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079 | How to create a powerful career development programme that has an impact, with Kate Mansfield
Episode 797th April 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
00:00:00 00:35:53

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Career development is an important topic at work. So many people are motivated by being able to develop and grow in their careers, it means that getting career development programmes right in your organisation can lead to higher levels of employee engagement (and help make your organisation somewhere people love to work).

But how do you create a powerful career development programme that has an impact? This episode of HR Coffee Time is here to help. Kate Mansfield (Programme Director at Career Counselling Services) speaks to Career Coach Fay Wallis and shares the key learnings from studying 13 organisations who have introduced career development programmes and initiatives.

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In today's episode, you are going to meet Kate Mansfield who is Programme Director at Career Counseling Services, which is called CCS for short. CCS is who I did my career coach training with when I first decided to make the change from my HR career and become a coach. They are one of the leading providers of career coach training in the UK and as well as training people like me. So, individuals who'd like to become career coaches, they also work with organisations to upskill people within their workforce to have effective career conversations at work, and also to set up sustainable and powerful career development programmes that have an impact. I think that career development is such an important topic at work.

Of course, I would as I'm a career coach, but so many of us are motivated by being able to develop and grow in our careers, which helps us to feel much more fulfilled. So that means that if you get it right in your organization, it really can lead to higher levels of employee engagements and help make your organization become somewhere that people love to work.

Kate talks us through the results that she found from a piece of research that CCS did with 13 organizations who had focused on career development and career management. So you get to learn from their experiences, especially what went well for them and helped them to succeed.

But before I introduce you to Kate, I just wanted to say a big thank you if you are the person who left the latest review on Apple Podcasts for HR Coffee Time. When you leave a review on there, you are asked to create a reviewer name so people don't tend to leave their real name. The reviewer name this time was PriJaid. I think that's how you would pronounce it. It's. P R I J A I D. So if that was you, a huge thank you. Reading your review absolutely made my day. I hugely appreciate it.

And now it's time for us to crack on with the main part of the show.

Kate, welcome to the show. It is wonderful to have you here.



I know it was all about looking into designing and delivering sustainable career management initiative. And in fact, there's a whole paper that shows what you discovered. So I can link to that in the show notes for anyone who's listening and is really interested in this topic, but could I ask you just to share a little bit about it with us?

So tell us exactly what was this research that you did and why.


And there were others that tended to come and go. So initiatives that perhaps fell away Despite the good intentions of often those HR professionals setting them up. So the research was a way of us operationalizing this knowledge and experience in a way that we could then share with other organizations so they could learn from those lessons and think about how it would help them to set up sustainable programmes.

So we worked with 13 organizations that we'd been working with at different stages of their career management journey. And we invited them to participate in both a qualitative interview with us. And also there was a quantitative piece around scoring their organizations on 10 different factors that we'd come up with that underpinned the career strategy and science and methodology.

It was really fantastic. Fun time to sort of see that come to life.


So they weren't just disappearing, they were carrying on and they were having an impact.


So the three key themes that we extrapolated from the research were around alignment of these career development programmes, initiatives with the business and People strategies. I think that was absolutely critical that there was ownership by the business.

There was also a good sense of clarity of the purpose of career conversations in that particular organization, and I'm really happy to say a bit more about that in a moment. And I think the third component, Fay, was around the skills and training of line managers to have career conversations. And there were a number of areas that sort of fall out of that, but those were three of the key overarching themes that we felt we're really binding together the employers who were doing it well, I think what would often happen is that we would've been approached by organizations. And the catalyst had often been an employee engagement survey that had had some disappointing results coming through and well-meaning HR professionals really wanting to do something about that.

Could we come in, could we run some career development workshops for their employees? But the challenges that, that you risk. Looking at the other component parts that you need to consider to, to think about what makes them successful. So this was a way of thinking about, okay, so you know, what are the different areas as part of our infrastructure in the organization that we need to look at in order to make sure that any kind of career development workshops initiatives are going to actually be successful and actually have an impact.

So I think, you know, three key areas that employers are talking about, you know, all the time are using initiatives to improve engagement, to improve retention and to enhance skills, mobility across the organization. So it was those organizations that were really clear on what their drivers were and thinking about the objectives that stood out.


I think one of the things that people listening today are going to be most interested in is actually the practicalities. So I've read the Insights paper and in it, one of the many things that you talk about that is really helpful is this idea of career conversations and when they happen.

So in the paper you talk about the fact that career conversations are often meshed in with the performance appraisal process. Would you be able to talk to us a little bit more about that now?


And it was interesting looking at the research because there was a mix of organizations at one end of the spectrum. Some of our organizations had fully separated that it was a very distinct process. They had a publicly stated document describing the purpose of career conversations and the way that it supported business goals and performance.

Others were in a much earlier stage of that journey, but we're looking at ways that they could at least separate performance and career conversations in the context of the yearly annual performance process.

I think the, the challenges that what. What we want with career conversations is for them to be a safe and confidential space for individuals to talk about their career aspirations and goals and how ideally they positively overlap with the goals of the organization. So you don't want them to be formally documented in quite the same way.

So I think people are on different stages of the journey, but I think it is really important that organizations are clear on the purpose and that manager. Really also managers and employees alike are bought in to the purpose of those career conversations. And I think it's looking at it from both sides so that both are prepared for those conversations.

And the ideal scenario is that the manager has the skills to approach that conversation, the confidence and the competence. But they're placing that individual employee in a proactive position of driving that. So I think it's, it's not easy, but there are, there are ways of doing that. And I think those publicly stated documents approach and where you get senior leaders really advocating and leading a culture that supports an ongoing and continuous dialogue around career conversations. But of course you have to think about how that works in your own environment and your culture. Some informal environments do that much more organically and naturally. Some organizations may want to have some structure around that, but I think it's protecting the nature of that confidential career conversation and making it distinct and separate.


And then conversely, I've also coached people who desperately want to have a career conversation with their manager and they just don't know how to go about bringing it up or starting that process. So I would absolutely love to hear your take on on this, Kate. So. If we could imagine for a moment that you are advising a manager who wants to do the best by their team, what are some of the key things that you would share with.


But I think there's also something incredibly important around a manager being able to also help the individual navigate the organization's resources. So you can have a manager who's really bought in and and excited about the career conversation, but if neither the manager or the individual employee is aware of the learning resources, The opportunities for perhaps lateral skills development.

Is there an opportunity for work shadowing secondments? Can I act as a mentor within my organization? Then again, the danger is that it falls down. So skills development of line managers I think is absolutely critical as, as is thinking about how you motivate, engageand potentially incentivize managers to have those conversations.

We know managers are exceptionally busy. What we don't want is it for it to be an additional burden or on their day. We think if they themselves have experienced great career conversations, they're much more likely to buy into that. But I think from the organizational perspective, it's incredibly important to think that your managers also understand the resources. So I think there's a process of education around what they can sign post. We don't want them to jump in with solutions. That's exactly what we're advising them not to do. And I think that's difficult for managers. They're so used to problem solving and that's often why people avoid these conversations.

But if they understand more about the organizational skills development and how they can encourage individuals to. Be proactive to, to take opportunities like that. It can be very, very powerful. Some organizations in our research Fay were going as far as linking managers rewarding performance to the development of their teams as well.

So it was interesting to see how different organizations were tackling that. I know you also mentioned the employee side of things and. Employees often talk about they don't know how to approach a career conversation. So it's got to, it's got to be considered from both sides of the spectrum. You also want to support your employees so that they're going into those conversations at least having thought a little bit about perhaps their skills, their strengths, what they enjoy about their current work, and maybe a little bit about future goals.

And then the manager can respond and shape that conversation. So I think there, there are support mechanisms and resources that can be shared with both parties that sort of support and enable that piece to come together. And one other thing I just wanted to mention was, of course, that. It doesn't have to be a career conversation solely with a line manager.

A lot of the organizations in our research were actually pretty good at looking across the organization and thinking about where else career conversations could happen. So for example, Many were training up cross-company career mentors and maybe piggybacking on an existing mentoring scheme so that these were avenues whereby individual employees could seek out a career conversation with a different person in the organization. Many have trained career coaches within their HR teams as well, but not all depending on size, scale, resources, budget and all of those things. So, and I think the career mentoring side of things was really powerful because it takes the emphasis away from only being able to have a career conversation with your manager, or indeed having one with HR and perhaps having it with somebody who could be a little bit more objective about your career and your experience, but had the training and skills to have those conversations as well.


You can do that at any size organization, even if you're working in a standalone HR role in a really little business. There's so much that the person listening today can take from what you're saying. So thank you so much for sharing this with everyone. I really appreciate it, Kate. And I'm just going to cut in for a moment to talk about your career strategy insights tool that I think you mentioned very briefly at the beginning. Now this tool is carved into 10 segments and I believe there are 10 areas that you think it can be a good idea for organizations to have a think about if they want to create a really brilliant, sustainable career development management strategy.

So I'm going to very quickly let everyone know what those are, and then I'm going to dive in and ask you specifically about one or two aspects of that. Would that be okay?



So we've got availability of learning resources, skills of managers to have career conversations, employees proactively seeking career conversations. Openness of culture to informal networking. I'm gonna ask you about that in a minute. Coaching and mentoring culture. So what you were just saying about managers not having to have all the solutions, they're there really to facilitate the conversation, to ask great questions.

That very much comes into that coaching and mentoring culture. Number six is alignment with business and HR strategy that you started us off with. Number seven is performance versus career conversations, which we've touched on. Number eight is availability of data to measure effectiveness of career conversations.

And number nine is career conversations are seen as a positive developmental tool. And finally number 10 is linear versus lateral developments. So hopefully I haven't rattled through those too quickly, but if I can bring you back to one that came up, which was number four, openness of culture to informal networking.

Anyone who's been listening to the show for a while will probably know that I'm slightly obsessed about the idea of networking because I have seen firsthand for so many of my clients and for myself, the power that it has in helping people with their careers. So can I ask you to just dive into that segment for a little bit as to what that looks like if it's being done really well?


You equip your employees to go out there and think about their own career development and goals, and then, You know, they find themselves in an environment where it's very difficult to tap into the experiences of others around them. So I think where, where we've seen that really being demonstrated well is where that that is being proactively encouraged as part of the culture of the organization but being supported and underpinned by initiatives that invite connections with employees across different areas of the organization. So one of the employers in our research, Fay had such a brilliant initiative, the Human library, so you can borrow an individual to tell you their career story now. You and I know, and we'll be encouraging our individual clients always to go and find people and to interview them and gain information about their careers.

It's a classic career coaching tool, but this is a way that the organization is encouraging that. So it's set up a process. It's promoting the process and it's really incentivizing encouraging employees to seek each other out and share the story. So I think, you know, that's a lovely example of innovative way that people are sharing career stories and journeys. And for me, that that overlaps so brilliantly with the sort of the linear versus lateral components. Because of course, what we're being told time and time again is, you know, we want, we want employers to be proactive. We want them to develop skills.

In this sort of flatter environment, we, we want to get away from the sort of perhaps legacy of linear and hierarchical career moves. So by being able to network with others and share their story, incredibly powerful. And some organizations just do it so well. They're so used to, you know, just somebody approaches you for a request for a coffee and you go and you network others. It, it's, it's more formal and that tends to happen. It's harder, I think, in organizations which are a little bit more siloed, where people aren't able to network across different areas. Again, that's where I'd be encouraging HR professionals within organizations to think about how they could break down some of those barriers. And as well as the organic and informal networking, you know, holding careers, events or careers weeks, careers sort of fairs that, cuts across some of the challenges that you might have if you are a little bit more siloed and separate in terms of your culture.


And they arrange whereby people are just randomly matched with each other to have quick virtual coffees together. So a chat's online with each other so they can get to know each other. And again, I thought, what a clever but simple idea to help people to network because of course it's not just about hearing career stories from each other, although that is incredibly valuable.

It's also getting to know different people within the organization. Different people are aware of information that you may have no idea about. They may have more power or political capital than you do. They might be able to pull strings or open up doors or, oh gosh, there are so many different ways that people can help one another.

Informally, really. And for anyone who's listening, thinking, oh, I didn't realize that Fay obsessed about this idea about networking, I'd ask you to just hop back quite a few episodes. I have a whole series of episodes that talk about networking. So if you are listening and you think, oh, I'm not very confident with networking, I'm not fully sure, is this really so important?

Then I'll just encourage you to go back and listen to some of those older episodes and I'll make sure that I link to them in the show notes for you. I wish I could tell you right now what they're all called, but I've completely forgotten cuz I recorded them a little while ago. But they'll definitely be sitting there in the show notes so you can go and revisit them.


It's just, it's, it's not a nice to do. It's essential isn't it, for successful career development and, and being successful in our roles. Absolut.


Building those relationships and getting to know people. But anyway, I'm not going to turn this into a whole other episode about networking. I've got plenty of those for the moment. Instead, I will ask you about one of the segments of your career strategy insights tool, which was the linear versus lateral development, and we've touched on this a couple of times while we were talking today, but I think it would be useful for everyone if we explore it in a little bit more detail, so linear versus lateral development. Tell us about it. Lots of us know that careers have changed, organizations have changed. There isn't always a strict hierarchy.

There aren't always obvious rungs in the career ladder you are climbing. So if you are particularly working in an organization like that, how do you keep people engaged and interested? What, what does lateral development really mean?


So, you know, for me, this is about looking at ways that individuals can develop their skills across the spectrum of the organization. So that might be skills development in, in their current role, and thinking about ways that they can tap into perhaps other project-based opportunities. It could be moving to another functional area of the organization where, could be considered more of a sideways move in sort of traditional language, but they're gaining additional skills and the organization is benefiting from their mobility and their movement of skills into another part of the organization.

It could be the acquisition of skills through a of. A work shadowing situation or a secondment for a period of time. It could be about tapping into the organization's learning resources. And incidentally, you know, another bugbear is, is often a gap. Between, you know, what is available and people really being aware of what's available and knowing where to go.

So I think the organizations say that we see doing it well, are removing some of the constraints around that and they're encouraging lateral movement. And I think it's really important as well to consider whether is an organization. You are able to reward and recognize lateral skills development because often what is happening is that where that, where it isn't recognized and only linear progression is being sort of rewarded and noticed or indeed tracked.

Talking of tracking information and data that can be sort of counterproductive and, and. Individuals might be thinking, Hmm, I'm not sure that this is going to be valued here. They might recognize it's going to be valued for them, but I think if we are thinking about how organizations really create the infrastructure that supports this proactive individual development, it's, it might be a case of looking at some of your legacy systems performance and reward and thinking how do we actually incentivize people to move laterally as.

So I think that that's something that could be considered A lot of organizations, Faye also don't track data on lateral development. So everything is tracked if it's sort of a linear move and it's a promotion. But one thing that we are really trying to get organization, organizations to think about is even if it's basic tracking, even if it's starting on your Excel spreadsheets, doesn't have to be your fancy developed technology.

But some kind of measure of what's happening so that you get a picture of, of the extent to which lateral skills development is happening. And then that feeds in, I think, to your business case and your measures of these programs as well. So it's trying to break down some of perhaps what might be historical constraints as well, if that makes sense.



I will share a link for your pod notes to our webpage on the career strategy Insights tool with you, Fay as well, if that's okay. And if your listeners would then like to download the full report based on our research, they'll be able to extract that from that link and that webpage.


I used to do it the other way round, do book recommendation and then how people get in touch with you. But nevermind. Hopefully people will forgive me for changing things slightly. So now the new final question is, what is your book recommendation?


And sort of the, the strap line is how to stay relevant in the second half of your career. And I loved this book Fay, because I do a lot of work with people in mid-career, and I think it's so relevant. To the organizational landscape as well, because what we are talking about is, you know, really how to engage, retain, and motivate your employees at mid-career.

So this, this is all about sort of tapping into the wisdom part of ourselves, which often comes from experience, but thinking about how that maps onto the organizational goals as well. So I thought this was a great read for individuals and those working in organizations alike.


So all that leaves me to say now, Kate is a huge thank you for coming on the show. It's been absolutely brilliant having you here, and I hope that we'll get to catch up again.



They are episode 33, which was called "A Helpful Framework for Career Conversations at Work" with Steve McIntosh. And episode 25, which was called "How to Use Career Conversations to Improve Retention and Engagement" with Sarah Archer. You can find them wherever you are listening to HR Coffee Time, and I'll also put a link to them in the show notes for you.

But before I leave you for today, can I ask you for one small thing, and that is to share HR Coffee Time with a friend or a colleague who you think will find it useful and will enjoy listening to it. I would love to help as many HR and People professionals as possible with this free weekly show, and I know just how powerful recommendations and word of mouth are. Thank you so much. Have a great week, and I look forward to being back again next week on Friday with the next episode for you.




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