3 Questions for Coaching Employees Toward Career Success

coaching employees

Values are the key to fulfillment. When employees' careers are in line with them, they feel resonance, more balanced, and grounded. And fulfilled employees make business sense because resonance brings energy which brings productivity. Think about it -what does it feel like to work on something you absolutely love? It's motivating.  It draws you in. What about something you dislike? Do you dread it?  Does it take longer to complete? Now check out what values are being honored or dishonored.

As managers, we need to be partners with employees in finding that resonance.  But how do we do that?

Coaching Employees Starts with Mining for Values

One of the ways is by mining for values; coaching employees to get very clear on what they believe and feel is important in life. So often employees think they know their values - career advancement; money; title.  But those are not values - they are the manifestations of an individual's core beliefs of what is meaningful. And, they can lead people in directions they're not prepared for.

Let's take money. For some, money represents freedom.  For others it represents stability. Regardless, a focus on money alone can lead employees astray. An employee who values autonomy, for example, will struggle if a big raise means a highly-regulated working environment that's extremely rigid. Someone who values stability will flounder if a wage increase means on-a-whim travel and putting out daily customer fires. Both of these employees may have had their requests (more money) met; but both likely ended up disappointed or disengaged because they weren't focusing on the values that would lead to a good decision.

So what can managers and coaches do to find the right values? Change the conversation with three steps:

Ask powerful questions

That requires digging beneath statements like, "I want to be a VP," to uncover what being a VP represents. It also requires helping employees get very clear on what they believe and feel is important in life. What on the surface is, "I want to be a manager" turns out to be, "I value autonomy and would like to explore ways to gain more autonomy in my work."

Get creative

Look across the business and find ways to make modifications to employees' current roles that speak to their unique values. And, look for opportunities in the future that even more fully align with what the employee sees as important.

Coach, don't problem-solve

Look at your employees as resources, not as problems to be fixed. Create spaces that are safe to have meaningful conversations about what is important to the employees, what the business needs, and how they can partner together to find alignment and fit.

A Clear Path to Satisfying Careers

Having these conversations serves two important purposes. One, it makes clear who owns change. Surprisingly that isn't always so plain. A study EdAssist conducted with University of Phoenix found that 71% of employees believe it's a managers' responsibility to identify career paths for employees; yet 81% of managers believe it is the employees' responsibility.

Second, it means we are no longer shooting in the dark when trying to create opportunity for our staff. And we are not risking the assumption that what you value as a manager is what your employee values, all of which can lead to frustration and even resentment. Have you ever found yourself saying "I gave him what he wanted and he's still not happy" or "If I had this when I was his age, I'd be so appreciative?" I know I have.

By refocusing our conversations with employees on values, not only does it create more opportunity, partnership, and engagement for them, it encourages us as managers to start to get clear on what we value and what we want.

It's not something we often get to do as leaders. But it's important because when we look inside ourselves, before looking upward and outward for opportunities, it creates a model for our staff to do the same.

Written by: Jessica Kaplan

About the Author

Jessica Kaplan at Bright Horizons

As Director, Talent Management, Jessica is responsible for connecting employees and management to the most effective learning and development opportunities offered by Bright Horizons. She also helps facilitate internal collaboration for organizational success. Jessica brings nearly 20 years of experience in professional development and higher education administration to her role. Prior to this role she held key roles in the Client Relations and Academic Partnerships teams. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University, a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University and has completed PhD coursework in International Higher Education Policy at the University of Maryland.