This is my review of Help Them Grow Or Watch Them Grow. This is a management book focused on the career growth aspects of the manager’s job. It’s a short book, and perhaps not a classic, but it is nonetheless a very worthwhile read and it’s had quite the impact on how I approach career conversations and career growth with my team.

The book starts by providing some context for the modern workplace. On the one hand there is a large group of people - millennials and younger in rough terms - which have a very demanding relationship with their careers. They want growth in their jobs and they will switch jobs and industries to get it. On the other hand there is the flattening of organizations and the shrinking of the traditional options for career progression. If you combine this with the gig-ification of years past, there is a powerful need for a different kind of management approach to guiding career growth.

The main action, of course, .is around the process the authors suggest for tackling this problem.

First, they suggest making the person themselves ultimately responsible for career development and positioning yourself as a coach and guide and rubber duck, but not as a dictator.

Second, they suggest making career discussions a standard topic of 1:1s, rather than point in time events dictated by company rythms. The trick here is to not to spend a lot of time a few times a year, but rather few minutes here and there through the year.

Third, they suggest a way to anchor these discussions by focusing on the past (hindsight) and on the future (foresight) in order to gain insight.

Hindsight conversations can look at things from the personal experiences and preferences of the person around the type of work that they do, to project specific retrospectives where the good and bad of the way a project was done are dissected.

Foresight conversations look at the future in terms of happenings in the department of company, next company targets, industry trends, etc.

Insights are obtained essentially when there is this match between the past the parson is coming to terms with and the future they need to deal with. Ideally there is clarity around what needs to happen so it is easy to choose where to învest in the future.

Finally, they make a point that career goals are personal and should not just be reduced to “be promoted to X”. Rather they should express themselves as specific skills one wants to develop, experiences one tries, roles one take, etc. Progess is important and is the real source of growth, but there won’t be enough “space* at the top for only the big goals to work.

My biggest take-away from here is that I should poke people more to think about their career goals and I should avoid providing “the plan” but rather letting the person reach or construct it with guidance from me. I must admit in the past I was quite focused on the short term and tended to provide “solutions” for folks.

A negative but small point is the frequent use of word puns for the name of “rules” in the book. The title is the main example. Looks a bit like they’re trying to much to make a “quotable” thing.

Another negative point is the rather short size for the whole thing. A deeper dive into starting with and integrating the processes outlined in the book would have been useful.

Overall a good book, especially if you’ve been struggling to get a good growth story for your reports.