Career Conversations That Fuel Growth and Well-Being

spotlight-bookQuality career development comes down to quality conversations, say Julie Winkle Giulioni and Beverly Kaye. The consultants and coauthors are sparking a transformation in career development by equipping managers with a more effective, humanized process to fuel growth and well-being. The second edition of their book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go — Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, offers a practical, just-in-time model for time-starved managers and their employees.

In light of growing evidence linking career well-being to personal well-being, our January 2019 interview with Julie focuses on how wellness and HR leaders can help their organizations get career development right.

Well-Being Practitioner: What inspired you to write this book about career development and what makes it challenging for managers?

Julie Winkle Giulioni: We conducted our own primary research with managers around the world and reviewed countless studies on the subject. There’s a compelling business case to engage in career development. But there’s also the human case. Employees crave it and there’s a clear relationship between growth and retention as well as growth and employee well-being. Despite all of this, development still wasn’t being done in a way that resonated for employees.

The #1 barrier managers shared was time. To capture their imagination and be helpful, we had to offer a solution that worked at the speed of business.

WBP: Your book is full of questions managers can use to spark career conversations throughout the year instead of leaving it to an annual meeting. How did you come up with this model?

JWG: Batching for efficiency works really well in some arenas… it doesn’t work well in career development. I liken it to brushing teeth; you’re not going to brush and floss your teeth really well once for a couple hours and let it go for the rest of the year, right? But that’s essentially what we’re doing with an annual career development meeting; we’re not practicing good career development hygiene. The whole one-and-done approach, even when you have a good manager, doesn’t move the needle; there is too much time and not enough support between those meetings. When you look at anything that grows, it grows a little bit every day over time. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable. But managers need to be there, facilitating that growth — day in and day out.

WBP: How does the framework you suggest — Hindsight, Foresight, Insight — work?

JWG: It’s a simple 3-part model that breaks career conversations down. Hindsight questions are all about helping the employee look inward and backward at where they sit, what they’ve done, what they love, what they’re interested in. We’re so curious about people when we’re interviewing them for a job, right? But then we hire them, invite them into the family and it’s literally and figuratively end of discussion. These career conversations help us keep the interview going and keep our understanding of ourselves and those we lead fresh and current.

Foresight is outward and forward-looking; these questions look at the needs of the business, what’s going on in the industry, and what’s happening economically, politically, environmentally, demographically, socially that has a bearing on careers. This isn’t the traditional domain of career development, but it creates the guardrail for effective career development. I read recently 85% of the jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented. If we’re not looking at the world with a sense of foresight, we’re going to find ourselves ill-prepared for a very different future. Where hindsight overlaps with the needs of the business or foresight, we call it insight; that’s that sweet spot to be mined for possibilities, opportunities, learning, and action.

WBP: Do managers need strong human relations skills to be successful with this approach?

JWG: Good interpersonal and communication skills can add more richness to the career conversation, but you can also fake it ’til you make it. I believe the intention we bring to interactions completely overshadows the mechanics. As a leader, your true purpose is helping promote growth; people read that loud and clear. That intent inspires trust and connection.

WBP: Explain your climbing wall metaphor and how it relates to growth-in-place.

JWG: The corporate ladder is dead and gone. We chose the climbing wall metaphor because it represents the option to move up if that’s what you’re interested in, but there’s a lot more room to maneuver laterally. And there are countless different ways to navigate from point A to point B depending upon your interests. My coauthor and I went rock-climbing twice to make sure we had the metaphor in our bones. At one point I was stretched beyond what was comfortable and feeling a little at risk; I was using all the muscles in my body to just be where I was. The same thing holds true on the job. We keep feeling like we have to climb somewhere else for development: “I need this lateral move, or I have to get this promotion, and then I can start developing.” But with well-chosen footholds and handholds, you can build tremendous strength, capacity, new skills, and experience right where you are. What we all have on any given day is our current role; inviting development into the current role is within a manager’s sphere of influence. There’s plenty a manager and employee can do without approvals, without budget — just between themselves.

WBP: It seems this approach would also foster a sense of autonomy, vital for well-being… especially when you look at job stress and strain that affects health in very real ways.

JWG: Absolutely. Growth contributes to a sense of agency and ownership for an individual’s career, generating feelings like: I have a say here, I can do something. I’m not at the mercy of the organization, or my boss, or an open position that might or might not ever come to me. People want to grow. And organizations need people to keep growing given the pressures we’re under, heightened competition, and better, faster, cheaper expectations. If people aren’t growing, organizations will find themselves moving backward.

WBP: Gallup research finds career well-being is the strongest predictor of personal well-being. How can wellness and HR managers help managers build development skills and implement ongoing career conversations?

JWG: The first thing is to help the workforce understand the connection between career well-being and personal well-being. While many folks sense this intuitively, we need to move to here are the hard facts. And then we need to take a clear-eyed view at the systems and processes in place that are either supporting or undermining what needs to happen. The manager’s role is pivotal; if we can engage managers, capture their imaginations, offer the skills and the framework, and make it easy for them to do career development well, change is more likely.

WBP: Your model is similar to health and wellness coaching, with the coach as facilitator instead of expert. The idea here is to empower the employee to own their career development, correct?

JWG: Yes. Nobody cares about our careers as much as we do. And it’s too important to leave to others; individuals must own their own development. They know what they want; they know what they need. While career development is the individual’s first priority, it’s one of many that managers juggle. If employees don’t feel they have the agency, authority, and autonomy to manage their own careers, organizations will continue to sub-optimize their most valuable resource: their people. If leaders get really good at facilitating career development, imagine how much more effective they’ll be at their jobs in general. To help hook managers, I tell them “This is going to do double duty for you. You’ll get better at growing your people but you’re going to grow the business too.”

WBP: As a manager, where would I start?

JWG: When we wrote Help Them Grow, we aspired to create a format that would allow leaders to find an actionable idea on every page. So, if you only have 2 minutes, open to any page, read it, and go try something. Or you can just read the book. It’s intentionally short to make that quick and easy. And it includes gobs of exercises, reflection questions, and activities. We also just introduced a deck of cards with questions and activities designed to help build the career development habit. And the last thing is to simply start talking… you’re not going to break anything or anyone by asking a question. This is what employees are looking for from their leaders, what they’re craving; a little bit of this kind of attention goes a remarkably long way.

WBP: How has your approach to career development evolved?

JWG: I come from a corporate training background and supported corporate initiatives; I wrote and delivered my fair share of the old-style annual plans… and saw how they didn’t deliver the results I’d wanted. Then as a parent I had such an up close and personal experience of growth as I saw my children morph day to day. My approach to career development is a marriage of my workplace experiences and visceral understanding of the human growth process.

WBP: What do you do for your own career development?

JWG: One strategy that’s served me well over the years has been to practice saying yes… and then figure out how to do whatever is necessary. I’ve had wonderful opportunities come my way and I’ve not always been completely prepared for what I needed to do next. But I trust my ability to learn and the support and resources around me. And even today, I continue to challenge myself by trying new things that keep me on my toes, a little nervous, engaged, and developing.

WBP: I love your suggestion that managers ask themselves these career development questions, too.

JWG: Yes… we all — at every level of the organization — must own our careers. And my intuition tells me a leader is going to be more willing and able to do this with others if they’re doing it for themselves first.

Try This: The Never-Ending Interview
(excerpt from pages 40-41)

Keep the interview going by engaging in routine conversations that reveal an ever-evolving, complex, and multidimensional picture to the employee of what will be important to consider as a basis for career growth.

Just pull one or more questions that interest you and the employee most from the list that follows. Use them in any order. Take notes.

  • Skills and Strengths
    • What have you always been naturally good at?
    • What can’t you keep yourself from doing?
    • What are you known for?
  • Values
    • Looking back, what’s always been most important to you in life and in work?
    • What issues or problems do you feel most strongly about?
    • What are your top three values or things you hold most dear?
  • Interests
    • What do you enjoy learning about most?
    • What do you wish you had more time for?
    • How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to work?

Reprinted with permission of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, 2019, Berrett-Koehler Publishers,


Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line through keynotes, facilitated sessions, and custom training. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Julie’s mission is to help organizations tap their only sustainable competitive advantage: talent.

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Beth ShepardBeth Shepard
Well-being consultant, educator, writer |NBHWC National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach |ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist |Lifestyle medicine advocate |25+ years in wellness |Jazz enthusiast.

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