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Managers: Are You Talking to Your Team About Career Planning?

Nicole Klemp

Employee career development is about more than skills training or even job promotions. It’s about supporting peoples’ long-term career goals and helping them become their best selves personally and professionally—whether that means they’re with your company for 10 years or 10 months. 

Active career planning with employees is essential to a business’s long-term health and helps create a strong employer brand. It also allows you to upskill your workforce and build more engaged, high-performing teams. Unfortunately, too many companies still aren’t investing as much as they should (or at all) in a formal career planning process. 

According to 15Five’s latest study, 48% of employees said they had yet to have at least one conversation with their manager about their career vision, and 40% said their organization doesn’t offer learning and growth opportunities like subject matter training, seminars, guest speakers, leadership training, or online courses.

So, why don’t more employees have access to professional development opportunities? And why aren’t more managers talking to their people about their career goals? We tried to get to the bottom of these questions in our 2023 Manager Effectiveness Report. Keep reading for our data insights and key takeaways.

Data shows employees and managers aren’t on the same page about career development

Our study uncovered several big gaps between how managers see things and how employees see things, and the topic of career development is no exception. We found that managers overestimate how often they talk to their employees about career planning and that advancement opportunities aren’t as clear to employees as their managers may think.

Eighty-five percent of managers said they have at least one conversation with each employee about their career vision, while only 52% of employees said their managers have had those conversations with them. And while 57% of managers said their organization offers clear tracks for advancement, only 36% of employees agree. 

These discrepancies provide some pretty solid evidence that a lot of managers are out of touch with their direct reports when it comes to employee growth and development.

HR and business leaders also need to step up support for employee career development 

While it is a manager’s responsibility to have career conversations with their direct reports, managers shouldn’t take all the blame (or even most of it) when employees aren’t getting the support they need. To find the root of the problem, you have to look to leadership and the company culture they’ve built. 

Nearly half (47%) of employees in our survey said their organization doesn’t provide clear advancement tracks, or they were unsure if they were offered. HR and executive leaders are essential to building a strong foundation for employee development and growth, and ensuring career opportunities are well communicated to both managers and employees. They must also put the processes and tools in place that enable managers to have regular career conversations with their teams.

As Jennie Yang, 15Five’s VP of People & Culture, puts it, “To promote career and professional development, organizations need solutions that unlock the potential of every employee. The right tools help provide a consistent experience around career pathing, fostering job satisfaction and retention, and demonstrating to employees and managers that you are investing in their future.”

Employees work harder for managers who care about their career growth

If you’re concerned about employees career-planning their way out the door, fear not. Some people may indeed choose to leave your organization as they outgrow their current role. However, in most cases, investing in an employee’s growth and career development will help them become a stronger performer for their current team and make them more likely to stick around.

Our study found that 67% of employees report working harder for a manager who cares about their growth as a professional. Effective managers are champions for their direct reports, giving them the tools and support they need to build thriving careers. 

Managers should be active champions for their people, helping them to navigate career options and open doors to new opportunities. Meaningful career conversations will include goal-setting and working with employees on a roadmap to meet those goals. Many employees may go on to become strong managers themselves within the organization. 

Career conversations should be ongoing, not once a year

Things move fast in today’s world, so waiting for an anniversary or annual performance review to talk about employee growth plans with your people won’t cut it. Employees’ interests and personal goals can change over time, and if they’re not having regular career discussions with their managers, great opportunities could be passing them by. 

Most people’s career paths today aren’t linear, and “climbing the ladder” is an outdated way to look at career growth. Managers need to talk to each direct report regularly about their personal strengths and interests to develop the right goals and opportunities for them. 

Career conversations should be built into managers’ and employees’ day-to-day through 1-on-1s, check-ins, and other regular touchpoints. You can also set aside dedicated time to chat exclusively about personal development and career goals. Don’t wait for your employees to bring up career planning—start the discussion ASAP and let them know you’re committed to their long-term growth and success. 

Learn more in 15Five’s 2023 Manager Effectiveness Report 

We surveyed 1,000 managers and 1,000 employees across the U.S. on productivity tracking, manager effectiveness, training and development, and career growth. See what our study uncovered about how employees and managers really feel about learning and development at their organizations and how it impacts their career decisions.

Get the report >