The Five Questions That Might Bug You the Most as a Manager

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By Jason Evanish

Tom Peters on Management for I Done This“I need to give my notice. I’ve found another job I’ll be starting soon.”

Stunned, my coworker sat not sure what to say. Julia was one of his best team members, and he thought she was valued and appreciated. Yet, here she was moving on to another role somewhere else.

What happened? Unfortunately, what was satisfying for someone a year or two ago, may not be so today. Fresh, exciting challenges from their early days on the job can grow to become stale, and boring once mastered.

If your people run out of challenges and new work, they’ll eventually seek out challenges elsewhere. At some point, a friend’s exciting description of work somewhere else, or an intriguing job description will get them thinking about a new job.  And by the time they interview and have that job offer in hand, it will be too late.

But acknowledging you need to take action to avoid losing good people like Julia is just the first step. Let’s look at some of the most common questions managers like you have about developing their employees’ careers.

1. Isn’t a good paycheck and decent job enough for most people?

Theresa Amabile on Management for I Done ThisThe data says otherwise. Across studies from the likes of Google, Gallup, Deloitte, PwC, and others, growth and development is the top perk people want — more than free lunches, casual Friday, or unlimited vacation.

If you don’t have growth and development conversations with your team, who will?

Ask yourself:

  • Who knows the strengths and weaknesses of your team better than you?
  • Who has more influence over assignment of work that could provide opportunities for growth?
  • Who is better suited to advocate for someone when they’re ready for a new role or promotion?
  • Who is in charge of evaluating their performance, which is often a precursor to advancement?
  • Who has more chances to notice if they’re getting bored in their current role?

Yet it so rarely happens. Why is that? Well, I explain in another post in which I call it the top managerial mistake that causes turnover.

2. How do I have a career development conversation conversation with my team?

Mary Kay on Management for I Done ThisIf you’re like many managers, no one has ever talked about your career and growth. When that’s the case, how are you supposed to know how to have that same conversation with each of your reports?

A few tactics can make you confident in talking to your team about their growth regardless of your past experiences (or lack thereof). Here are a few ways to kick off the conversation.

Talk about their ideal future

Say something like: “Imagine it’s 10 years from now and there’s a party celebrating you and your accomplishments… Who is there? What music is playing? And what is the accomplishment everyone is there to celebrate?”

From there, they work backwards to what a five-year, three-year, and finally one-year goal would be to get you closer to that. They then focus on helping you with the one-year goal.

Follow their heroes

Try this: “Who do you look at and say, ‘I want to be him or her someday’?”

Work backwards with them on how to get into the kinds of roles they’ve had. Sites like Linkedin and news profiles are great ways to find this kind of information.

Focus on strengths

Ask : “What are your super powers? What powers would you like to develop?”

Getting to work on your strengths is a key to employee engagement, and finding a great career path. Help them do more of their strengths to set them up for long term career success.

Once you’ve identified their goals, the key is to help them make regular progress on them.  You can learn more ways to talk about their goals and how to help them achieve them here.

3. What if my team doesn’t know what their goals are?

Ben Horowitz on Management for I Done ThisSometimes people don’t know right away what their goals are. That doesn’t mean you can’t help them. It’s just a challenge to be more creative as a leader. Here’s a few things to try.

Trial and error

Sometimes indecision or fear of not liking what they tell you can block people. By instead having them try small projects and tasks, they can safely find their goals.

Look at lateral moves

Moving into management doesn’t have to be the only path. Helping them consider interesting lateral moves can be more exciting and refreshing for some people.

Leverage fear of missing out (FOMO) 

Sometimes the best way to get someone to act is to see others taking action. If people aren’t sure what they want, then helping the others on your team grow can make the difference. Tell them you’re there when they’re ready and they’ll likely come around.

Learn more detailed approaches you can take to help your team members that aren’t sure about their goals here.

4. What do I do if I can’t promote my people?  Reid Hoffman on Management Questions for I Done This

A common excuse managers bring up is that there’s no growth path at their company. Their refrains are usually some form of:

  • “We’re a really flat organization, so there’s no way to promote.”
  • “There is no career path in this kind of role.”
  • “I can only promote one or two to manager like me, so I can’t do anything for the other team members.”

But in today’s world that’s no excuse. Here I take a cue from Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, who wrote:

So how do you grow your people when promotions aren’t an option? Here’s two places to start:

  • Focus on skills growth: New challenges take many forms. Some of the best are going deeper in their existing role by providing new kinds of work and learning opportunties.

  • Tap into their passions: If they’re fired up about something, give them some time to explore and work on it. It’s a great way to fix long-standing issues, and keep them engaged.

With a little thought and creativity, you can grow your people in their existing roles. If you need more ideas, this post on Lighthouse can help.

5. Can promoting from within really work?

Andy Grove on Management for I Done ThisIn principle, it sounds great: promote people into higher roles as your company grows. This rewards your longer-tenured staff, preserves your culture, and brings valued knowledge of the company into leadership roles.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. For a variety of reasons, these promotions can fail, damaging the belief in growth opportunities for your employees. Here are three of the biggest mistakes that lead to this failure.

Not providing training

If you don’t help people get ready for a role, there should be no surprise when they struggle in it.

Not having alternative growth paths

If the only way to advance and receive raises is to become a manager, you can easily end up with people taking the role who don’t actually like it.

Setting a poor example

Like the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If other leaders are not growing and developing their people, it can create a cascade where none of the leaders beneath them do either.

If you want to make promoting from within work, you have to be thoughtful in the choices you make and the way you develop and support your teams. This post can help you think further about the pitfalls and what to do when promoting from within.

This guest post written by Jason Evanish, CEO of Get Lighthouse.



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