It’s mid-2009, and I am bored at work.

Like, super bored.

I’d been in the same department for just over four years, and during that time I’d had three job titles, but something had dawned on me that I just couldn’t shake, so I put some time in to sit down with my manager to tell him what I had realised…

“By October, you will have nothing for me to do.”

He took that well, all things considered; we looked at the options together, we assessed where I could go and what other jobs I could do for the department, but it was clear that all the options were either temporary stopgaps, or not anywhere that I wanted to go.

So, we came up with a plan; I would figure out where else in the company I wanted to work, and then we would help me work towards getting a job there.

Seven months later, at the beginning of 2010, I started a new role in Finance.

The change would provide a springboard my career, and see me move from Junior Analyst to Director in 5 years.

Although I did have to tell a couple of other managers that I was bored to get there.

” I need your help with my development.”

Over the years I have had a number of people approach me looking for help with their development, either they don’t know what they want to do next, or they know where they want to go, but they don’t know how to get there.

Every time my response to them is the same, “Have you spoken to your line manager about this?”

Speaking to your line manager about your next move is always the first step in making it happen, for a few reasons:

  1. They’ve been there, they didn’t start their career as a manager, the chances are they have been through the same stuff that you’re working through, and they know the next step to take, or can at least advise you on which steps to consider.
  2. They have contacts, they’ve been around longer, they’ve worked on more projects with more people, and they probably know someone that you can speak to about what your next move should be; someone who does what you want to do, or has made a similar move.
  3. You probably don’t want them finding out another way; having been a line manager myself I can honestly say that I would never stand, and have never stood, in the way of a member of my team if they wanted to develop, but even I would find it a bit jarring if I found out through the grapevine that they were courting another role without at least having mentioned it to me first.

If your line manager is worth their salt they will welcome your desire to develop, after all, it’s good for everyone; it’s good for you because you’ll be getting on with your career, it’s good for your manager too because you’ll be more motivated and it will attract talent to the team, and it’s good for the wider organisation because it increases the capability all round.

Win, win, win.

But you probably don’t want to put in a meeting out of the blue, having never spoken to your manager about this before, and drop it on them that you want a new job, so what can you do?

Build a relationship.

If your manager isn’t putting regular time in with you, put regular time in with them. Make sure you’re sitting down, at least once a month, for an hour. It is only through spending the time together that you will start to build a relationship and work towards that open conversation.

You need to take the time to be comfortable with them, make small talk, don’t just go through how your projects are going, open up, speak to them on a personal level.

Be honest about what’s going right, and what’s going wrong; don’t hide from mistakes or failures, speak openly about them, show ownership, talk about how you’re going to do better, what you’re going to do differently, what you’ve learned and what there is still to learn.

Choose to be open; it has to start somewhere.

Managers need to play their part.

If you’re a manager, then you have a key role to play in this as well, remember that developing your people is a huge win, win; so it’s in your interests to be open to these conversations and actively encourage them, to that end there’s a few things you can do (or not do).

  • Don’t shut people down — If your team is coming to you, looking for your time to have an actual conversation, you need to learn to have an actual conversation, not a purely transactional back and forth on project status. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer.
  • Don’t mock or denigrate — I shouldn’t have to say this, but seriously; whatever it is that someone wants to do, that is their dream, don’t mock them for wanting to make more of themselves, don’t denigrate their dream; certainly keep them grounded, but be professional.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger — It takes a lot of courage for someone to come to you as their manager and tell you the honest truth about wanting to develop and move on, you should treat is as a compliment and welcome their honesty and their desire to make themselves (and your team) better.
  • Don’t treat them differently — If people have the impression that you will somehow treat them differently for coming to you and having a conversation about development, then they won’t do it. That includes favourable and unfavourable treatment, don’t single them out. An open and honest development conversation with a line manager is something that everyone should expect, no one is special for having had one.

But my boss doesn’t want to talk about development.

As I say, development conversations should be an expectation, you may have to instigate them (it is your development, after all), but they shouldn’t be something out of the ordinary.

Remember that not all line managers are completely comfortable talking about development, for numerous reasons, give your manager the benefit of the doubt, they are a human being, and they will have things that they are more comfortable talking about and some things that they are not that good at talking about, that’s why you take the time to build a relationship with them.

If, though, after all of this; having built a relationship and tried repeatedly to have a development conversation with your manager, you are still being stonewalled, then maybe it is time to go and find a new manager for yourself.

Remember; people join companies, but they leave managers. If your manager flat refuses to have a development conversation with you, then they might not be the manager for you. Just remember to give them the feedback, managers need to develop too.

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