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Handling Common Career Coaching Challenges

By and

Wed Nov 14 2012


Here are some ideas for handling the trickier career coaching scenarios.

Concern 1: There are no open positions and no obvious future opportunities


First, don’t pretend there are any. Together, brainstorm unofficial career development and personal growth in your team member’s current job: special projects, stretch assignments, expanded responsibilities, or training. There may also be nontraditional lateral moves to explore. Consider how to raise awareness of this person’s strengths and abilities with other leaders by involving him or her in high-visibility presentations and projects. And if the employee can’t articulate career or development goals, read on. 

Concern 2: The employee desires “career progression” but has no idea what he or she wants

Start by discussing this person’s current job satisfaction. It will help the employee understand what to look for in future opportunities. It also sets the stage for reshaping current responsibilities to increase satisfaction and personal growth.

  • What aspects of the current role are most satisfying?

  • Why does he or she like or not like particular tasks or challenges?

  • What talents are underutilized or can be developed further? 

Use mind-opening questions to explore ideas for expanding responsibilities and gaining recognition in the employee’s current role. It’s the employee’s career! As their manager, you don’t need to have all the answers. Encourage the employee to take advantage of organizational resources (e.g., training or online tools) to clarify career aspirations, differentiating talents and drivers of job satisfaction.

Concern 3: You really depend on this employee’s contribution to your team and don’t want to lose him


Get over it. If your employee is clear about career aspirations and drivers of job satisfaction, he will pursue them with or without you. So be supportive of career conversations.

Clarify your understanding of what this person is seeking:  

  • A change in responsibilities to try something new?

  • Development of a certain skill?

  • Experience in leading a project or people?

  • Something to challenge them?  

Then think about what your team needs to deliver. What projects or tasks can you assign that might satisfy this individual’s aspirations? Often, managers can adjust job responsibilities to provide growth opportunities to increase an employee’s job satisfaction. This approach is especially useful with less experienced team members because it gives them a relatively safe way to take on responsibilities that they often think they should have (and then find out they dislike). It is also an approach that can take work off your to-do list. 

Concern 4: The assignment or role in which the employee is interested may not match her skills or experience

If you and the employee share the same perception of skills and experience, be candid in your belief that there is not a fit. Give specific examples of the employee’s skills as well as the requirements of the new role. If your reaction is based on limited information about the role being discussed, suggest that the employee meet with someone who has more hands-on knowledge of the job requirements.  


Sometimes the issue is timing: you don’t believe the employee has been in the current role long enough to acquire critical experience. Be candid about that perception. Don’t say, “Wait your turn.” Brainstorm ways to build experience more quickly. And remember: if you are perfectly comfortable recommending a team member for a new role, you’ve probably waited too long! Talent management and succession planning involve risk. It’s better to encourage and support stretch assignments than lose your top talent.

Concern 5: The employee’s perception of talents and weaknesses differs from yours

Keep asking questions to clarify the employee’s views. Acknowledge that you don’t necessarily agree with those perceptions. Don’t turn this conversation into a performance appraisal. Keep the conversation broad with a focus on understanding the employee’s perceptions of his talents and weaknesses as well as his aspirations for development and career progression. Then try to find some positive action that you and the employee can take to increase job satisfaction or develop skills in the current job. And if the disconnect in perceptions is significant, schedule a separate, long-overdue conversation to discuss performance. 

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Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Engagement Equation, by Christopher Rice, Fraser Marlow and Mary Ann Masarech. Copyright (c) 2012 by BlessingWhite.

The Engagement Equation explains the drivers of employee engagement, and how you can use improved engagement to execute strategy, reduce costs, and meet your organizational goals. This book describes a unique engagement model that focuses on individuals' contribution to a company's success and personal satisfaction in their roles. Aligning employees' values, goals, and aspirations with those of the organization is the best method for achieving the sustainable employee engagement. The Engagement Equation is designed to provide a framework that will help you move the needle on engagement.

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