Career Conversations: The Missing Piece in Your Talent Management Cycle

A typical talent or performance cycle begins by setting goals and expectations. Then development, evaluation, and rewards are all tied to to those goals and expectations. But what if the individual’s goals are completely misaligned with the goals the manager has for them? A true lack of engagement and motivation sets in. This is a very real scenario when managers are not engaging in ongoing career conversations with their team members.

Career conversations are two-way exchanges that uncover more about an individual including: their values, interests, and strengths and how those might align with changing business needs. The purpose of these conversations is to facilitate insights and awareness, explore possibilities, and inspire responses that drive action.

These conversations are exploratory and really meant to focus on future growth and development, not past performance. While performance conversations happen formally one time a year, we encourage people to engage in career conversations more frequently without the pressure of discussing performance – ideally once a quarter at a minimum.

Frequent career conversations will serve as a great foundation: to set the stage, create trust, and create a baseline understanding for future performance and growth conversations.

In fact, research shows that career conversations can boost:

  1. Retention. According to a Right Management study, 82% of employees would be more engaged in their work if their managers had regular career conversations with them and 75% of people would be more likely to stay at their current company if they received ongoing career development. Career conversations can expose risk factors or barriers to a more satisfying employee experience — beyond compensation and perks. Even when managers cannot address every concern, simply asking about their team member’s perspective, and being honest about what’s possible, can increase engagement and retention.
  2. Relationships. When done well, career conversations help individuals feel more appreciated and valued, as these conversations show that the manager truly cares for their colleague’s growth and well-being.
  3. Resilience. Career conversations help to ensure that team members are gaining critical, market-driven skills to meet evolving industry demands. Rather than focus on “moving up or moving out”, team members can identify lateral opportunities within different areas of the organization, resulting in a more agile workforce and competitive industry advantage.

How can you encourage your team to have career conversations? Set them up for success by considering our top 5 tips for implementing career conversations:

  1. Frequency is your friend. Career conversations are not a one hit wonder. Doing this only one time, or even one time a year puts a lot of pressure on people and would create too many actions to achieve coming out of one meeting. Aim to have these conversations at least once a quarter.
  2. Look for cues. Encourage managers to be on the lookout for cues that indicate that it’s a good time for a career conversation. For example: consider moments of achievement as well as failure, a project starting or completing, or indications of disengagement or excitement about a new subject area. There are many moments to spark growth and development in your team through career conversations—the key is simply to practice looking for them.
  3. Clarify expectations. This isn’t about managers giving team members a download on internal opportunities or what they think they “should” do with their career. Instead help your managers get curious, ask questions, actively listen, and get comfortable with silence. We want to really give team members space to think and process, to answer questions, and to ask for feedback. Team members should be talking 90% of the time, and managers should be talking 10%.
  4. Provide support. Set your people up for success by giving them training, resources, or even holding office hours. For example, you can give managers a starting point by providing prompts or questions they can ask. Here are just a few of our favorites:
    • What motivates you?
    • When do you shine?
    • What gaps do you see in your own expertise?
    • How can you get ready for what’s next (in your career, organization, or industry)?
    • What steps would you like to take now to move you toward your bigger goal(s)?
  5. Check in. Get a pulse check with your team (both managers and employees) to assess the impact and find out how career conversations are going. Based on this feedback, determine what course correction needs to be done. For example, perhaps you need to set up reminders for people, offer additional trainings, or provide other resources to support these conversations in practice.

Looking for even more assistance in helping your team be equipped to have robust career conversations? Reach out to Paradox and we will be happy to help!

Katherine Nobles is a Senior Consultant at Paradox Consulting Partners, a management consulting company and Certified B Corporation that aligns talent strategy with business strategy to create high-performing, great places for all to work. She has nearly 15 years of experience in career, leadership, and organizational development. She has her BA from Virginia Tech and MEd from William & Mary. Follow her at