Career X @ Qualcomm: coaching is the heart of the process
An interview with Megan Graham (Career X Team lead)
Qualcomm invests significant time and resources on the topic of career engagement. In this innovative technology firm, ensuring technical expertise is aligned to company priorities – today and in the future – is paramount to maintaining Qualcomm’s market-leading position.
Qualcomm employs 5 full-time coaches to support the career ambitions of all 30,000 Qualcomm employees – most of whom come from an engineering background. While career is a strong driver of retention among in-demand engineering talent, today the focus at Qualcomm is about keeping the right people: those whose career ambitions align with the direction the company is headed in. As career insights inform talent management overall, Qualcomm can make more informed decisions on where to focus retention efforts. The program, called “Career X,” is very popular among both individual contributors and managers. “We help the individual find out what ‘career’ means for them,” says Megan Graham. “We focus first on the individual’s strengths, interests, values, and passions and then back it into what the organization needs at that point in time.”
“It’s not just career and skill-development programs. We ask, ‘What’s your passion? What’s your purpose?’ We focus on what the individual is passionate about, and what their job is now. We coach around alignment in the current role and move to future opportunities. If they are unclear on what their motivators or aspirations are, we help guide them to identify those as well.” In a fast-paced, forward-thinking engineering organization, the skills required are always changing. So Career X focuses on future aspirations: helping employees with career-pathing 1-2 years down the line to map out potential goals.
“Employees drive their own careers,” says Megan. “Individual coaching is at the heart of everything that we do, with custom workshops and online resources to support. While you can teach philosophies and shift motivation and perspective in large group settings, we get to what really works for each person, with an individual focus.” Promotion is extrinsic motivation, which tends to be short-lived. “When they focus on their passion and purpose, on what they want to do and deliver each day, it’s a longer-lasting effect,” adds Megan. “Managers can highly impact the engagement and career pathing of their direct reports, so we also want to help support them so they can help others achieve their aspirations.”
Along with coaching and manager training, Career X also offers bespoke career assessments and an online career resource center which allows employees to connect to each other on career topics.
Qualcomm helps employees understand that the new evolution of career development can mean depth but also breadth, with options for lateral moves, and encouraging a culture that is not hierarchical. “But engineers, by nature, see a ladder,” says Megan. “We try to move the discussion away from strict levels and toward a career ‘web’ or a career DNA, so that it’s more about enrichment and less about the next promotion.” Leadership skills, or soft skills, are a large part of development for managers who, to date, have been highly focused on technical skills. Selling engineers on the importance of coaching and engagement originally was a challenge, but failing to acquire these skills can derail career and performance aspirations.
Megan Graham is Career X Co-founder and team lead at Qualcomm, the communications technology innovator that powers the mobile world. Megan is based in San Diego.