The no. 1 thing talent employees need to succeed is a great manager, according to a Gallup poll. And at least 75% of the reasons people voluntarily leave their jobs are things managers can influence, including career advancement, Gallup found.
“People managers have an incredibly influential role in whether employees thrive or languish,” said Ei-Mang Wu, principal product manager at Amazon, during a session at the 2018 Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston.
There is no one type of great manager, Gallup found. Instead, strong managers all realize that employees are individuals with unique strengths and ways of approaching work, and find ways to figure out and play to those strengths, Wu said. Strong leaders also work to determine what career move is the best fit when developing employees, instead of just pushing them up the next rung on the corporate ladder.
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Coaching refers to a set of skills decided on collaboratively with the coachee to grow that person’s skillset–it’s a two-way street, Wu said.
Coaching for employee career development is not difficult, Wu said. Once you invest in certain conversations, coachable moments can last as little as two minutes, she added. “Once you know what’s really important to your employee, you can hone in quickly,” Wu said. “Pull them aside after a meeting and have a two- or three-minute conversation, so it’s in real time. It can be incredibly empowering for your team, and fulfilling for yourself.”
Here are three conversations that managers should ideally have with each employee to lay the groundwork for career coaching, so it’s easy to spot the coachable moments, Wu said in her talk, citing the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott. The goal is to have these three conversations over the span of three to six weeks.
1. “Tell me about your life.”
Take 45 minutes to talk with your employee about their life up to this point, trying to understand the major changes and events they went through that motivate them. For example, if an employee says “I dropped out of grad school and went to work on Wall Street,” dig deeper to find out why. One might say that grad school wasn’t financially lucrative, while another might say that it was too theoretical, Wu said.
If you already have regular 1-to-1 meetings with employees, you can potentially replace one of those meetings with this conversation, Wu said.
2. “Tell me about your dreams.”
Find out what employee’s dreams are–not in terms of long-term goals or five-year plans, but major dreams. “Invite them to integrate personal and professional dreams into that,” Wu said.
Managers should also encourage employees to share several different dreams during this conversation, Wu said. The first one many will say is what they think their boss wants to hear, like “To move up to the next level” or “To have your job,” she added. But asking them to share other dreams, even if they may be crazy, gets something closer to their heart, Wu said.
3. “Let’s map it out.”
Once you understand your employee’s dreams, you want them to map them out, Wu said. “Jointly create a development plan, and work with the employee to come up with the top skills needed to fulfill that dream,” she added.
Now is also a good time to pause and reflect with your employee on what they are already good at, and what skills you may want to deepen. “You don’t want to walk out with five things they are deficient in,” Wu said.
The goal from this conversation is to have a six to 18 month plan. “You want to be encouraging your employee to figure out, ‘What do I want to learn? Who can I connect with in the organization? How can my current role shift?'” Wu said. You can potentially connect them with a mentor in the organization to help them learn new skills, she added.
Often, when people think about management, their first thought is directed toward the performance of their team, Wu said. “But you need to think about employee career development too,” she added. “You, as a manager, are incredibly influential and powerful in helping your employees move.”