The Innovative Workplace
Technology + employee expectations = the “why” for career planning
“A good coach can change a game.
A great coach can change a life.”
One in three of your best employees may be thinking about another job, according to some of the latest surveys. Why? Business is good, you’ve got a great team, and your employment package is competitive. What’s the missing link? (Hint: It’s probably not more paid or vacation time off, although those help, too).
The reason likely has something to do with career planning. We hear a lot about Millennials wanting more opportunities to grow and expand, but the truth is, that’s what employees of all generations want. Think about the last time you had a serious discussion with your employees about their career aspirations. Did you explore with them how their work assignments and the training you are giving them are preparing them for the next rung on their career ladders, either inside your agency or elsewhere in the insurance industry? If you’re like most of us, probably not. It’s a hard conversation to have when you don’t feel you have the tools to do it right. The job market is hot, so unless you’re having these discussions with employees, chances are good you risk losing your best performers.
Technology + employee expectations = the “why” for career planning
Besides employee attraction and retention, there are other considerations that make the case for investing your time in career planning and performance coaching. The employment and management landscape has evolved over the decades. A system of networked teams supported by technology feeds employee expectations for immediate feedback and faster career growth. All of this plays into how we manage our teams and how they work.
[P]roviding the right performance coaching and offering continuous learning are critical factors in helping employers keep their business edge.
Korn Ferry Futurestep’s 2017 talent trend predictions take it a step further and urge leaders to consider how technology is changing work rules and employee roles. Let’s look at how this might play out in your agency.
It wasn’t too long ago when your service reps answered most of your clients’ questions over the phone and via fax. They are now expected to communicate using a variety of methods, including phone, online chat and emails, cloud-based vendor systems, software tools, and even social media. In addition to this growing variety of communication methods, the types and varieties of insurance products have become more specialized. This complexity requires employees to constantly learn new skills and train to shift to new roles. It also puts more pressure on you to ensure that you provide tools and coaching support so that employees can keep up with the rapid changes in technology, regulations, laws and products.
I recently asked some of our clients in an informal ThinkHR survey about the challenges they are facing in their agencies today, to get a sense of how we could provide better tools to help them enhance employee engagement and retention. The answers below to the simple question, “What keeps you up at night?” probably won’t surprise you:
- Finding and keeping great employees
- Retaining clients
- Attracting new business
- Competing with online and direct sales (selling personalized service/value over price)
- Upgrading technology and making better use of the available technology
- Controlling expenses
- Finding carriers/vendors with quality products at the right price
It was apparent to us that some of the challenges and risks on this list can be mitigated by bringing in the right talent, ensuring they have the right tools and training to do their jobs, letting them know how their job fits into the total picture, and coaching them for better performance.
The future is here
The trending research in human capital management supports the theory that providing the right performance coaching and offering continuous learning are critical factors in helping employers keep their business edge. Employees expect more, and the employers that create great employee experiences outperform their competitors. Make room in your schedule to focus on your employees and have meaningful career planning and performance conversations with them.
Whenever the topic of performance appraisals and reviews come up, we get mixed reactions from both managers and employees. The old systems and processes were—and still are, for some companies—painful. For some, the topic conjures up visions of bloated administrative processes culminating in lots of paperwork and an unsatisfactory discussion where the employee’s annual performance contributions are reduced to a single rating. It shouldn’t be like that.
What should it look like? Consider that agencies are shifting from functional hierarchies to a network of teams working on client accounts. Your employees work on projects, customer engagement, and new products, often changing roles throughout the year. The concept of a “job description” is being replaced by a series of “projects,” driven by the employees’ skills, experiences, and connections. This shift means we should manage differently and change the way we communicate, set goals, reward people and lead our organizations. And traditional job descriptions just don’t fit in.
The new rules call for agencies to integrate tools that provide faster feedback, recognition for jobs well done, and quick learning opportunities. Structured career paths are becoming less common as today’s workers acquire skills based on emerging technologies that spawn new products and services. The trend for meaningful performance management is creating tools that can track performance goals to results, and provide quick feedback on a regular basis. These automated feedback mechanisms allow employees and managers to “check in” about performance, training, and other relevant needs on a weekly, monthly or other regular interval that makes sense for the job and organization.
Ranking systems are giving way to continuous performance management models that include career coaching tools. These agile products can work if: (1) everyone involved is willing to invest the time up front to create meaningful goals; (2) managers agree to have regular check-ins that include career coaching discussions; and (3) both parties agree to embrace the feedback and work to improve.
The good news is that the HR technology is out there, and the better news is that you can start without it. Your system doesn’t have to be elaborate—take an inventory of each of your employee’s key job duties and skills, think ahead to the other skills you need to grow your business, and determine how you will fill the gaps.
Help your employees (and your agency) succeed
It boils down to value alignment—your employees choose working for you because they believe that your agency values align with their own and they see a clear path to career advancement. That alignment is the winning formula for attracting, retaining and engaging your employees. You’ve got a big job determining the best approaches to create that smooth career coaching experience for each one of your employees. And it starts by getting to know each one of them, what they value, and how they view their careers in your agency. Help them to see a high return on their career investment.
The steps for beginning the process include:
- Set the stage for the career planning discussion by knowing available career options based on your business today and your projected future needs. Determine which job requirements are flexible versus those that are absolute. Factor in the achievable next career steps.
- Assess performance and skill levels for each of your employees in preparation for your meetings with them. Carefully consider the goals and objectives you’ve set to evaluate their performance. Be sure your employees’ goals are specific and timely. It’s much more difficult to measure their progress when their objectives are vague or too broad.
- Plan the conversation. Don’t assume you know your employees’ skill levels and career aspirations. Your goal is to understand what their career goals are and how they think they can accomplish them. Be prepared to talk about any challenges they’re having in their current position and ask if they believe that they would benefit from additional training or mentoring.
- Have the talk. Some of your employees may already have a career path in mind. But many times, they don’t know how to get started. By talking to them, you can work together to figure out what role your business plays in their plans as well as what opportunities you can offer them.
- Create an action plan. Be clear that while you will provide feedback, mentoring, coaching, and learning opportunities, the responsibility for personal development falls on the employee. The action plan may include formal training, job shadowing, work on other project teams, or other opportunities you can mutually define. Set up some opportunities where your employees can quickly apply new skills to the job and get feedback. This process will help them reinforce and refine their skills.
Having the tough talk when career paths don’t align with reality
Career conversations are easy when performance is high and the career aspirations are on track. However, one of the toughest conversations managers will have is with employees who have a career plan and whose skills and/or performance don’t align. Most of us don’t like conflict and will avoid or delay those difficult conversations. It’s hard. By avoiding those conversations, however, you can hurt your relationships in the long run and create negative outcomes that won’t help your employee. Here are a few tips for having a tough conversation:
- First and foremost, don’t put it off. Start from a place of respect and don’t worry about not being liked. Begin the conversation by recognizing the good work the employee is doing. The standard rule of thumb is to maintain a ratio of 3:1 of positive to negative feedback. This ratio helps to establish appreciation and trust so that the constructive criticisms around the employee’s career goals might be better received.
- Be direct yet kind when sharing your feedback about why you don’t think the career goals are realistic. An honest and respectful conversation moves smoothly from difficult to one where you can talk about more realistic career goals.
- Show appreciation and anticipate a positive outcome. If you expect the talk to be hard, it probably will be. Realign your own thinking and internal talk track.
Take interest, invest the time, set clear goals and expectations, and coach your employees to make the most of their careers. Both your employees and your agency will be better for it.
Laura Kerekes is ThinkHR’s Chief Knowledge Officer and leads the ThinkHR content knowledge and human resources service delivery teams. In addition to her company responsibilities, she writes management, human resources and business articles and presents regularly to management groups regarding human resources best practices. She holds both the HRCI Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and SHRM-SCP professional designations.
About ThinkHR: ThinkHR partners with over 650 leading insurance brokers and payroll bureaus with an HR knowledge platform that enables their clients to obtain quick answers to urgent risk and liability questions, protecting clients from loss and legal action; stay informed on the correct responses and decisions for HR management and compliance matters; create web training programs to educate and develop employees in the areas of safety, management and wellness; and save time and money versus expensive alternate legal and HR resources.