The Art of Career Mapping: HR’s Guide to Reskilling the Workforce

The Art of Career Mapping: HR’s Guide to Reskilling the Workforce

The fallout of COVID-19 has been significant for companies as HR teams scrambled to cope with the implications for their people and business models. As the dust has settled, life has needed to go on with the business facing new challenges, whether that is an increase in demand or figuring out new ways to keep things running.

To do it, HR leaders are having to encourage their current workforces to adopt a different mindset, one centered on flexibility and what’s best for the business as well as themselves. COVID has created a great deal of uncertainty, but problems can be mitigated through encouraging an open mind and creating meaningful discourse around career mapping and reskilling.

Reskilling or upskilling is something you hear a lot about these days. The focus for the current workforce typically falls into one of a few areas:

  • Preparing people for the challenges of tomorrow
  • Making people more flexible to deal with the current situation
  • Helping employees create new paths forward

Doing something that creates any one of these things as a result is a win-win for both people and the organization, but executing it is easier said than done. Rhonda Hall, VP of HR and Organizational Development for University Federal Credit Union reminds us, it’s important to keep in mind that effective reskilling and career mapping is a journey, not an exercise.

“When HR folks are talking about reskilling employees, the main focus should be two-fold: what serves the employee best and what serves the business best,” Hall said. “It is the careful balance of these two things that will ultimately result in success for all. Skewed too heavily toward the business, and you end up with a disgruntled employee. Skewed too much toward the employee, and you end up with roles and people in roles that the business can’t support long term. When walking the reskilling balance beam, be up front that reskilling isn’t a “one and done” experience. It should be gradual, with levels in mind, and iterative.”

The Keys to Career Mapping

Patience is indeed a necessity in effective career mapping. The fact is, employees are dealing with a lot right now, from the uncertainty around the economy to the ongoing stress around health hazards and social issues. To keep them engaged in thinking about their future within the organization, the career mapping and reskilling conversation has to be personal and transparent.

“Each reskilling event for each organization, for each position, is customized and could be any or all three of these (the bullets listed above), at any time,” Hall said. “If people think of this as a linear path, they will be frustrated. If thought of in a cyclical manner though, satisfaction is possible. For me, transparency is the key. An organization has to be willing to be transparent, to tell it like it is, help people understand what that means for them, and then together, through two-way dialogue design a path that works for that role and that employee, and they may be different for different roles and people.”

HR professionals can likely guess the impact of not doing this. It’s likely that without some engagement and improvement to the employee experience in how they’re growth and path forward is discussed, HR teams are going to have to spend a lot of time on recruitment and talent acquisition when things to return to something resembling normal.

“COVID has rocked our worlds,” Hall said. “Employees are being asked and given opportunities to flex their mental skills like never before. Shame on the company that doesn’t take the time to learn how that experience was for each employee.”

The Conversation

Hall suggests that companies should be looking forward to the individual dialogues that career mapping creates. The questions they should look for answers to include things like:

  • What did you like and not like about shifting to support another area?
  • Did you feel prepared to be successful at the beginning?
  • How did you learn the new role, processes and systems?
  • What about 30 days and 90 days into it, did you find that you did enjoy certain parts of the work? Which parts?
  • What fears did you have coming into that new/expanded role? What about now, what fears do you have now that you’ve been there for 4 months?
  • What else interests you? Where else would you like to learn more?

An organization that takes the time to learn what that experience was like for their employee, how they handled the change, and where they see themselves now and in the future is an organization that will increase their employee engagement and in the end have more satisfied employees. But Hall warns, this process is not entirely down to HR.

“The caution I have, is that this isn’t HR’s role, this is Leadership’s role,” Hall said. “Leadership should be skilled and trained by HR to be ready to have these conversations, and to be able to create a report out of what they learned to be consumed across the leadership team with HR at the table. It is in this manner that we as leaders grow to better understand our employees’ passion, strengths and opportunities.”

Career mapping conversations aren’t always comfortable, requiring a patient and empathetic approach that puts the employee at the center to help them see the possibilities.

“Enter into the conversation with a desire to understand what the experience has been like for that employee,” Hall said. “It’s the basic ‘seek first to understand’ approach that will make this conversation most effective. Approach with admiration, empathy and be inquisitive. Don’t judge their experience or their reaction to their experience, but hear it, honor it, and learn from it. If you listen deeply, beyond what is said, but also to what’s not said, you as an HR person will learn so much more and will be best poised to help that employee through this and future transitions.”

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