“So where do you see yourself in 5 years time?”
This is a question that all of us have probably been asked at some point in our career. Some of us will have asked that question of others.
So why do leaders and managers ask that question during review conversations? From my experience, working with leaders who are trying to grow and manage their talent pipeline, it is often used as a means to ascertain aspirations, interests and satisfaction. Yet it isn’t actually a very helpful question.
The question is often interpreted by the employee as “What role will you be doing?” It also carries an implicit assumption that the employee’s answer will contain something along the lines of “And of course I will still be loyally working for this organisation.” So leaders may not get a truthful answer..
So what should leaders be asking?
A more constructive way to think about talent and careers is to look in three directions; Inwards, Outwards, and Forwards. As leaders and managers we should to encourage our employees to look at themselves and their career, from those three different directions, and help them to do it in that order. The order is crucial.
Always look inwards first
If your employee hasn’t spent time reflecting upon their own personal interpretation of the word “success” and what it looks like how will they know they are on the right path for success? And if your employee cannot articulate their vision of career success, how will you, their manager, be able to help them?
Managers should encourage their employees to ‘Look Inwards’ at their personal values, ethics, skillsets, their preferences for particular job characteristics, and their ideal working environment. Encouraging employees to dig deep and get real clarity on those aspects will help them realise their goals and put you in a better position to help them achieve their goals.
Once the employee has a better understanding of their aspirations managers can then encourage them to ‘Look Outwards’ at the wider organisation and where the industry is heading. Identify trends, the changes that lie ahead, the way that job roles are evolving which skills are becoming increasing valued, and the skills that are becoming obsolete. Encouraging employees to develop a very realistic picture of the world of work can help them see what aspects excite them. This clarity of thought can help to identify possible opportunities for themselves which helps meaningful and productive career planning.
And the next, intermediate step is “Cross-referencing” By comparing the results of “Looking Inward” and “Looking Outward”, and helping your employees to spot linkages between the two sets of result, you can help your employees to ‘Look Forwards’.
In this final step, you can work with your employee to look forwards. Using the insights gathered in “Looking Inwards and Outwards” you can help your employee see their career destination. Help them create a plan that plays to their strengths and fulfil their personal aspirations. Do the evolving talent requirements for the organisation fit with plans and hopes for the employee? With this knowledge and insight it becomes possible to guide career development pragmatically and with precision.
The sequence of these perspectives is important. If an employee ‘Looks Outwards’ first of all, there is a danger that they will focus on what they perceive to be the skills, characteristics, roles and values required by an organisation. It is likely that will ignore, play down, or not even notice their own talents. In short, they will seek to match themselves against what is out there, and stop searching once the possibilities have been exhausted.
But if a person looks Inwards’ first of all, they will build a clear picture of what they really need, want and are capable of.
Then when they ‘Look Outwards’ they will view the world with a different focus. They are therefore more likely to find what they want, and furthermore, if they don’t find what they need immediately, the employee is less likely to settle for something unsatisfactory, and instead will be far more likely to widen their search.
As a manager, you can help an employee find a role that is appropriate and satisfying by encouraging them to reflect on things in the right order, and then help your employee to spot the linkages, and therefore the opportunities.
In short, as leaders, if we are to engage our employees in effective career conversations that will help them, and will help us to manage the talent pipeline successfully, we need to be asking far better questions than just “So where do you see yourself in 5 years time?”