It’s the spring of 1991 at a family restaurant on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. My dad was in town visiting me towards the end of my sophomore year, and I was preparing to share with him over breakfast my chosen major in business.
He was the head of his own company and a big part of my interest in going into business, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. “I’m going to major in marketing,” I said. He paused… “Taura, you should major in finance. You can handle the math, right?” His reasoning was that it was a tough job market and he knew finance and accounting majors would be in demand and he was right. I majored in finance and learned the language of business at an early age.
Fast forward to winter of 1993 where I am evaluating three job offers:
- tax accountant at Kohler;
- consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers;
- FMP (Financial Management Program) at GE Healthcare.
I was absolutely interested in going the consulting route with a desire to travel and live in Chicago. Naturally I sought input from people I respected in the business world. Advice from a family friend, who was CEO of a company called Bandag, rang loud and clear. “Taura, you have to take the job at GE. They invest in their people early in their career.” I thought to myself, “I’ve been in school for 17 years and am ready for a real job. A rotational training program didn’t sound as adventurous as consulting.” Well, of course I took the job at GE. He was right!
Over the next seven years my career at GE advanced. My skills and strengths were aligned with business needs, and I was continually drafted into new roles. But then a mentor of mine at GE said, “Taura, you are becoming knowledgeable in everything and an expert in nothing. What do you want to do with your career?” It was hard to hear, but he had a good point. These special assignments were cross-functional from finance to HR to e-business to six sigma to recruiting and more.
A light-bulb went off and I realized I needed to take care of my own career and reflect on my own interests, needs, and desires. No one cares about your career more than you do. There is so much truth to this advice. After a great deal of reflection, I knew I wanted to be on the front-end of business working with customers, so I ventured into a 12 year sales career with no regrets.
Traditionally, career decisions are made by defining business needs and identifying employees who have the skill-set to be successful in that role. But now, more than ever before, employees are seeking opportunities that align with their interests, needs, and values.
So how do we support our employees with their career management needs?
Career management is a lifelong process and something that we must own as individuals but there are ways employers can support this journey resulting in increased employee accountability and engagement.
1. Career Management Framework
Employees will benefit from having a roadmap to follow when creating their strategic career plan. The framework provides a guide or outline for employees to follow to make this plan come to life.
A strategic career plan can be viewed like a business plan for the professional service being offered to the employer. This plan may include a section for personal mission, vision, and values; marketing plan; development plan; networking plan; and more. Once this plan is created, an individual can determine how frequently it is revisited whether it be quarterly, bi-annually, or annually.
Career management frameworks may consist of core components such as:
- Discovery: Reflection, Exploration, & Action
- Personal Branding: Reputation, Presence, & Communication
- Networking: Career Advisory Board & Community and Professional Networks
A roadmap can be designed to meet your interests as an employer and further customized by the employee.
2. Career Coaching
As managers and supervisors, we can support the career discovery process through coaching. Asking open-ended powerful questions can be an effective way of supporting career conversations. Using what and how questions to open dialogue around the topic of, “what do you aspire to do next?” Other examples of questions may include:
- “When you have a great day at work, what happened that day?”
- “What do you want more of in your job? Less of?”
- “What was the best job you’ve ever had? What made it so?”
The best ways we can support our employees is to help them uncover their own interests.
3. Training and Development
Leverage current internal assessment and development efforts, while supplementing with career focused initiatives around discovery, branding, and networking. Utilize what you are already doing and tie it back to career.
Lunch and learns, training sessions, speaker events, and networking opportunities are of great interest to employees and signal that the company cares about their careers.
4. Mentorship and Sponsorship
Leaders can share their career journeys with their employees offering personal insight to their lessons learned and key success factors. Support employees with advice, visibility, stretch assignments, introductions, cross-functional projects, and leadership opportunities related to resource groups, campus recruiting needs, and more. Be a mentoring role model and this behavior will be emulated by others. Another idea is to offer introductions if an employee expresses interest in learning about other functions.
5. Talent Systems
Incorporate career components into current HR processes related to performance reviews, development plans, and succession plans. By incorporating the career conversation into talent systems, an open dialogue assures employee voices are heard so their interests are taken into consideration, along with business needs and employee value.
Ultimately, we are all accountable for managing our own careers, and we learn best how to do this from education, experiences, advice, coaching, and other life lessons. And, we need to have a strategic career plan. Employers can support this journey in many ways including providing a career management framework, career coaching, training and development opportunities, mentorship, and talent systems.
Going back to 1991, I wouldn’t change a thing. I needed that advice and direction and those first seven years of my career were amazing. But the thing I’ve realized throughout my career since those early years is that although advice plays a role, my strategic career plan already has the answers.