Think back to a recent time you had a headache. With your head sore and pounding, you probably walked over to the medicine cabinet to grab some aspirin. If you’re like most people, you would have felt the soreness ease and the pounding soften immediately upon taking it. And yet, in reality, aspirin takes approximately 15 minutes to kick in, but chances are you were already feeling better before it had even dissolved in your body.
Why is that? It’s called the placebo effect. We have a perception that aspirin is supposed to work, and we have an expectation it will, and the combination of the perception and the expectation trick our mind into thinking it’s already having an impact. That’s why several scientific studies show that when it comes to pain, taking a placebo can be as powerful as taking morphine, and that 80 per cent of Prozac’s effectiveness can be attributed to the placebo effect. We perceive and expect they’ll work, and that’s why they do.
There’s a role for the placebo effect in matters of career development. Many employees desire to advance within their organisation, but the fact is that opportunities are often limited – even in large companies. There aren’t enough management positions or marketing roles or who-knows-what-else to satisfy the aspirations of every employee. And yet what many people demand is a magic pill that will get them to progress to the next stage of their career.
That’s why you need a placebo: something – or, rather, some things – that will make your employees feel as though their career needs are being met. And to do that, what you require is a combination of perception and expectation. In other words, you must make sure your employees perceive you care about their career development, and they must expect you’ll do what you can to help them achieve their goals. Here are a few suggestions for each one.
Perception involves a lot of talking:
- Take the time to find out what your employees want to accomplish, and hold a conversation about their career once a month
- Find a position description for their ideal job and discuss the experience, qualifications, and prerequisites contained within it
- Honestly identify the strengths they already possess (that will help them achieve their goal) as well as the limitations (that are holding them back)
Expectation involves a lot of doing:
- Every month, proactively create a new task or action that helps them to meet one of the requisite items on the job description
- Figure out the elements of their ideal job they’re attracted to the most, and see if these can be incorporated (even to a small degree) in their current job
- Provide advice and guidance on their résumé and interviewing skills, so they’re well-prepared when the right job vacancy arises
Career development isn’t about promoting as many people as you can, but it is about making them feel as though they’re making progress towards their career goal just by being in your team. That’s the best medicine.
James Adonis is one of Australia's most well-known people management thinkers. He is a leading international expert on employee engagement, and the co-founder and managing director of Team Leaders - a company dedicated to developing the very best managers.
Reproduced with permission from the Kirsty Dunphey weekly email. To subscribe to Kirsty Dunphey's weekly email, go to www.kirstydunphey.com