Why do career planning sessions feel like a HR box ticking exercise?

Reader question: Why do career planning sessions feel like a HR box ticking exercise?

Because, too often they are! But before we jump on the bashing Human Resources bandwagon let’s think for a moment about everything that is going.

First of all, who is the most responsible and accountable person for our career planning? The answer is ourselves. We cannot outsource this to HR, our manager or anyone else. The reality is the world doesn’t owe us a living, just because we are in it. Therefore, before you read any further, assuming you haven’t clicked out already, please keep that in the back of your mind.

But, wouldn’t it be nice to get a little help every now and then!

This question highlights the classic disconnect between the leadership statement, “our people are our most important asset”, to what actually occurs on the ground. How much time does your manager spend in preparing for your career planning session? Does it feel like they are opening the folder for the first time as you are sitting down?

The main issue here is that our time, and our manager’s time, is consumed by endless meetings (“Why am I always in meetings?”) doing work that is reactive and not proactive like helping people build their careers, that is the lack of Vertical Leverage. Conducting another annual career planning session with a team member becomes another meeting in the line of endless meetings. Running it as a tick the box session becomes the norm and that becomes embedded in the culture.

So what can we do about it? Remember our career planning is our responsibility. If the culture in our organization is to tick boxes, let’s give them the boxes we want to be ticked. We need to plan our own career.

A good start is to ask ourselves if we are in the same role, doing the same things, in five or ten years’ time, how do we feel? If our answer is to go screaming from the room that tells us something. We need to picture ourselves in five or ten years’ time. How old are we? If we have children how old are they? What responsibilities will we have compared to what open space is available to move in to? By the way the opportunity space is usually much larger than we think. What are the things we like doing and what new things do we want to try? By understanding this, we can select boxes we would liked to be ticked. It could be a work assignment, opportunities outside of work, education or having a mentor and being a mentor.

Don’t wait to be offered, ask!

But what about Human Recourses. HR often falls into the trap of supplementing the managers’ jobs by implementing mandatory proactive processes like performance reviews and career planning. These are made mandatory to get managers to do them! However, managers should be doing this all the time, providing feedback when things occur and having ongoing conversations about people’s future. The annual process that HR puts in place for all managers has the problem of trying to create something that everyone can use. In other words, one size fits all. Therefore, we have a manager faced with yet another meeting where they use a one size fits all career planning process. Little wonder it starts to feel like a tick the box exercise.

To help HR avoid this trap Ram Charan made the following suggestion;

My proposal is to eliminate the position of CHRO [Chief Human Resource Officers] and split HR into two strands. One—we might call it HR-A (for administration)—would primarily manage compensation and benefits. It would report to the CFO, who would have to see compensation as a talent magnet, not just a major cost. The other, HR-LO (for leadership and organization), would focus on improving the people capabilities of the business and would report to the CEO.” HBR July-August 2014 Ram Charan.

 Charan recommends that the HR-LO function be used as a career development opportunity for high potential people. This is achieved by rotating people from business functions into the HR-LO role where they combine their business experience with learning about people development.

Maybe after being responsible for leadership and organizational development in the HR-LO role they would subscribe to FAQs for Orgs.