Imagine going to your favourite café, the one you’ve been going to for years. When you can, you sit at the same table. You order the same two or three things – a coffee and cake, sometimes tea and a biscuit – and you always leave a little tip.

Things have changed in this café over the years – new staff, new menu items, new ownership. But enough has stayed the same to keep you coming back.

One day, you go to your favourite café and you wait and wait and wait for your order to come. It doesn’t. You get more and more frustrated until finally you get up and scream, ‘I want my coffee now! I have been coming here for years, I have been loyal to you, I have adapted to your changes, I have given you feedback, I have cared about you doing well and now you ignore me! Give me my coffee!’

The waiter comes over and apologises, saying, ‘Of course, but you haven’t ordered. What would you like?’

I am sure that this scenario seems ridiculous to you. Imagine someone getting angry and upset because someone else did not pre-empt their needs and serve them. But this exact situation happens every day in business when it comes to people’s careers.

As an executive recruiter and coach, every day I speak to individuals and organisations about building careers and teams. One of the key factors for success is communication.

Unfortunately, too many times I have listened to the complaints, anger and frustration of individuals who have not achieved their career goals but, when asked if they have made these ambitions known to management, their response is, ‘But they should have known.’ Just as it is unrealistic and ludicrous to expect a waiter to know and present your order before you have requested it, it is also unrealistic to expect an organisation or manager to present you with your dream job if you haven’t told anyone what it is.

Instead, I hear the justifications. ‘They should have known.’ ‘I think I told them.’ ‘Why didn’t they ask me?’ ‘I shouldn’t have to tell them.’ ‘If they want to keep me, they need to look after me.’ ‘They don’t like me.’ ‘They are only promoting women because of diversity.’ ‘It’s a boys club.’ ‘I’m too old/young/new/senior.’ And so on and so on.

At Peeplcoach we believe that, ultimately, the person who benefits most from a career they love or suffers most at a job they hate is the person whose job it is. It is therefore that individual’s responsibility to put a plan in place and to take the necessary actions to create the career they desire and deserve.

Central to this is the concept of a career plan. Career plans are essential for both individuals and organisations. For individuals, it is critical to have a destination in mind and a plan to get there. Without a clear goal or destination, effective decisions cannot be made. Do you take this promotion or stay where you are to get more experience? Do you enrol in Course A or Course B? Without knowing the outcome required, how can you know which course of action is most likely to get you there?

For organisations it is critical to support individuals to create career plans and to understand those plans for effective organisational planning. You don’t want to lose a valuable employee because you didn’t know what they wanted to achieve in their career and never thought to ask them.

There are many reasons that individuals and organisations do not have meaningful career conversations, including the following.

Important versus urgent

While most of us understand, in an academic sense, the importance of having a career plan, engaging with employees and managers, and developing a pathway together, too often we let the urgency of day-to-day operations get in the way of what is important. How many times has an appraisal conversation been cut short, postponed or completed late at night because ‘there wasn’t enough time’?

Assumptions

Managers and individuals make assumptions about the other. As in the cafe example above, the manager thinks they know what is best for the employee and the employee assumes the manager knows what they want.

Fear

As humans, we will avoid situations that might challenge us or put us in uncomfortable positions. An employee may not want to proclaim they want their boss’ job – what if they are told that they are not good enough, what if they are laughed at, what if the boss now feels insecure and fires them? While the manager might be wondering – what if their star employee tells them that they want a promotion, a pay rise or to move to another department? What if they ask for something that is not possible? Will we lose them?

Laziness or habit

Unfortunately, too many of us fall into ruts of habit. Even if we are no longer feeing challenged or inspired by a role, team or manager we don’t change because we feel this is just the way things are. We get used to the situation or we prioritise other things. After all, it takes a lot of effort to change careers, get a new job, or restructure and bring new talent into a team.

Lack of skill and experience

Some individuals and managers may have the desire to create robust plans or have that crucial discussion but one or both sides just do not have the skills, tools or experience. The solution to this is simple. The internet offers unlimited free resources in this area, you can talk to your HR team and, of course, Peeplcoach can also help you.

Martyrdom and victimhood

This may sound harsh but let me explain what I mean. Career martyrs or victims are those who make excuses as to why they cannot build the career that they want. They are too busy blaming others or external circumstances for why they cannot be and do what they desire. ‘I have to support the family.’ ‘I haven’t got the money to go back to study.’ ‘My organisation won’t support me.’ ‘I won’t get the job anyway because the bosses don’t like me.’ We all feel like this at times. But the critical thing here is to recognise your victim mentality and then do something about it. The person who is most disadvantaged by this sort of defeatist attitude is you (and, of course, the friends, family and colleagues who are sick of hearing you whinge!)

Next steps

For managers: if you have not had a robust and honest discussion with your team members to understand their goals and career aspirations, book a time to have this conversation with each of them now.

For individuals: if you have not got a career plan or, even more simply, if you cannot answer the question ‘What would a successful career look like for me?’ then find a quiet spot and start thinking and writing.

If you need any assistance, please contact us here at Peeplcoach – we are happy to assist.

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