Employers should empower staff to take charge of their careers

Experts at CIPD event say employees should drive their own professional development, but managers also need the skills to help

HR departments need to empower employees to take charge of their own careers, delegates at the CIPD Employee Experience Conferences heard yesterday.

Annette Andrews, HR director at Lloyd’s, said it was important to ask employees who “owns their career”. 

“When people crack that – it’s not just about their next job but about their career and where they want to go – then they take more ownership,” she said. 

While employees should think about what job they want, she said it was key for business leaders to think about what kind of employee they want for roles.  

“If you want them to be engaged, fulfilled in their jobs and full of initiative, you need a way of providing a structure that allows that,” Andrews said. She added businesses need to adapt their culture to fit the structure they want to achieve. 

Catherine Allen, who works at Ella’s Kitchen as head of keeping people happy, shared with delegates how the baby food company invests in its own people. The firm has a policy which offers employees a £1,000 “pot” to use for personal or professional development. 

“We like to invest in people to do a good job, and it is up to them to decide how they spend this money,” Allen said. “We want to support their self-development, whether it’s in their current role, developing skills for a job in another aspect of the business or even moving to another business altogether.”

Laurell Hector, author and learning and development specialist, said it was important to get workers to think about their careers and to train line managers to have conversations around staff career development. 

“If we’re wanting people to be more engaged with their jobs and careers, it’s about the quality of the conversations we’re having,” Hector said. She cautioned that while managers should look to develop staff as much as possible, they also needed to manage expectations and not “promise staff the earth”.

Birthe Mester, global head of performance and culture at Deutsche Bank, said it was important for employers get back to the heart of performance management – maintaining and improving employee performance in line with an organisation’s objectives. 

“It’s about about being able to link what you want to achieve as a company to a role and have a discussion on how those two things can work to achieve it,” Mester explained. “Then you can go to employees, clearly explain what their role is and show how it aligns with the greater strategy.” 

Mester said many managers had trouble engaging in “difficult conversations” at work because they did not set out these clear expectations. She said it was key for employers to show what their expectations of good performance are and how this would be reflected in individual roles. 

Andrews said managers were still hired for their technical skills rather than their people management. 

“Too often, people will just swerve to avoid difficult conversations, and it ends up in HR as a grievance,” Andrews said. “You need to train people to develop interpersonal skills and have difficult conversations. Quite often, just having these conversations can nip problems in the bud before it gets to HR.”

Allen stressed good managers were essential to driving personal development and performance. She said bespoke training development programme had helped managers have open, honest conversations with employees. 

“We also make it clear to people that if they aren’t comfortable with helping individuals, then they may not be the right person to help. So we signpost to managers where they should direct people who might need help.”