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Tips for Supervisors

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The Wisdom of Your Experience

At some point when you are leading a group of people, someone is going to ask you for career advice. This could be in an informal setting, or during a learning or performance plan discussion. You have a lot to offer based on your experiences and what you know about the individual.

But remember that you do not have to be an expert, nor are you expected to be; do your best and know where to guide staff for further support.

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What is Your Role?

Your role is...
Your role is not...
  • Assisting staff in exploring career opportunities

  • Asking pertinent questions to help focus on what is important

  • Acting as a sounding board

  • To be aware of potential development opportunities for your staff

  • To shed light on key strengths and areas of improvement

  • Encourage self directed learning

  • Foster a supportive work environment that promotes life long learning

  • Be a positive role model

  • To stifle exploration

  • Being a career expert or counselor

  • Make decisions for people

  • To have all the answers and be everything to all people

  • A therapist and you cannot solve deep personal issues

  • To get people jobs – to provide a recruitment service

So as a manager it’s important that you have a broad perspective of the changing expectations in career management, as well as a good understanding of the world of work, both how it is now, and where we are headed to. You can find out more about this under Step 2 Research the World of Work.

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What Support Should I be Offering at Each Step?

Your staff will be asking questions of themselves and others, and exploring options against 4 key steps:

1. Reflect on aspirations, skills and values
2. Research the world of work
3. Decide what fits best for you
4. Develop a plan
Things you can do at Step 1 could include:
  • Have a conversation about what are the key drivers and motivations

  • Encourage them to think broadly in gathering feedback

  • Be a good listener and really hear before offering your thoughts

  • Ask what processes they are employing and explore the implications of these processes

  • Give examples of instances where you have observed congruence or divergence

  • Provide them with feedback

Things you can do at Step 2 could include:

  • Share your personal stories and experiences

  • Put them in touch with useful contacts

  • Ensure they have access to resources they need to explore career options

  • Act as a sounding board to bounce ideas off

  • Give them the time, space and freedom to consult widely

Things you can do at Step 3 could include:

  • Be supportive

  • Helping them to realistically assess opportunities within the organization

  • Consider the specific development needs of the individual - how can these best be addressed? – encourage them to try different things

  • Allow them to discover and make choices themselves

Things you can do at Step 4 could include:

  • Test for alignment with your Departments strategic business objectives

  • Give constructive, actionable feedback and explore alternatives

  • Look for ways to make it easier for lateral movement

  • Taking an active interest in their progress

  • Consider stretch activities and tasks to help meet development needs

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Take an Active Interest in the Career and Learning Plan

As supervisor you will be asked to help identify and then agree upon the key areas of their Career and Learning Plan. These development areas will need to be specified in such a way that both you and your staff member can monitor growth and assess the final outcome at the end.

You should meet regularly to discuss the progress with your staff member. It will hopefully be of great benefit to you both, in improving business performance and contributing to the success of the Alberta Government.

Conversation points could include:

  • To what extent have you engaged in learning activities that support your career goals?

  • What have been some of your key reflections and learnings since we last met?

  • What behavioural change have you noticed in yourself?

  • What have you learned about yourself?

  • How have you juggled your learning activities with your other work/life responsibilities?

  • What have been your key learnings from other feedback?

  • How are you sharing your learnings with others in the organization?

  • What support do you need?

  • What is on your learning agenda next?

  • What gives you stretch in your learning?

The most important aspect of this process is that it be conducted with frankness and honesty, but certainly in a supportive and developmental environment. Both parties need to feel that it has been a positive process which sets a purpose or a framework within which they can then manage their own career and learning.

For more information, see:

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Lessons for Better Practice

The Treasury Board of Canada has recently commissioned a study1 that outlines 15 lessons learned from high performing organizations with respect to careers. The following is a summary of factors associated with exemplary management of career development.

1. Have top management's full commitment and support: Senior executives set the tone for the organization's culture, so without this driving force, even the best processes will not provide the benefits they are capable of delivering.
2. Invest in career development: Best practice organizations back up their visions with actual commitment of financial, human and technical resources.
3. Align development with corporate objectives as well as personal goals: There was consensus that it is of utmost importance to link career goals to business strategies, directions and needs if both parties are to win.
4. Have a culture which values, supports and rewards learning: Career development systems thrive in a culture that supports and rewards learning and participation.
5. Share the responsibility for career development: In these organizations, career development is employee owned, manager facilitated, and organization supported.
6. Build accountability into the system: Manager accountability for the development of their employees is particularly critical in these organizations, as managers play a pivotal role in coaching employees, rewarding them, and evaluating their performance.
7. Train their managers in the skills they need to support employee career development: Best practice organizations recognize that for managers to be comfortable and competent in their career development roles, they need to be trained in skills such as coaching, providing performance feedback, etc.
8. Give employees the processes, information, tools and resources they need: If organizations are to charge employees with responsibility for their own careers, then employees must have the resources they need to proceed. Most of the organizations in this study provided a host of information and resources to facilitate career planning and development (e.g., self-assessment tools, catalogues of training options, workshops).
9. Are good communicators: Without employee awareness of career development options, initiatives are without value. Many organizations made use of existing communication systems in order to spread information regarding career development (e.g., using the job posting system not only to advertise jobs, but also to communicate organizational priorities and activities and opportunities in other parts of the organization.)
10. Offer employees a number of development options: A range of options are typically available, including formal courses, seminars, workshops, mentoring, and online self-paced learning.
11. Emphasize experiential learning: On the job learning through rotations, assignments and project work serves organizational needs in peak areas while broadening employees' scope.
12. Integrate career management processes into other key HR processes: Good career managers recognize the interrelationships among various processes and integrate career development within existing systems, such as performance excellence, succession planning, recruitment, staffing, and in some cases, compensation and reward.
13. Identify and nurture high potential employees: Best practice organizations identify high potential employees and target them early in their careers for systematic development and exposure and planned career moves.
14. Focus on identifying leadership throughout the organization: Focusing on high potential employees is not enough -- organizations also need to pay attention to their "solid citizens", the good contributors who may not be "high-flyers", but whose contribution is critical to the organization's success.
15. Regularly evaluate their career development system: Although many best practice organizations invest in career development because they simply believe in the importance of people, good career development managers also track program usage, costs, and satisfaction with training.

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Where Do I Go for Help?

It’s OK not to know what to do. The first thing you can do to provide a greater leadership presence is to start having conversations and listen. One of the best resources is your ministry HR shop - talk with them.

Or check out “10 Tips for Supervisors in the Career Planning Process PDF icon.”

There may also be a point where you need to refer someone on to a specialist – a professional career counselor.  There are many in the market and your HR area can help you find someone.

For assistance in a range of other personal issues, the Employee Assistance Program provides access to a confidential assessment, counseling and referral service for employees and their immediate family members.

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1 Career Development in the Federal Public Service - Building a World-Class Workforce

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Last Review / Update: 2011-07-01

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