EMPLOYEES' CHOICE AWARDS: Using coaching to build an engaged workforce

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Tips for empowering employees to manage their careers

You’re a small company in a highly competitive industry with a fantastic product and big aspirations. Now you’re looking for that extra edge, something that will really set your organization apart from the competition.

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By Mary Murphy

A growing number of small and medium-sized organizations are finding that a concerted investment in employee engagement – a strategy that many consider only achievable in much larger organizations – is paying off handsomely in the long run.

Consider the case of Halogen Software, an Ottawa firm and one of our clients at Knightsbridge. A developer of talent management software, Halogen’s head count has increased by 25 to 30 per cent annually since 2010. The company now has more than 300 employees, with the majority working at its Ottawa head office.

While Halogen has been garnering kudos for its software and customer service, it has also been singled out for being one of the country’s top employers. For three years running, Queen’s School of Business has named Halogen as one of Canada’s 50 Best Small and Medium Employers – something company president and CEO Paul Loucks attributes to the time and effort invested in employee engagement.

Such a perspective is substantiated by many global engagement surveys that consistently show happy employees – those who truly enjoy what they do – give the discretionary efforts that translate into better business results.

Annual employee engagement surveys are a great way to determine what employees value and need. Survey results at Halogen showed at an early stage that employees wanted help in planning their careers and preparing for future change and growth.

Central to career management is the honest conversation between managers and their employees. Unfortunately, career conversations can often be awkward and intimidating for some managers.

However, this feeling can be eased by learning and practising coaching skills and then bringing them to the conversation.

Managers often find they benefit from knowing that:

- Coaching is not about them having all the answers and providing advice to an employee;

- Asking open-ended discovery questions that engage the employee and stimulate their range of thought and elicit constructive responses; and

- Developing strong listening skills will help to enrich the career conversation and support the employee’s career management efforts.

For employees, career management encourages them to consider a breadth of experience versus only looking at moving up the organization ladder.

It also encourages them to take responsibility for their career path, and to become more creative in seeking growth opportunities.

For example, Halogen has offered its employees voluntary career management workshops, short seminars and individual coaching sessions.

These learning opportunities provide self-assessment tools and techniques for employees to help them identify where they are now in their careers, how they can leverage their skills and experience, and how to position themselves for future career opportunities.

The result of effective career management is often a measurable increase in employee engagement.

The more aware employees become about their strengths, goals and opportunities for development, the more engaged they become within the organization.

But not all career management programs are equal. To be effective, career management initiatives must be holistic, integrated and results-oriented partnerships that involve the employee, the manager and the organization.

Mary Murphy is principal of career solutions at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. She can be reached at mmurphy@knightsbridge.ca

Organizations: Knightsbridge, School of Business

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada

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