People make the mistake of perceiving a company as a single ship. In reality, it’s more like a fleet.
As a business manager or team leader, your job is to stir that fleet towards your desired destination—let’s call it “growth.” But your employees are not in the same boat as you. They each have their own vessel, armed with different skills and different navigation capabilities, yet they should all be sailing toward the same direction. Your job is to ensure they’re able to do that, and that no one strays too far away or gets left behind.
This is where employee coaching and training comes in.
Employee training is not just about teaching new hires the ropes or training a team on how to use a new tool. It’s not even just about upskilling employees who were recently promoted to managers. While all the above are great and useful, employee training shouldn’t be only about the needs and goals of the business. It should also be about the needs and goals of each employee.
So that you can all reach your destination safely, in good time, and with everyone’s engines in mint condition. (And that concludes our naval analogy.)
It’s not an “either… or” situation
First off, let’s make something clear: training that focuses on employees’ personal career goals is not independent of your company’s objectives. When you invest in your employees’ professional development, everyone benefits. Especially now.
In the post-pandemic times we live in, employment gaps becoming increasingly more common. People are re-evaluating many things, their career paths being one of them.
LinkedIn’s research shows that 62% of employees have taken a break from work at some point.
And those who haven’t yet taken a break from work may be thinking of quitting within the next 12 months. A TalentLMS and BambooHR survey of Gen Zers found that 26% are likely to jump ship in the next 12 months, with one of the top reasons (37%) for quitting being “not doing what they’re passionate about.”
But it’s not just the youngest generation of employees that shows dissatisfaction with work. According to Gallup’s State of the Global workplace survey, almost 8 out of 10 employees are not engaged at work, living for the weekend and watching the clock tick instead. This is not great news—neither for your growth nor for your turnover rate.
Keeping employees engaged is a complicated equation. It involves many different things, from creating an inclusive company culture to offering adequate compensation. But helping your staff grow as professionals by setting employee goals—and offering training to ensure they hit those goals—goes a long way towards better engagement.
People are more likely to stay with a company for the long run and participate more when they feel heard and valued. Plus, the better equipped they become with new skills, the more prepared they will be to adapt to or even lead change.
At the end of the day, your goal is to create an authentic, collaborative working relationship with your employees. Helping them discover their potential will make them more likely to pursue and achieve goals—both your company’s and their own.
Unlocking employee potential and setting career goals
Remember the “What’s your ideal profession” tests we used to take back in school? If only it were that easy to determine our future career paths…
Some career or personality tests might give people a hint as to what fits them and what doesn’t, but things are not that simple. Career paths are not necessarily linear; preferences and goals adjust based on lived experiences. So, even if you hired a professional with specific expertise and an idea of where they want to be in five years, you shouldn’t rely on their answers during that initial interview.
Times are changing fast. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines. The same report also found that 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms.
If your employees are reconsidering their goals and want to set new career paths, this is something to be encouraged. Being open to learning new skills and trying out diverse development paths is how your team will stay agile and be able to adapt to the future.
Here’s how you can help your employees with setting career goals.
Offer career management training
Your employees may not know how to set goals, what their strengths or weaknesses are, or how to make personal development plans and stick with them.
Offering career management training is the first step in helping them think critically about who they are as professionals—and who they wish to become.
Have meaningful, consistent conversations
If you want to know your employees’ professional development goals, first, you need to listen. Don’t begin your conversation by telling them what their objectives should be for the next quarter, the year ahead, or three years from now.
Begin by asking people to suggest their own goals: this could be in the form of a written self-review or just done verbally (or, ideally, both). It will give employees the opportunity to reflect and think critically about their career and performance instead of passively listening to what they “should” be doing next.
And listening just once is not enough either. Make a habit of holding space for your employees to identify their goals (perhaps once or twice a year) and then consistently discuss their progress towards said goals (monthly or bi-monthly). This fosters accountability but also shows your staff that you are genuinely invested in their progress.
Align employee and company goals
“But,” you say, “what if my employees’ goals don’t correlate to my business needs? Surely that means I need to stir them towards what really matters?”
Remember the fleet analogy from earlier? Each employee has their own boat they need to take care of, on top of catching up with the rest of the fleet. While you have to encourage them to catch up (and show them how), you also need to not discourage them from tending to their own boat’s needs.
This is where goal alignment comes in. Start with the goals your employees have identified as their personal objectives and see how these can fit into the bigger picture of what your company is trying to achieve.
Some goals will align naturally. For example, if your company’s objective is to create a new branch and your employee’s goal is to take a more mentoring position, you can train and empower them so they can help mentor your new recruits. Others may take a bit more work to figure out. But the process of figuring it out is a valuable one because it fosters communication and helps create a shared vision.
To do this well on your end, you should be running a skills gap analysis to see what skills your team could use more of. This could provide you with ideas for ways to help employees on their journey while ensuring you’re building a team where everyone’s strengths complement everyone else’s.
Promote cross-department synergies
Speaking of shared vision: your employees may not have a clear picture of what they want to achieve if they don’t have a clear picture of what each department in your company does. That’s why promoting cross-department collaboration is crucial.
By breaking silos, employees can get inspired by various teams and departments and perhaps discover a future career path they hadn’t considered up until now.
Encourage mentoring programs and employee coaching
Having a mentorship program in place can do wonders for young, new, or returning employees. It can accelerate the learning process, provide feedback and encouragement, strengthen company culture, and offer a sense of solidarity.
But offering coaching and mentoring courses can also do wonders for employees who want to level up or envision taking on more responsibilities at work in the future. Developing skills like communication, problem-solving, active listening, and mentoring, will empower your employees to reach their full potential and have a positive impact on your entire company.
Helping people achieve their career goals
Identifying and setting career goals is only the first step. To ensure your employees grow and thrive, you also need to offer help, support, training, and a proper framework to reach said goals.
Keep goals SMART
The goals your employees are setting for themselves should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. If they lack in one or more of those five aspects, it’s your job to help them with reframing.
The thing is, most people don’t naturally think or set goals using any particular method. So it’s normal and common to start from a more vague place (for example, “I want more responsibilities”) and narrow that down to something Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based (for example, “I would like to lead a team of 3-4 people to build x product by the end of the year”). But it’s crucial to embark on this process of narrowing goals down early on, otherwise, the path to achieving them won’t be visible at all.
Build custom career paths together
Now that both you and your employees know what their personal goals are, and how those can be shaped to align with the company’s objectives, it’s time to connect the dots into one seamless and unique employee journey.
What will their 9 to 5 look like for the next few months? What will their trajectory look like in general? How many extra responsibilities will they take on by the end of this year? No two employees’ career paths will look exactly the same.
Especially now, with the rise of hybrid and flexible workplaces, you may need to take into consideration whether your employees prefer to work from home x days a week, or completely remotely, or on different days. If your company can accommodate that, it’ll go a long way towards allowing your staff to be their best selves and stay motivated.
Offer personalized training
People love learning—especially if they perceive what they learn to be useful, enriching, or interesting. A TalentLMS and SHRM research revealed that 6 in 10 employees pursue learning opportunities outside of work training, the majority of whom (57%) because they enjoy learning new things and developing new skills.
But a personalized career path should also translate to personalized training. You can adapt your training strategy to include different versions of courses for different roles and use your LMS to assign and recognize said roles upon logging in.
Allow time for goal-reaching
It’s difficult to keep your eye on the big picture when you’re bogged down with the minutiae of your daily work. There are only so many hours in the workday, and most (if not all) of these hours will be devoted to day-to-day tasks.
So if you want to help your employees succeed, you need to ensure their schedule has some time set aside for all these enriching activities that will help them reach their goals.
This could mean that employees need to take half a day every week for activities such as personalized training, working with a mentor, or figuring out a stretch project. You could also ensure that any training you provide is delivered on mobile and is microlearning-friendly so that your employees can always keep up even on busy days.
Reward employees who achieve goals…
Whether it’s a bonus, a certificate, or a shout-out, recognition and rewards should go hand in hand with goal achievement. People need to feel like their hard work has not gone unnoticed—and rewarding them publicly could even incentivize all your staff to try harder, too.
And employees who feel noticed and appreciated will stay with your company for longer, even if you’re not able to offer them a raise at this point. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, providing employees with pathways to lateral moves inside the company (new jobs offering fresh challenges without a promotion) is 2.5 times more powerful a predictor of retention than better compensation.
…and work closely with those who don’t
The truth is that even if you do everything right on your end, not all your employees will reach their career goals within the timeframe you’ve set. And that’s okay.
Some people need more time to get used to new processes, or they may need closer coaching and more training. The important thing is to work closely with them to figure out what went wrong and why, so that you can course-correct and try again.
Setting career goals will look different depending on the person
It doesn’t necessarily mean getting a promotion, moving from an individual contributor role to a managerial position, or continuously learning new skills and changing the scope of the work.
Some people are perfectly happy at their current job. They don’t have to be pushed to pursue a different career path or feel they’re left behind. As their manager or team leader, you need to acknowledge and embrace their professional choice, which, in this case, is stability and consistency.