Build a band of career coaches at work

C. Mahalingam | Updated on January 02, 2014

High-performing, knowledgeable employees can make for great coaches for their colleagues, helping them to navigate career concerns and issues.

In high technology organisations, one of the frequent reasons for people leaving the company is “career.” And this means many things relating to the larger aspect of career management.

Perceived lack of career growth, opportunities or lack of it in preferred domains/technology, roles in teams or projects and the like have been a major source of dissatisfaction. And there are other aspects peculiar to individual employees and companies.

It is believed that over a third of attrition in most companies is attributable to career-related reasons.

Common approaches companies have taken to address this issue are at a policy level, including instituting competency frameworks and assessments, defining multiple career paths and advancement criteria (experience, performance ratings, available job openings and the like), and widely communicating the same to the employees.

Big ticket initiatives are helpful, but not a whole lot!

Career workshops and orientation programs are also commonplace, although these are held once or twice a year and help employees understand the various tools and vehicles that the companies have made available to the employees. Senior managers make themselves available to address the workshop participants and clarify doubts and issues.

All these initiatives and more have positively influenced the attitudes of employees and helped contain attrition.

However, my experience as global head of HR for a large software product outsourcing company for over eight years helped me understand and appreciate one thing — that high-level policies, programs and processes will do a bit to help mitigate the attrition problem, but real impact is created when individual concerns are systematically addressed.

This enhances awareness and highlights opportunities for career growth and perhaps nothing more. So, in HR, we embarked on a simple, and yet what we believed as high-impact, initiative called career coach program. Within six months of launch, this program started to bring down attrition relating to “career reasons” substantially.

Our approach to career coach program was fairly simple and involved the following steps.

Identify employees

Spot employees with at least three years of experience in the industry and domain and at least one year experience with the company.

Such staff also enjoyed a reputation of being knowledgeable and well-performing.

Further, these employees had to have the ability and willingness to coach and guide junior colleagues.

Train the identified employees in coaching process and techniques through concepts, role plays and exercises.

More importantly, train them on the scope of coaching so that issues of terms of employment are not discussed.

Launch the career coaching program organisation-wide with posters, messages from CEO and HR Head.

On the company’s intranet, create a well-designed section on career coach program and objectives and publish a brief bio with photograph of the career coaches and their email contacts and location details.

We encouraged employees to reach out to any of the coaches listed on the “career coach” section and clarify their doubts, apprehensions and issues.

HR was updating the career coaches site with relevant articles and tips and tools from time to time.

It was also tracking the usage with a simple tool, but not the details of the issues discussed. Privacy and confidentiality were guaranteed from the beginning.

This program helped individual employees at cross-roads to openly discuss issues with their fellow-employees in whom they had trust and confidence.

This also had another unintended benefit for the organisation in terms of the identified career coaches feeling empowered, valued and motivated.

Conditions for Success

Career Coach Program succeeds when the following aspects are given attention:

a) Clear definition of goals and operational guidelines.

b) Careful choice of employees as career coaches.

c) Complete freedom for employees to choose who they want to talk to. Like in mentoring, choice is more critical than referrals.

d) Carefully crafted training modules for the career coaches. Regular just-in-time updates and tips to the coaches from the learning and development team are a must.

e) Impressive launch.

f) Periodic assessment of usage of the program and course correction measures when required.

g) Complete confidentiality with regards to the issues discussed.

h) Clear definition of the scope of discussion by the career coaches. For example, if an employee were to come up with a discussion on promotion readiness, the coach would clarify the promotion criteria and competency program in the company, not whether the employee merited a promotion.

The results of this program were very encouraging. At the end of the day, corporate initiatives are required for policy framework, but individual employees’ concerns being addressed is where the rubber meets the road.

The career coach program was designed and executed by corporate HR, but it facilitated individual concerns being addressed by trusted colleagues, instead of any designated senior manager. Peer-to-peer approach made this program a winner.

Organisations of all sizes can implement a similar program irrespective of the industry they are in. In a high tech environment where the millennial workforce constitutes major workforce, such an intervention as career coach program delivers a lot of value in terms of employee engagement and retention.

(The author is an Executive Coach and HR Advisor to corporate houses.)

Published on January 02, 2014

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