To Engage Employees, Sometimes We Have to Get Out of Their Way

employee engagement careers

As managers and HR professionals, we are problem-solvers, people developers, and change agents. We pride ourselves in advocating for our people and what they want. For these reasons, we often have a deep sense of accountability and dedication to helping our employees grow and our organizations succeed.

But all of this can create a potential blind spot within talent management and development; we forget to ask employees what they want and exclude their voice from our decision-making processes.

At Bright Horizons, like many of our corporate clients, we strive to create an inclusive environment in which people feel heard and seen. So how do we ensure that our talent conversations follow suit and include the employee in decisions about their careers in a meaningful way? Here are three steps we take to do that:

We ask powerful questions

We encourage our managers to put on their "coaching hats" and help their employees find their voices. Powerful questions are open-ended, and often quite short, such as: What matters? What's exciting to you about this? What do you value? What's your intuition/gut tell you? What's possible? What else?

These questions help the employee - and us as organizations - gain clarity and perspective on what employees truly want from their careers. Understanding their motivations (e.g. knowing that an employee's drive to be a manager comes from a desire to develop people, not just the drive for a promotion), also helps us expand our potential to meet our employees' professional goals.

We have the employee document what they want and do

Once employees have clarity on their professional goals, we encourage them to officially document their career preferences in their own words.

We also give them opportunities to share what they do in their current roles and what experience they bring to Bright Horizons. The importance of this goes beyond career goals. As human beings, we feel overlooked when people don't understand our value. By giving employees the forum and the responsibility to share what they do in their own words, we hope to create a working environment in which people feel seen, heard, and valued.

We integrate that voice into decision processes and systems

Giving employees a voice is only as impactful as ensuring those voices are heard in talent decisions. Otherwise it can create even more disengagement; the equivalent of giving employees a survey to fill out and then doing nothing with the results.

At Bright Horizons, we've integrated what employees have written about their career preferences into our succession planning process. This way, when evaluating employees' readiness for movement, managers can read about the employees' interests. We have also begun to use employees' career preferences when identifying mentors and mentees. And, as we create initiatives to foster interdepartmental resource sharing and mobility, we plan to refer to those career preferences as a key tool in our matching process.

The Goal: Support and Engage Employees

By expanding the employee's voice through powerful development conversations and incorporating that voice into key talent processes and decisions, we empower employees to drive their own careers, and create an environment in which people are engaged, committed, and invested in the future of our organization.

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.