Research conducted by Gartnerin March 2022 into the state of the modern workforce highlighted that only one in four employees felt confident about their career path. Recent changes in working practices brought about by the rapid integration of communications technology and the pandemic have challenged the existing ways of working, disrupting our understanding of the workplace and its role in our lives. It has also generated new opportunities and choices. For many this creates a chance to explore options, reassess priorities and make the leap into new areas of employment.
Increasingly I am meeting clients who want to do just that. Often this is something that they have been considering for a while but are either unsure of where to start or are not sure what to do with the information they have gathered. Whilst there is certainly a process that can be applied to help them it is also fair to say that when coaching somebody through a career transition the process should be personalised, designed to fit their character, priorities, environment, and ambitions. Having undergone several career transitions myself over the past thirty years, my experience is that this is rarely the case.
When seeking guidance on a career transition I have regularly been presented with a raft of generic questionnaires or exercises leading to categorised summaries and formulaic conclusions. Whether it was leaving the Army, deciding where to go next within the event management industry, or exploring my options with regards to a career in executive coaching the advice i sought and received, whilst bountiful, often followed this approach leaving me none the wiser as to my heartfelt goals, motivations, or reservations. Such an approach never takes the time to get beneath the answers and explore exactly what is driving, or restraining, the person completing the tests. There is an increased risk that by applying a generic, peripheral approach the process will miss vital underlying factors.
As our relationship with work changes, so do our priorities. To assume that what held true for previous generations is still the case for those recently entering the workforce is misplaced. Nowhere is this change in priorities and expectations more clearly demonstrated than in the latest generation to join the workforce; Generation Z. Born between 1995 and 2012, this generation have quite different values and motivations to their predecessors. Having grown up alongside the rapid rise and integration of technology they are considered ‘digital natives.’ They also grew up in times of recession, therefore according to research by Indeed.com they value security, future proofing, and job stability. Allied to this however is their sense of the individual, a desire to be seen as such by their managers. They are keen for plenty of career development opportunities as well as a demonstration that the organisation has a shared passion for sustainability as a core value.
To combine one generation’s feeling of uncertainty and challenge with the next generation’s desire for individualism leads me to believe that the importance of personalisation when coaching a client through a career transition is more important than ever. For some clients it remains important to explain that there is a process or direction to the coaching programme, however, equally important is to highlight that this process is only loosely held leaving plenty of room to explore avenues and options that fit the client’s unique set of circumstances rather than rigidly adhering to a prescribed formula.
For some the desire to dwell on areas of self-awareness; exploring their values, motivations and strengths takes a few sessions. I worked with a client recently who took particular delight in exploring what was important to them at that moment, checking in on their values, considering what had changed in their lives and their environment and how these changes impacted on their priorities and goals. It was evident that this was not something he had done for several years and the change in his priorities came as a surprise, presenting him with a number of challenges and options to explore that he had not previously considered. When considering why they want to change roles it is often this clarity around their values and environment that leads to greater understanding of their desire for change.
A simple question such as ‘what does success look like for you?’ can lead to an entire session of discovery and challenge. When I posed this question to a client at the beginning of this year his reaction was wonderful. He was able to give a clear answer that correlated closely with his current situation providing reassurance and confidence that he was on the right track fully aligned with his values. Rarely however can the answer to this question be easily categorised, (i.e., money, status, time etc) as it varies for each person and from one time to another, (as one client told me; ‘right now I need financial security for my new family, but I really want to move to a place of greater job satisfaction within the next five years). Often a list of ‘must have’s’ and ‘nice to have’s’ can lead to greater clarity of priorities whilst allowing flexibility for change.
Some clients arrive with a more informed sense of self and wish to explore their options and priorities in greater depth. I have just concluded a programme with a client who did just this, talking in our first session with confident clarity about his values, strengths and motivations. However, he was at a loss as to how to match this to his options wanting to explore what change and challenge might feel like. I have recently begun to change my language around making plans, given the increased sense of uncertainty, challenge and change. Clients often react positively to the concept of ‘exploring options’ rather than ‘making plans.’ The difference for me being the implicit acceptance that options are more loosely held, flexible whilst focussed and accepting of factors outside our control.
Identifying then exploring what options are open to the client allows freedom and exploration to sit alongside pragmatism and reality and makes for a challenging conversation with plenty of flux, review, rejection, and surprise. Encouraging clients to commit these thoughts to the page and then reviewing them alongside the work they have done on their values, motivations, priorities, strengths, and weaknesses can lead to some inspiring moments of courage as they begin to see their options becoming more realistic. Beginning to match personal goals with career goals can lead to wonderful moments for the client as they understand how they can find fulfilment and purpose at work, even if that takes them in a direction they had not previously considered. As the client realises that past priorities and goals have changed and honestly accepting their new goals can be a ‘eureka moment’ that for me cannot be easily matched.
Further need for personalisation exists in the final phase of the career transition process, achieving their goals. I have always been outcome oriented and whilst I fully accept that this is not for everybody, I am quick to offer this to my clients as a means of focusing them on their next steps. Often, they agree, (most likely an indication of the type of client I find myself working with). Once this is established, conversations around ‘how do I achieve my goals’ can lead to focussed action plans and timelines, or loosely held commitments to further exploration. The concept of small, achievable steps allied to a need to see reward or return for their efforts is crucial. Whatever the outcome, it is always deeply personal and hopefully leads to a greater chance of the client achieving their goals.
I continue to enjoy my coaching journey, learning from clients and developing my approach. There is no greater reward for me than to see a client leave with an improved sense of clarity and purpose. Finding the right role and environment that matches our skills and values is surely one of the most important decisions we make in our lives. To do so with a clear understanding of what matters to us at this moment in time serves to highlight the importance of personalisation.
Our thanks to Jon for sharing his insights with us. Jon Hazan is the director of Atlas Coaching and has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past twenty-five years.