Career discussions.
Adopting a human-centred approach.


The nature of Covid has led to a sudden boom in employee autonomy. Working from home now means employees are now in control of their environment, schedules and levels of flexibility. Yet, the need for autonomy in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. Research shows that employees thrive when they have more choice and are the source of their own actions.

Similarly, this sense of control and accountability must be felt in relation to their wider career goals. How managers convey information during career conversations will shape how much autonomy employees perceive themselves to have. If conducted in a way that suggests a lack thereof, this alters how valuable and content the employee will feel in the organisation. And indeed, how driven they are to succeed.

For a shift to occur where employees are given the space to take the reins in fully realising their own potential, a shift has to happen in the relationships between the employer and employees. A shift that takes the relationship always from strictly hierarchal, to one which recognises that although they might not have equal power in the context of job roles, they are equal as human beings. The manager may have responsibility for them, but it is the employee’s right and responsibility to steer their own career direction. The question, therefore, becomes how can leaders set the meeting in that context of a mutual, human-centred understanding and appreciation?

A Mindset Of Equality

Without an equality mindset where both parties work in a collaborative way, and employees feel able to drive their own careers, the organisational attitude of growth and development required for brilliance cannot be formed. Career conversations approached from a basic human-to-human understanding is fundamental to achieving a working relationship that inspires and galvanises employees to meaningful action. Without this, it can become harder to escape the pitfalls of unengaged employees, micromanagement and high turnover.

The goal is to have human-centred interactions with employees, that are driven by their desire to work for a purpose. Interactions that are not unbalanced with the employer’s view or instructions taking precedent. But instead, values the input of both participants. Enabling the employee to share openly and giving the assurance they will indeed be heard.

In turn, this creates a limitless opportunity for new ideas, innovation and a deeper level of commitment from the employee, to growth and success within the company.

Leading With Empathy

One’s ability to lead career conversations in this manner is very much dependant on the way in which they lead, overall. Leadership is ultimately about other people. A true leader will understand this means that despite them being at the forefront, their focus should in fact be less on them and more on those they are leading.

It is therefore their responsibility to get the best out of their teams by inspiring, motivating and genuinely caring for their employees. This is what not only activates the passion within others to take ownership of their work and careers but also, the belief they need to do so effectively.

To communicate on a level that demonstrates these values requires the empathy needed to tell compelling stories that get across the necessary information in the discussion, in a way that propels employees to self-driven action. Empathy is the vehicle that enables leaders to truly connect with their workforce, understand their challenges and concerns, and galvanise them to a solution-orientated way of working.

Inspiring Through Authenticity

To genuinely care for employees, you yourself must be genuine.

There is a misconception that to be a leader, one must create a persona strictly based on fairly limited, and perhaps, somewhat ego-centric notions of leadership qualities: Bull-headed assertiveness, has all the answers and therefore opts not to ask questions; Distant in demeanour, revealing very little about themselves. And generally, evoking a sense of detached, all-seeing, all-knowing authority.

However, this approach loses relatability, approachability and authenticity. Three key things you need to keep you in tune and connected with your workforce, in order to get the best from them. It can also be quite emotionally and energetically draining on the leader.

Rather than putting pressure on yourself to create a version of yourself that’s entirely different from who you are outside of work, it’s much more beneficial to redirect that energy into making a conscious effort to be authentic with your team. Research shows that employees’ job satisfaction and happiness in the workplace is heavily dependent on authentic leadership.

Of course, it’s important to maintain professional boundaries, but leaders can achieve this whilst also reveal their own humanness. Allow employees to get to know you, your interests, and even humour. In doing so, you can inspire much greater levels of trust and loyalty.

Curiosity For Success

If conversations are the pathways to great ideas, then questions are the gateways that unlock those meaningful conversations.

Having this understanding as the backdrop to the conversations you have with your employees will enable you to ask questions that connect with them, open up their minds and allow the capacity for innovative ideas to take shape in the moment.

To achieve this, leaders must have a genuine and natural curiosity about their employees. Both specifically in terms of their work, but also, in general. That might mean being observant enough to notice something interesting in the background of an employee’s screen during a virtual call. Such as a piece of art on the wall, or perhaps a personal achievement you heard they recently achieved.

This manner of curiosity will naturally lend itself to the work at hand. Gauging and exploring ideas with employees without causing them to feel alarmed or under pressure to deliver brilliant ideas on the spot.

It will show that you have an interest in them, in solutions, and a belief that their own individual insights and experiences can help form the solutions you seek. Which, in itself, will be an incredible boost for their confidence, and how valued they feel within the organisation.