career mentors

Career conversations are what they say on the tin – a conversation about a career. Done well, and positioned effectively, they can contribute significantly to employee engagement and sense of well-being, especially important in this post Covid era, when many people have been re-evaluating their relationship with work.  More specifically, we have seen benefits including:

  • increased mobility across the organisation
  • individuals better equipped to navigate career moves laterally and developmentally
  • encouragement of minority groups to go for positions they might otherwise avoid
  • annual or biennial employee engagement survey scores improved significantly.

Whilst HR and L&D are well placed to support career conversations, there are several potential drawbacks to positioning career conversations solely within HR or L & D. They include:

  1. The Human Resources department may not be seen as independent, as they are often linked with performance improvement and talent management
  2. There may be a conflict of interests where  confidential information is revealed (e.g. when a HR professional needs to report on an individual’s potential for development)
  3. Since trust is key for an open and honest career conversation, the degree to which this can be achieved will depend not only on the trust level one on one, but the way HR is seen as a whole in the organisation
  4. The way career conversations are positioned in your organisation will also affect their effectiveness. Are they seen as a ‘last resort’, or an intervention when things have gone wrong?  Perhaps they are set up as a way of helping someone to exit from the organisation?  Whilst these may well be helpful at the time, the reputation or “Brand” of career conversations may thus be pigeonholed.

Career Mentors: An alternative option…

An alternative is to develop an organisation-wide group of individuals (some organisations like to call them Career Mentors) recruited because of their representative breadth across the organisation, as well as their potential for developing excellent career conversation skills.

group career mentors

This approach has many advantages:

  • Employees can choose their Career Mentor, thus enabling engagement and a sense of trust from early on
  • People like to help their colleagues (thus also contributing to engagement)
  • Career mentors are exposed to a wider range of roles and development avenues in the organisation, thus not only helping others but being better informed themselves
  • It can help with organisation-wide networking, as Career Mentors  meet people outside of their normal working function
  • And ofcourse it can relieve some pressure on HR.

Over the past twenty years, we at CCS have been privileged to develop the skills of line managers and others across many organisations, public and private sector, UK based and global.  Oxfordshire County Council recruited and trained over 30 volunteers across the organisation who supported both one to one conversations and career workshops. We have also developed internal career conversations skills among managers and volunteer Mentors in the BBC, NHS, Schroders, Saint Gobain, CERN and the international charity JDC.

mentoring tips

These few tips may help to make the difference between a sustainable and successful programme and one which dies a death after a year or so:

1. Ensure it is seen as independent and its Terms of Reference are clearly defined (eg how career conversations differ from any other coaching or mentoring in the organisation)

Confidentiality is critical to  trust in the value added two individuals. Generic themes can be fed back into the organisation but anonymity must be scrupulously maintained.

2. Involve as Career Mentors people at all levels and from different parts of the organisation

Giving a wide choice of mentors is likely to increase use of the service, as well as providing useful information about its relative popularity in those parts.

3. Be clear about what will be key measures of value of the service.

Agree with senior management the value criteria of the Career Mentoring  and link the service clearly to the organisation’s Business and People strategy. Draw from these clear goals to evaluate performance.  Plan to evaluate the results right from the start, and link the success criteria to the valued outcomes ( eg: retention of talent, more lateral moves, engagement survey responses).

4. Quality Control: ensure the Career Mentors are properly trained and sign up to a Code of Ethics ( eg confidentiality) and have a regular opportunity to discuss any challenges arising in career conversations

Inevitablychallenges will arise, especially for novice Mentors. Regular ‘Case discussions’ and internal briefings of relevant developments and useful resources will help to maintain and build excellence.


Building an internal coaching program: a five step blueprint for success, Forbes Coaching he’s Council 30 August 2017

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