Employee Development

How to have effective developmental conversations with your team

Here are eight steps to having productive development conversations with your team and five best practices for following up after the conversation. This article is for managers who want high-performing teams.

Muinat Zubair

Published on 

March 15, 2023

Updated on 

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Career development conversations between managers and employees are crucial for determining employee goals and identifying how the organization can help them achieve their goals. 

Employee development programs are one of the most effective ways to bring out the best in workers. This is because lack of career progression is the main reason why people quit their jobs, followed by low pay, according to a survey. 

An overwhelming 82% of working professionals said they would consider leaving their job if there was no prospect of career progression in their company, leading to a 9% increase in job hunting around work anniversaries

As a manager, it is your responsibility to initiate these conversations and help set your employees up for success, enabling them to achieve career progression while also improving your own managerial skills.

What is a manager's role in building effective career development conversations?

A manager’s support is vital to employee career development goals. The absence of their support will make employees feel less confident about the direction of their careers. This will lead to stunted growth and the possibility of talent looking for organizations that offer the support they need.

However, with the right tools and insights, managers can champion career development conversations. Through focused discussions, managers get the information they need to put employees' development plans into action. 

Employees should be in the driver’s seat of their development, but here’s how managers can support the process:

  • Nurture employees' aspirations, goals and desires.
  • Build a system where expectations are realistic and align with company goals
  • Promote self-awareness through coaching sessions
  • Support employees with the resources relevant to their plans
  • Unite on the next steps and their connection to the organization 

Why are effective developmental conversations important?

Let’s explore why conversations are so important from the perspective of HR and People Ops leaders. Here’s what some of them had to say on why effective developmental conversations are important.

“In my experience, developmental conversations help build trust between manager and team, setting expectations for the future, providing resources for development and growth, and establishing a positive company culture. Developing meaningful relationships with team members can lead to increased motivation and productivity,” said Diana Stepanova, Operations Director at Monitask.

“The beauty of development conversations is that they're not just about retention. Some employees may eventually leave, and that's okay. Because what these conversations do is help people grow and discover their true potential, whether that's within your company or elsewhere,” said Karolina Kijowska, Head of People at PhotoAiD.

“Developmental conversations are an effective way for leaders to ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with the organization's goals and objectives,” said Lisa Richards, CEO and Creator of the Candida Diet.

“Having developmental conversations with teams is vital for the growth and development of both employees and the team. A manager's role should be to provide support, guidance, and feedback to their team members to help them identify their goals, strengths, and areas of improvement. This will help the team members to align their individual objectives with the team's objectives, which will ultimately lead to the achievement of the team's goals,” Krittin Kalra, Founder of Writecream.

“Good developmental conversations are a win for both employers and employees. They enable organizations to get excellent performance from their teams while helping their teams to grow. Keeping the workforce engaged and growing creates greater value for the organization and the employees themselves.” said James Nesbitt, Founder of Myth Digital.

How to have effective developmental conversations with your team

Your employees, just like any other, have ambitions and plans for their future. They are more likely to look elsewhere if you don’t make career progression a priority in your company. Having developmental conversations helps you gain insights and address concerns that can impact retention if overlooked. 

Here are some ways managers can have effective and productive developmental conversations with their teams.

1. Don’t make the conversation just about promotion

Development doesn’t always have to be a new higher-up role. You may not offer your employee a promotion, but you can provide opportunities that support their growth.

Maybe they would like to access more employee development programs or the chance to coach others. Learn about any roadblocks impeding your employees’ success and provide relevant solutions. Communicate likely growth opportunities through these conversations. Promotions are only a small facet that encompasses career development. 

2. Encourage employees to build a strong professional network

Offer to connect employees with others within the company for mentorship. Mentorship is a great way for them to improve their skills through meaningful connections. 

They can also discuss their career goals with their mentor, who can provide them with the right resources to grow career-wise. 

Mentorship is useful if you have a large team and can’t possibly schedule a one-on-one with all of them. By pairing them with the right mentors, you’re setting them up for career progression and personalized development.

3. Get to know your employees

Whatever potential you see in your employees, resist the urge to share your opinion through an employee development conversation. 

Rather get to know them. This allows you to discover more about them and how you can help them harness their potential. Ask about their background, previous roles, and their big ideas and aspirations. 

You might have a different growth mindset from your employee, developmental conversations help you align your thoughts and process.  By asking the right questions, you can provide effective and tailored solutions to aid employee career growth.

4. Let your employee direct the conversation

The conversation is about your employees’ development goals, let them take the lead. Listen to their plans before making any suggestions. It can be awkward for employees to share their aspirations when it differs from what their manager envisioned. 

As a manager, provide the structures and expectations to help employees clearly define their goals. Help them figure out their goals and support their efforts.

5. Address long and short-term goals in relation to career development

A manager often doubles as the career development coach. Help your employees make a connection between their current roles and future roles. 

Discuss how their current goals can impact their long-term ambition. Encourage them, especially when they reach a milestone. It will help them see how their efforts are paying off.

6. Have an employee development plan

An effective employee development plan is actionable. It breaks employees’ bigger goals into smaller steps that are easier to manage and achieve. 

It will also guide employees in forming their individualized action plans. Always check in regularly with your team members to ensure they are making progress and make adjustments where needed.

7. Know the type of support to give at different times

Know when to step back and let your employee develop at their own pace, take important decisions, and learn from their mistakes. Make it clear from your discussions that your support will be flexible and dependent on your employees' needs. 

You have a huge role to play in your employees’ professional success. Give them the right initiatives and support and guide them as needed. Leave room for them to approach you when they have roadblocks or see opportunities that align with their goals. 

8. Prepare to answer the tough questions

Employees might ask you some tough questions like, how can I recover from past mistakes? How do I state my accomplishment without seeming arrogant? Will my role be relevant in the next six months? 

If you don’t have answers immediately, postpone answering and suggest a revisit later. Or better still, talk through the question with the employee to understand them better. Put yourself in the shoes of your employees and lay out their concerns. The ultimate intent is to have an honest and down-to-earth dialogue with employees. 

5 Follow-up best practices for having career development conversations with your team

It is easy to let things slide after your initial career development conversation with staff. However, you need to keep it top of mind if you want to keep your best talent. 

Below are some best practices to keep the conversation going:

Send a summary of the conversation via email

Restate the highlights of your conversation through a summary email to your employees. This isn’t the next step, but a reassurance that you understood their development plans. Additionally, make it clear you welcome their input in any employee growth plan you come up with. You are also giving them a breather to think about their next step.  

Plan the next steps with your employee

From the first conversation till this point, you are gathering information to make the right decisions for your employees. On your next one-on-one, encourage them to ponder their long-term career goals. This will help you put together the relevant skills and experienced hands they need to get there. 

Prepare a career progression framework

If you don’t have a career development framework in place, now is the time to collaborate with HR leaders to create one. Having a standard process defines the criteria for promotion and benefits workers across the board.

Having the same framework for everyone helps you discover the hidden talent and potential in your employees. Although, building a tailored employee development plan may depend on the needs of your direct reports. A general framework is important across the company. 

Check-in quarterly to continue the conversation

Now that you have started the conversation don’t put it on the back burner. Continue the conversations quarterly to check progress as the mid-year review draws closer. 

You can have the follow-up discussion during your regular one-on-ones with your team. Sparing a few minutes to discuss advances can make a huge difference.

Gather feedback to improve the process

If employee development programs are to become a part of your organization, you need to gather feedback. This will help you plan and improve on future discussions. You can send out a survey to beneficiaries of the career development conversations. Go through responses and adjust as needed.  

Bottom line

If you have a large team or just do not have enough time for a productive developmental conversation, you can outsource it within your company through mentorship. Mentoring is a sure way to ensure employees have access to the right people and resources to build a successful career. 

Maximize your employee potential, time and resources using the Together mentorship platform. You don’t have to down the arduous, stressful path. 

Need more resources? Download the Together Mentorship program template and the Meeting templates for mentors and mentees for more guidance.

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