Last week my colleague asked a new client why he was initiating a mentoring program for his firm. He said that he didn’t want to lose his best people simply because no one had had “that conversation”.
She was perplexed “What conversation?”
He explained that when he was a busy senior associate, working long hours and billing above expectations he felt unrecognised and after several job offers from other firms offered his resignation. Clearly they didn’t want him, no one had ever discussed partnership with him and others were making him offers. The partners of the firm were shocked and immediately made a counter offer. They claimed they had identified his leadership potential and had been discussing his move to partnership for months; however no one had shared this with him. They’d never had “that conversation”.
Perhaps it was his role to ask the partners for a meeting to discuss his future. Did he think it was inappropriate? There are some workplace cultures that do not encourage this kind of initiative and employees wait for someone to invite them to have “that conversation”.
He vowed he’d never let this happen in an organisation he ran so ten years on and as Managing Partner, he is offering early career lawyers a more formal channel to discuss and plan their career paths – a mentoring program.
This story highlights some interesting issues that we see recur in so many organisations and are much discussed in mentoring relationships. The grey area of how to secure a promotion, or even discuss your career with your manager, if they never do. Will you be perceived as pushy and self-promoting or are you missing an opportunity if you don’t take the initiative?
The blunt answer is that no one cares more about your career more than you do, so my advice is to take action and arrange a meeting. In the Managing Partner’s case there was no hidden agenda, the partners just hadn’t discussed their thoughts with him.
Organisations need to ensure there is a transparent process and that it’s someone’s role to recognise and reward their best people. It would seem the natural responsibility of a manager, but somehow it eludes many of us and organisations leak talented, valuable and expensive people for a completely preventable reason.
The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey (sample of 7700 people born after 1982 and based around the world) found that 1 in 4 employees during the next year ‘would quit his or her current employer to join a new organisation or to do something different. That figure increases to 44% when the time frame is expanded to two years’. More concerning is that ‘the least loyal employees are more likely to say that “I’m being overlooked for leadership positions and “My leadership skills are not being fully developed”. Is this impatience or a sign of neglect?
On the flip side, some organisations really get this stuff right, as they know one of the top reasons people quit their jobs is lack of opportunity to advance and turnover costs are often estimated to be 100% – 300% of that employee’s base salary. Effective leaders know through experience that they can only deliver their vision with the right team around them. They identify and develop talented people. They extend them and help them see new and different opportunities and career paths. They take an interest in their people, listen, understand and support their ambitions. They have “that conversation” and ask people:
- What’s your career path?
- Do you see a future for yourself in this business?
- How can you contribute?
- What’s your next role? Do you have a plan to get there?
- How can I help you achieve that?
So if you consider yourself an effective leader or want to be one, then keeping your best performers should be on your “to do” list. You need to be personally involved in and have some understanding of how talent systems work in your organisation. It’s not just HR’s job. These questions might be useful to think about:
- How do you identify your top talent?
- Can you nominate your next leaders for critical roles?
- Are those people aware that they are on a talent list?
- How do you develop talent or your high potential people? Leadership & mentoring programs, 360, further study, secondments, sponsors.
- Do you have any key challenges in retaining these people?
- Do you have a diverse talent pool?
- As a leader in your organisation how can you affect these issues?
Organisations are about people and sometimes it’s the simplest gestures, like a regular conversation, that are important.
by Sophie McCarthy, Executive Director