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By Diane Cobbold and the team at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge

Save the cards, fancy flowers, and spa days. If you really want to give your employees a real holiday gift, talk with them about their careers. While career coaching is a cherished prize, only about 50 per cent of managers report giving their direct reports regular feedback, and less than a third have routine career coaching conversations with their employees.

At the same time, the risk of not having regular career coaching conversations with your employees has never been greater. As job markets improve, Boomers retire and company loyalty wanes, your best people will have many opportunities in the future. What’s more, the nature of careers has fundamentally changed. Careers are no longer defined by upward trajectory. Instead, careers are more likely to be a series of experiences, projects and development opportunities. Lateral movements, stretch assignments, and team-based work are increasingly the norm for employees rather than upward career moves.

What’s more, we see evidence everyday on how these trends put organizations at risk. Nearly all employee engagement surveys tell us people value two things above all else: a great relationship with their boss and growth with their organizations. Fail on either one of these and you red-line your retention risk.

Effective career coaching discussions deliver on both of these engagement drivers. By having honest, leader-as-coach career conversations with your people at all levels, your employees will see more career growth opportunities within the organization AND will be more likely view their manager with greater trust and respect.

Where to start? Three actions can move your organization’s capacity to have productive and systematic career coaching at all levels:

  • Shift the mindset from career pathing to career coaching. Today’s flatter organizations and the changing nature of work have all but eliminated traditional career paths. It is nearly impossible to keep career paths within any organization updated while simultaneously managing external shifts in business. Employees need to develop their skill sets rather than focus on a narrow set of career goals. It starts with re-orienting leaders and their employees that the nature of career "paths" has changed but that the opportunities for learning and growth, which can lead to future advancement, have accelerated.
  • Drive shared accountability for systematic career coaching at all levels. Organizations need to explicitly communicate that employees own their careers, leaders/managers enable careers, and the organization supports careers. Each of these groups needs to be held accountable to drive career management actions. For example, employees who do not receive career management coaching need to be held accountable for raising the issue and getting what they need from the organization. HR leaders need to be held accountable to focus on this issue and deliver enablement strategies to the organization.
  • Develop career coaching skills among leaders and employees. Career coaching conversations between an employee and his or her manager are about the employee’s aspirations, skills, development and plans for the future. These occur independently from performance management discussions. However, few managers and employees receive training on how to engage in productive career conversations. Many leaders don’t know how to coach, and many employees don’t know how to productively advocate for their aspirations. The good news is these skills can be learned.

Career coaching conversations are indeed the gift that will keep on giving. Not only will employees be more engaged, the entire organization will benefit. In a recent survey, companies deemed 'Career-Supportive Organizations,' saw higher levels of revenue growth than organizations that did not meet this criteria. Start wrapping these gifts and see the benefits in 2016!

© Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge 2015.

Diane Cobbold is a Principal in Knightsbridge’s Career Solutions Practice. Diane has over 20 years of experience working with HR teams to develop career solutions that support departing and retained employees to realize their career goals through traditional programs and virtual resources. 

For information about how Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge can help your organization achieve its business goals by helping your people navigate change, improve their performance, and achieve their career goals, please contact Angela Payne, Managing Director at or visit 

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