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Why effective career conversations build trust and are good for business

  • Technology and an ageing population are influencing change in the workplace, with a greater emphasis on soft skills.
  • Leaders must connect with their employees through effective career conversations to build trust with them and to help them adapt to changes in working practices.
  • Building trust between leaders and employees is good for business and protects it from competitors.

The rapidly changing workplace, propelled by technology advances and the continued rise of the gig/sharing economy, requires leaders and their employees to be highly adaptable and resilient when facing emerging challenges and capitalising on future opportunities.

The employment landscape is changing

A recent report by Deloitte, ‘The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human’,1 makes predications about the nature of work in the future. These predictions include that, by 2030, 86 per cent of jobs created will be for knowledge workers (those who ‘think’ for a living, rather than carrying out manual tasks), 25 per cent of Australia’s workforce will be professionals and two thirds of jobs will require soft skills. When combined with changing demographics as a result of the ageing population, it’s not hard to imagine a very different workplace in the next decade or so, with different rules and imperatives for survival and growth than there are today. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ projections show that by 2031 the proportion of over 65-year olds in the overall population will grow significantly, with a corresponding decline in the working age population (15–64-year olds)2.


The employment landscape is evolving fast. The pace of change is affecting everything, from how business gets done, to the nature and types of jobs that will emerge in the new reality. The forces of change can feel overwhelming; however, often significant change is a catalyst for creativity and innovation. The future is bright for those who embrace change, rather than avoiding it, visualising a world full of opportunities and developing their capability to match what will be sought after. New services will be required, new businesses will be needed, along with new skills and jobs to get the work done.

In this fast-changing world of work it will become an organisational requisite for leaders to have the capability to hold effective career conversations with their employees.

Leaders must lead

 In this fast-changing world of work it will become an organisational requisite for leaders to have the capability to hold effective career conversations with their employees. With the expected growth demand for soft skills, it will no longer be acceptable for leaders to delegate their responsibility for employee career development to human resources or external providers. Countless job opportunities will emerge as redundant ones fall away, however leaders and employees must be alert to these possibilities and align themselves with the kind of workplace that’s emerging. This will necessitate the letting-go of old practices and thinking, replacing these with fresh perspectives fuelled by reskilling, retraining and new careers.

Proactively becoming involved in employee development… provides leaders with an exceptional opportunity to connect and build trust.

Trust is great for business

Proactively becoming involved in employee development through effective career conversations on an ongoing basis provides leaders with an exceptional opportunity to connect and build trust with their employees. Trust is fundamental to all functional and healthy relationships and is the foundation of the basic social norm of reciprocal commitment. When commitment is not reciprocated, the affected party usually withdraws from the relationship and financial considerations rise to the surface. In a work context, this phenomenon usually presents with employees complaining about their remuneration, when their discontent is often due to factors other than money.

Research by Professor Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate School, discussed in his HBR article ‘The Neuroscience of Trust’,3 points to people at high-trust companies, when compared to low-trust companies, experiencing:

  • less stress and burnout
  • more energy at work
  • higher productivity and fewer sick days
  • increased engagement
  • more satisfaction with their lives.

Importantly, trust enables learning, which is vital to organisational success, because learning enables the entity to avoid repeating the same mistakes. As a result, the entity will operate faster: this is essential to beating the competition in an increasingly dynamic business environment.

Countering competitor approaches

Having productive career conversations can also be an effective counter to unrelenting approaches from competitors and their headhunters to lure talent away, by allowing leaders and employees to be continuously connected in a trusting environment. If leaders are not connecting with their employees, it is likely their competitors are, probably with attractive offers to fill voids in their existing employment experience. 

The career coaching leader

Building leaders’ capability to hold effective career conversations to guide the career development and satisfaction of employees and incorporating this into their everyday leadership skillset will become increasingly critical to the success of both individuals and entities. Fortunately, it’s a highly trainable, coachable and transferrable skill. A great place to start is to commit to becoming a career coaching leader, continuously develop this capability and then make it a priority in the workplace. The rewards will make it all worthwhile for leaders and their employees and deliver organisational growth, sustainability and success.

  1. Deloitte, The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human, [2 September 2019].
  2. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Australia’s Ageing Population, Report 02/2019, Commonwealth of Australia.
  3. Zak PJ, 2017, ‘The Neuroscience of Trust’, Organisational Culture, January-February 2017 Issue, Harvard Business Review.

Greg Smith can be contacted on 0411 019 160 or by email on, or via the website on

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

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