5 Ways Smart Managers Are Career Agents

by Kris Dunn | Posted | Career Management

5 Ways Smart Managers Are Career Agents

If you're into reading the good stuff here at the Halogen TalentSpace blog, it's easy to get overwhelmed.  After all, Halogen has a lot of great material here, presented by some really sharp experts.

It's easy to read something you really connect with, have the best of intentions to experiment with it across your team, then WHAM. Your job happens.  

A day turns into a week.  A week turns into a month.  You didn't have a chance to do anything with the good stuff you read.

You're really busy, so I'm going to give you something really simple (but uber-effective) with this post.

Here's the big thought: You can get the most out of your team by approaching every meaningful conversation from the eye of the employee. This means being prepared to clearly communicate why it's in the best interest of the employee to do what you're asking of them.

I call this type of focus the "career agent" stance. Almost all of the most effective and most loved managers you'll find today, across all lines of business, adopt this stance in some fashion.

What specifically does a career agent do?

It's really simple. Every time you need an employee to do something, you have to ask them. Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned veteran, this step is fairly easy to do.

But then you need to do something more difficult. You have to explain to the employee why/how what you're asking them to do is aligned with their career goals.

This step requires some upfront investment of time. To link any conversation with the self-interests of the employee, you've got to be in tune with what they want out of their career and life. If you haven't had that conversation yet, start now.

Five ways to become a career agent

Once you show you actually care about what they want out of a career, you'll be well positioned to start having routine, day-to-day conversations with your team that are less about you cracking the managerial whip and more about you helping them achieve their career goals.

With this point in mind, here are five ways to become a career agent.

1) The interview

Of course we're leading with a conversation that happens before someone is even hired!  Smart managers take the time to grill the candidate in front of them, but when they feel they might have someone they're going to hire, they start selling.

One of the ways they sell is to ask open-ended questions about what the employee's short- and long-term career goals are. Then smart managers share stories about how they've helped the people they've managed accomplish great things. Don't have that track record as a manager? Probably time to start building one.

2) Goal setting 

Once the employee has been hired, it's on-boarding time. Great leaders get creative when it comes to goal setting. Here’s one idea: Describe to the employee what needs to be done in order to be successful in the role, but seamlessly transition into how it’s going to be good for the employee's career.

Can't find a win for the employee in the goals you need to accomplish? You might have the wrong goals or have an incredibly limited sense of imagination.

3) Coaching to improve performance

If you're going to be an effective manager, there are going to be multiple times when you will need to coach your employee in order to improve his/her performance. When that happens, you should be sharing why the needed performance tweak is in line with the goals in question. In addition to saying why it's aligned with the business, you should be outlining why the performance tweak contributes to making them more valuable as a professional in their field of choice.

4) Good to great performance management 

The best managers reserve great ratings in performance management for employees doing truly outstanding work. Meaning, they understand the difference between what good and great performance looks like. When managers understand how to make this contrast, they're also quick to explain to employees how getting to the great level of performance will make them more valuable — both inside and outside the company.

5) Compensation conversations

We end with the elephant in the room. Many of you are strapped by limited compensation budgets and there's really nothing attractive to discuss, right? Three percent raise? Thanks, boss! Managers who are career agents for their employees aren't afraid to talk about making their employee more valuable over time.

This includes discussing what's available externally if an employee looked for another job. That may sound crazy, but it's actually the most obvious way for employees to truly trust that you have their best interests at heart.

Don’t just be a manager

Whatever you love reading about in the HR space — how to hire better talent, how to get more performance out of your people, how to increase engagement, etc. — the most effective path to the best practice in question is simple. Become a career agent for the people who report to you.

Don't make it about the company. Don't make it about you. Make it about them.

Yes, you can get things done and talk about what's in it for the employee. As it turns out, that's the best way to ensure great performance happens.

Your Turn: What advice would you give to managers who are looking to become career agents?

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