In my last blog post I shared a story of what can happen to an organisation’s succession plan if employees career aspirations aren’t taken into consideration.  And you may have read it feeling comfortable in the knowledge that your organisation isn’t making that mistake because you have a question at the end of the Performance Review that asks employees “What are your career goals?”

I’m sorry to tell you that approach doesn’t work.

If you have them to hand, take a look at some completed performance reviews.  In how many of them is that question answered?

One HR Business Partner told me that in her case, the question was left blank in at least 80% of cases.  And in the other 20% of cases, the box was ticked or had a very generic statement like “To be promoted”.

So why don’t employees answer the question?

Recent research for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, confirms what we know instinctively.  Career choices and decisions are complex and influenced by many factors both internal and external.  A question such as “What are your career goals?” is simple to ask but not at all simple for most people to answer unless they have done a lot of thinking about it beforehand.

Even if they have fully answered the question, the last few minutes of a formal performance review is almost the worst place to tackle such a complex subject.

A performance review focuses on an employee’s past performance over a period of time, emphasizing results or accomplishments relative to specific standards set by the organization.

A career discussion on the other hand focuses on the skills and abilities needed to achieve personal career goals in the future.

Really you need managers to be having broad-ranging discussions with employees about their careers separate to the performance review.

But that still relies on the employee being clear on their aspirations.  It also relies on the employee being comfortable sharing them with their manager.

In my next blog post I’ll talk about how you can help employees not just to think through their aspirations, but also to determine what they want to share with their manager and how best to have the conversation.

p.s. I’d be interested in hearing if your experience is similar.  If you have a question about career goals as part of your performance review, how well does the question get answered?