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Is the role of the manager in career progression dead?

Managers have traditionally been who employees turn to when looking to progress their careers. But, with increasing advancements in technology now offering people the chance to explore alternative options, has the manager’s role in career progression been downgraded to Plan B?

A good manager is the catalyst to strong employee satisfaction, particularly when it comes to career progression. But with technology at our fingertips, and uninhibited access to a world of opportunities, the modern career is no longer linear. Assisting in career development has been a key managerial duty for decades, and employees have turned to their managers as their first port of call when looking to progress in their careers – until now.

Things look a little different today, with more than 1 in 10 UK workers now moving jobs every 18 months or less – a lack of progression being a major factor. With digital transformation overhauling the standard approach to career development, managerial support is now Plan B. Does this therefore mean that the role of the manager in career progression is dead – and will a revolving door of talent perpetuate the dreaded “bad manager” stereotype? Furthermore, what steps can managers take to best support employees if their role in career development is diminished?

Talent hoarding erodes the manager-employee relationship

Traditional ‘climbing the ladder’ style employee development is becoming a thing of the past. Far from following a rigid progression structure, 56% of employees in EMEA say that the best way their company can support their skills development is by giving them opportunities to pivot, stretch, and grow. When employees express a desire to level up their careers, some managers respond positively. Others, however, may feel a need to talent hoard – particularly if they themselves do not feel adequately supported by the company.

Talent hoarding when a manager purposefully keeps the best talent on their team longer than is beneficial to the employee and the company, hindering development and success. This can occur, consciously or unconsciously, for several reasons. A manager may be experiencing heightened stress, anxiety, and uncertainty around ever-changing talent, for instance. They may be concerned that a revolving door of talent could reflect poorly on them, implying poor performance as well as making it difficult to meet KPIs. The tricky economic climate, rife with hiring freezes, could also lead managers to worry that companies will not provide replacement talent, resulting in leaner teams and larger workloads.

It’s important to recognise that not all managers talent hoard. However, when talent hoarding is happening it is always counterproductive. It risks creating friction between managers and employees and can propagate the “bad manager” stereotype. To combat this, a business needs to encourage a shift in the managerial mindset.

Managing a manager’s mindset
There are several aspects businesses need to consider when encouraging a shift in the managerial mindset. They should ensure that managers:

  • Understand that talent hoarding doesn’t prevent employees from leaving, but it does negatively impact employee satisfaction. Employees will remember managers they feel boosted their growth, as well as those that stunted it. The latter group of employees could well resign and move on elsewhere the minute the job market stabilises – something which should be avoided at all costs.
  • Focus on the benefits of a refreshed and dynamic team, with talent who consistently bring in new skills, ideas, and mindsets.
  • Are provided with incentives and rewards to induce and boost employee career development.
  • Receive empathy when they are struggling with employee agility, and reassurance that they will not be without quality talent on their teams.

A “bad manager” can be an easy scapegoat. As well as creating a shift in mindset to avoid this trope, there also needs to be a company-wide push behind internal mobility. Just because there is a hiring freeze, does not mean there should be a progression freeze, and, alongside nurturing managers, businesses also need to provide employees with better visibility into internal career opportunities.

Shining a light on internal mobility options
When highlighting internal mobility opportunities, companies must strike a balance between technological solutions and the human touch. Each side offers its own unique value. For instance, according to learning leaders, the number one way a workforce has visibility into growth opportunities is through manager conversations. At the same time, there is a clear preference for tech from the employee side, with employees 80% more likely to prefer a self-service technology when it comes to unearthing internal mobility options.

Getting the balance just right between supportive technology and the human touch of manager interactions has huge benefits. The technology takes on the role of revealing an internal marketplace of opportunities and career pathways to employees. With this support in place, managers can take on a more coaching and motivational role. For one, they’ll have more time available to them now that employees can do a larger part of the internal job hunting for themselves. Through ongoing conversations, managers can understand how their team members want to develop, and offer them the advice and support to encourage this. In addition, managers can see which employees from elsewhere in the company could potentially join their team, quietening the fears that can so often lead to talent hoarding.

The only constant in life is change. Managers who fear and attempt to fight change in the workplace only fail to delay the inevitable, and make the transition between incoming and outgoing talent harder on themselves. There’s no denying that the role of the manager in career progression has shifted and is now being augmented by technology, but with the right tools and support in place, managers can confidently ride these waves of change.

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