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4 Ways to Meaningfully Engage Leaders in Their Career Planning

Sally Schott

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Last month SOAR convened almost 200 high potential women and minorities from more than a dozen blue-chip companies to discuss career planning. More than 40% of our participants told us that they are not satisfied with the professional growth and career development opportunities at their current organizations. Our goal was to help them develop meaningful career plans that help them find the growth and development they need.

Falling Short

Traditional approaches to career planning, especially for high potential women and minorities, don’t deliver for three key reasons:

  1. Check-The-Box-Activity: Far too often, career planning is an annual exercise that happens after employees receive their performance review. Professionals are not encouraged to engage in meaningful self-reflection before drafting or updating their career plans. 
  2. Promotion Focused: Because career planning usually follows performance reviews, it over focuses on achieving the next promotion. However, the days of stable vertical growth are long gone. Companies are flatter. The time between promotions is longer. Employees, especially Millennials, are looking for a collection of meaningful career experiences, not just promotions.
  3. Input Limited to Managers: Career plans, if created, are typically only reviewed by an employee’s manager.  This limits the input (and inspiration) an employee may receive to just one vantage point.  For women and minorities, who typically are underrepresented among managers, this limited source of input is even more problematic.

The good news is that innovative employers have found a way to make career planning more useful and engaging for al staff, including women and minorities. In our 10+ years of advising and counseling companies, we have found the best companies engaged in the following key activities:

  1. Make career planning a mentor-mentee activity – The number one career planning resource requested by the high potential women and minorities that work with SOAR is a mentor or sponsor. The best companies have a strong culture of mentorship and make career planning an activity done with mentors, not managers.
  2. Focus on self-reflection, not the career planning template – Before drafting a career plan, employees need to spend time on self-assessment and reflection to create a plan that is aligned with their values, strengths and life objectives, rather than just the next promotion.
  3. Encourage employees to career plan more than once a year – Career plans should be reviewed at every key juncture in a career such as taking on a special project or accepting a rotational assignment. Plans should also be proactively reviewed and revised with a mentor at least quarterly.
  4. Move beyond technical skills training. After a mentor or a sponsor, high potential women and minorities report needing the following to achieve their career goals: