Why mentoring matters
Career satisfaction is paramount in the long run. Follow these tips to guide employees who don’t know what their career goals are
Tell me about your career goals. How often have you said this to a person you’re managing or mentoring, only to get a blank stare in return? Perhaps the person confides that they don’t know what their goals should be, or even whether there are opportunities to advance in your company. How do you begin to provide support?
Consider the etymology of the word “career”. It comes from the 16th-century word for “road”. When we envision a career, we imagine a direct path with a final destination. And not long ago, this concept was useful. Career growth meant attaining incremental increases in prestige and compensation. You could look at the past and use it as a gauge of the future — taking the steps that others took to get to where they got.
This vision of career growth no longer matches reality. We no longer need to be good at predicting the future; we now have to succeed when the future is unpredictable. We have to abandon the career myth and create a new framework for personal and professional growth.
Let’s return to the employee who needs direction and feels stuck and confused about their career. If you can’t point them toward a reassuring career ladder, what can you do to support their growth and increase their impact on the company?
Here are some of the steps to help employees move beyond the career myth:
Dispel the career myth
First, tell employees that it is fine and even preferable not to have a concrete career path in mind. Being overly attached to a specific path can turn into a career trap — blinding us to nonlinear opportunities for growth. Instead, focus on conversations between managers and employees. Rather than job titles, employees discuss experiences, responsibilities, and lifestyle changes they might want.
Focus on transferable skills
Train managers to help their direct reports develop transferable skills, not climb a ladder. These are skills that increase employability because they can be applied to a variety of roles and situations now and in the future (for example, communication, self-management, writing, public speaking). Rather than investing in one path, tell employees, they should diversify their career capital. To provide some direction, tell your managers to advertise the skills that are most wanted on the team.
Encourage small experiments
The growing complexity and unpredictability of work means we need to run many small experiments to discover what suits us best. To fuel a spirit of experimentation, launch opportunities for employees across the world to get training in areas they are curious to explore.
One of the perks of an old-school career is the title progression that delineates advancement. As organisations become flatter, and growth nonlinear, we have to put extra effort into making milestones that mark progress. One way you can do this is by creating badges that demarcate growth. For example, when managers receive training, they receive a certificate. To get their next badge, they must complete an advanced program. A badge system can demarcate skills, knowledge, and achievements — creating a portfolio of accomplishments rather than a traditional résumé. Next, develop a more visible recognition platform so that employees can celebrate their accomplishments and share their knowledge.
—The New York Times