Employees are your company’s greatest asset; you win or lose as an organization based on what your team members can produce, market, sell, ship, and support. It makes smart business sense, then, to prioritize taking care of that asset.
In 20 years of coaching executives to career fulfillment, impact, and success, I’ve learned that there are 7 ways that individuals – and their employers – tend to underinvest career-wise, leading to 7 traps that keep them stuck. Untreated, these traps result in burnout, declining performance, and attrition. Conversely, I’ve noticed 7 strategic patterns of behavior that counteract these ‘stuck points’ and improve career satisfaction, influence, and performance. Members of the C-suite interested in realizing such gains do well to pay attention to these career-improving strategies. These tools are outlined below and in my new book Your Finest Work: Career Fulfillment in a Complicated World.
Employees thrive when they:
- Become their career’s intentional architect – Many employees are asleep at the wheel of their careers, not thinking of themselves as in the driver’s seat. Spearhead regular, galvanizing one-on-one career development conversations where you charge individuals to design their advancement path in your company with their manager. Enable these employee-manager partnerships to remove obstacles and make those visions a reality.
- Define their own North Star – The first thing any intentional careerist must do is define what is important to them so it can lead them from the inside out. This lens counterbalances the overwhelmingly reactive environment employees navigate every day. Facilitate a values-based culture, training your managers to identify and lead by their values, non-negotiables, and measures of success while encouraging their employees to do the same.
- Fill their tank – Many employees are running on empty, pushed to the limit by the demands of a disrupted, 24×7 world. As a result, work quality is being compromised, sick days are increasing, and burnout is on the rise. Epitomize a visible blend of honoring personal boundaries with an unwavering commitment to the work, setting the stage for employees to emulate. It’s not enough to provide unlimited PTO; rather, demonstrate a culture where people take care of themselves to underscore the belief that that is how the company will win.
- Take imperfect action – Employees can become fixated on doing things right. When they get the message that they cannot make a mistake, it slows productivity and reduces their willingness to take the calculated risks associated with innovation. Shape your company culture to be one where employees are encouraged to brainstorm, run experiments, and fail on the way to success, with an iterative approach to achieving better and better outcomes over time.
- Fine-tune their powers of observation – Often, conversations amongst diverse stakeholders fall short of their potential, with participants so focused on what they are trying to drive that they bring a narrow, transactional focus to interactions. The cost? Frustration, a sense of distrust, and the siloing of groups charged to work effectively together. Model emotional intelligence, demonstrating the importance of paying attention to what is being said and what is not being said in any meeting you are in. Call out the elephant in the room and help your employees do the same.
- Broaden their base of support – Many employees are not naturally good networkers and, frankly, don’t understand the benefit of expanding and deepening their connections. Incent your direct reports to develop strong cross-functional ties with their peers, training them to do it well to achieve synergistic thinking with their colleagues. Then, have them coach their employees to follow suit. Help all players understand that the key to networking effectively is to co-create an agenda that benefits both/all participants.
- Sharpen their professional narrative – Most employees can’t tell a compelling career story summarizing where they’ve been and where they are headed. Often, they are afraid to update their LinkedIn while employed for fear of reprisal. This engenders the belief that to get ahead, they need to leave the company. Invite and actively support your employees to keep their positioning fresh and current. Doing so provides a sense of progression in the seat they are in. These updates benefit the company too, attracting speaking opportunities, industry partnerships, and customer visibility.
As a coach hired by top companies to work with executives, I notice that many leaders do not have the tools they need to thrive in their careers in their current roles. From my vantage point, the internal experience of success and fulfillment is the most important place to invest in career development for the people who work for you. That is what translates into the best outcomes for all: your employees, your team, your customers, and ultimately, your company’s bottom line.
Written by Merideth Mehlberg.
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