News & insight

How to help staff with career progression during Coronavirus

October 1, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

Your employee is working hard from home.

The standard of work they do is excellent.

The problem is, they rarely see their manager face-to-face any more, even though they exchange lots of emails and attend team meetings online.

And those Microsoft Teams meetings? This employee feels like they’re always talking over everyone else, so they stay quiet…

They start to worry: Does out of sight mean out of mind?

How are they ever going to progress their career, while working from home?

In some firms – all promotions have been halted for now.

But even under those circumstances, staff will want to feel that their career is not at a standstill.

In other places, promotions are going ahead as normal, and some employees may feel that their immediate prospects are harmed by working remotely.

So what can we, as good employers, do to help?

To find out, I reached out to Megan Wortham Murdock, National Learning & Development Senior Manager, and Phil Zaman, Director of Learning and Development, Financial Services – both at CBIZ, Kreston’s firm in the USA.

They run an extensive Career Advisor Program, which was launched last year and has been rolled out to most CBIZ offices.

It’s in the interests of your firm to be proactive about this issue, says Megan, because when you help employees develop their career, they are more likely to be engaged and to stay loyal to you, improving your retention rates.

“It also helps you develop a strong succession pipeline,” she adds. “As partner or an upper-level manager, you should always think about training and fostering your replacement. It’s not billable time, but it’s about growing your practice in a different way.”

During Coronavirus, when your teams are feeling more vulnerable and detached, this is part of showing your team strong leadership.

The trend they’re seeing, says Phil, is that employees who were strong communicators before Coronavirus are still managing their own careers effectively. The challenge is amongst more introverted employees.

“In the office, there are lots of opportunities to just bump into people informally, at which point you can ask them anything that’s on your mind. Coaching and career progression can happen organically.

“When you’re not physically together, you lose some of that. Just grabbing people for lunch doesn’t happen. So we need to engineer opportunities for outreach.”

Both Phil and Megan emphasise that employees have a responsibility to take ownership of their own careers – even if that feels emotionally uncomfortable.

But leaders can help, they say, with a formal career advisor programme.

“That helps give structure around something which may or may not be happening organically,” says Megan. “High-growth employees are seeking out this help regardless, but a career advisor program allows for fewer people to fall through the cracks.”

In their programme, staff are each assigned an advisor, with whom they meet on a monthly or quarterly basis.

And both parties are properly trained about how to make the relationship effective.

“We teach advisors about best practice, the expectations of the role, and give them ‘talk tracks’ so they can develop specific, useful conversations with their advisee,” says Megan.

“But we also train the advisee on how to take a more proactive role and seek their own opportunities for development. This is an equal partnership!”

The meetings are never ‘informal chats’, but have a specific purpose – like developing a training plan, annual development or performance goals, conducting performance reviews or debriefing training sessions.

“Setting clear goals is key to success,” says Megan.

Another key to success is accountability.

“Someone has to make sure that these meetings are happening, and that the advisors and advisees are not just talking about sports but actually doing valuable work,” says Phil. “We empower local HR professionals to keep tabs on this, and call people out if it’s not happening.”

If you don’t have such a programme already in place, now seems like a good time to start thinking about it.

And if that feels beyond your reach right now, please do think about how you can do more to support your team’s career development during this time. Helping staff members achieve their full potential is critical to stay competitive.