leave.

And you are devastated.

In reality, very few professionals – particularly successful ones – make a decision like that out-of-the-blue. In all probability, they’ve been considering a move for months, have been discreetly putting out feelers, and finally got the right opportunity and left.

They’ve told their family about their thoughts of switching jobs, their friends, perhaps even some of their closest work colleagues. The one person they didn’t tell?

You, their manager.

If this has happened to you, you are hardly alone. A recent study by the Society of Human Resource Management found that 78 percent of employees feel uncomfortable talking about career development and salary; so they don’t.

What’s the solution here?

Managers need to be proactive in having these exact conversations with their employees. The reason is it’ll greatly increase your chances of retaining employees and, even if they do leave, at least it won’t be a surprise.

Wait, why should I have this conversation?

LinkedIn research found the biggest reason people change jobs is because they want to further advance their career, and they don’t think they can do that in their current position. And, the better the employee, chances are the more ambitious they are and the more they’ll want to advance their career.

However, many people don’t want to talk to their managers about their career goals, afraid it will cost them a chance at a promotion or even their current job. So they keep those thoughts to themselves, with the only meaningful career conversation they have their managers coming when they tell them their switching companies.

Here’s the most ironic part – a person who can most help an employee’s career is their manager. They can tell them exactly what they need to improve, who they need to get to know and what career options are available within the organization.

So think about the power talking with your employees about their career goals could have. Now, instead of the employee feeling like they have to hide their aspirations from their manager, they have a “partner-in-crime” who is going to help make them come true.

That’s going to result in a more engaged employee who is much more likely to stick around and grow within your organization. Or, even if they do leave, at least it won’t be a surprise, and you’ll be prepared for it.

Okay, so how do I have this conversation?

If you are convinced that you need to have this conversation, then it comes down to doing it in the right way. And that comes down to three tenets:

1. Create a proverbial “safe zone”

You can’t have an honest conversation with an employee if you are going to use what they say against them. So you need to create a virtual “safe zone” when having this conversation with an employee.

That means the employee should be able to say exactly what they want in their career, without fear or worry of retribution. The minute anything said in one of these conversations prevents someone from getting a promotion or a raise, the minute these conversations will become meaningless.

2. You need to provide honest feedback to the employee

Once the employee says what they want to do, it’s your turn as the manager to provide feedback on how they need to get there. And you need to be honest.

For example, if the employee says they want to run their own team some day but are terrible presenters, you need to call that out as an area for improvement. Ideally, you’ll offer some sort of training here as well that’ll help them become a better presenter.

Occasionally, when you provide direct feedback like that, some people will become defensive at first. However, if you are doing it for the purpose of helping them advance their career, it becomes far more manageable.

3. Do the work on your end to help them reach their goal

Here’s the most critical part – you need to do your part, too. For example, say the person says they want to run their own team some day.

From there, you need to give them opportunities to shine in front of key stakeholders and also give them the resources they need to make that happen. Perhaps you let them give a presentation to the executive team or give them training normally reserved for managers.

This sort of effort on your end is going to go a long way to showing them you are invested in their future and you want them to grow their career at your organization (and not at somebody else’s).

Tying it all together

Psychologists overwhelming agree that the key to healthy relationships is honest communication. And yet, many employees are unwilling to having honest communication with their boss regarding something they care most about, their own career.

As a manager, be proactive. Don’t wait for your people to come to you – have it with them. And then, work to make their dreams happen, and they will become that much stronger employees for you. 

Looking to become a better manager? These LinkedIn Learning courses can help: