HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Deconstructing the Career Conversation

A variety of companies have realized the importance of creating a learning culture—one that values continuous learning as an ingredient for success for both the organization and the employee. In fact, “the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture,” says Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte.


Source: Vip_Icon / shutterstock

Because HR professionals play a more neutral, “whole company” role and can facilitate managers’ ability to hold fruitful discussions with direct reports, as well as encourage employees to talk more openly about their aspirations, they are in a unique position to promote a culture that takes a proactive stance toward employees’ growth and development. And supporting employees’ taking ownership of their career path has multiple benefits; not only does it encourage them to take a closer look at their skills, motivators, and aspirations, but it also challenges them to connect those aspirations to the organization’s goals.
Employees should ask themselves where their skills are most valued, what they need to learn/develop to move forward, and whether there are parts of the organization where they can use their talents to make an impact. The answers to these questions can lead to increased engagement and productivity and foster a true learning culture.
So, the question for HR professionals is how they can make a significant impact while juggling multiple priorities and having limited time with each employee. Using the SPUR framework, these professionals can have conversations with employees that will accelerate the learning process and uncover insights to facilitate positive action.

The SPUR Framework

Identifying which of the following four SPUR areas need exploration is key to getting to the heart of the career conversation, especially when your time or number of meetings with employees is limited.

  • Self-assessment: gaining clarity on skills, aspirations, and motivators;
  • Perceptions: uncovering and taking more control of personal brand and reputation;
  • Understanding how connections work: identifying allies; and
  • Reality testing: mapping out goals and time frames and trying out ideas in the market.

As you listen to employees’ issues, test them using diagnostic questions, and listen for where they are stuck so you know where to focus first. This will allow you to offer appropriate insights, point employees to resources, and create targeted action plans that can help move them forward.

The SPUR Framework in Action

As an HR professional, you can offer employees insights, connections to internal and external resources, and help with establishing goals, as well as provide them with enlightening knowledge on their reputation or about career paths, potential openings or assignments, or ways to gain more visibility. You could also work with them on ways to involve their managers, if appropriate, but once you know more about employee pain points or aspirations, you can decide how best to intervene.
The guide below can serve as a catalyst for your SPUR discussions.

Questions to Ask Employees Insights/Resources to Offer
Clarifying skills, aspirations, and motivators
  • How well does your current role match your talents and interests?
  • What aspects of your work would you put at the top of the list of things you do well and enjoy? What’s missing/isn’t satisfying?
  • What do you want to learn more about? What skills would you like to develop? How would developing these skills benefit the company and its business objectives?
  • What would career success look like for you now? What do you want to achieve in the next 2 to 3 years?


  • Common themes you hear regarding motivators, strengths
  • Preparing them to negotiate with their manager to do more of what they enjoy
  • Where in the organization their skills could transfer or what roles require their strengths
  • Sources to help them investigate roles they are curious about (professional organizations? Web tools? internal job/career path info?)
Understanding how they are perceived; reputation and brand
  • What are you known for? What do people rely on you for?
  • What feedback have you gotten from others/your manager?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What skills do your manager and colleagues value most?
  • What can be difficult about working with you?
  • Are there key relationships you need to develop/repair?
  • Issues/feedback/positive perceptions they should consider
  • Opportunities you see for them to enhance their brand or gain visibility
  •  Rehearsing how to have a difficult relationship conversation


Understanding how connections work
Building their network, internal connections
  • What areas of the business do you want to learn more about?
  • Who do you want to meet with to uncover insights?
  • What individuals/groups can help support your goals?
  • Where are you hitting roadblocks in networking?
  • Have you had/do you have a mentor(s) or people who have assisted you in your career to date?
  • How connected are you to others in your field? (professional organizations? colleagues? networking groups?)


  • Identifying where you think they need to develop relationships and expand their network
  • Current or anticipated needs of the organization they should pay attention to
  • Assisting them in making connections inside the organization
  • Helping them discuss with their managers their desire to build their internal visibility and network if appropriate
  • Information on organizational norms regarding career conversations
Reality testing
Mapping out goals, time frames, and how to try out ideas
  • What have you tried already? What happened?
  • What have you been trying to achieve?
  • What are possible development opportunities?
  • What are immediate next steps you can take?


  • Identifying actions they are willing to commit to in order to achieve their goals
  • Strategizing potential roadblocks and ways around them
  • Specifying support they would need from you and others
  • Determining specific, measurable goals, checkpoints, and time frames


Taking Insights to the Next Step

By improving your discussion skills, you can better assist the employees involved and gain additional insight into what the organization and HR can do to increase engagement and help employees take responsibility for their career development. Could managers benefit from effective conversation training, or are there employee training programs, publicity for internal resources, Web resources, or other vehicles that could “SPUR” them to action?
Your actions and discussions can make a real difference for your employees. As former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation Anne M. Mulcahy said, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset—they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”

Stephanie Daniel (@stephaniedaniel) oversees Keystone Associates’ (@Keystone_Assoc) business operations and is a member of the executive leadership team that sets the strategic direction and operational initiatives for the company.
Penny Locey (@PennellLocey), Vice President and leader of Keystone Associates’ (@Keystone_Assoc) individual delivery practice, is a member of the Consulting Practice Leadership Team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *