Effective development that is both actionable and measurable is crucial for retaining top talent and maintaining employee satisfaction. Managerial support plays a vital role in this process, as without it, employees may lack the motivation or guidance to effectively implement their development plans, hindering their growth and potentially causing them to seek employment elsewhere. By providing managers with the necessary resources and understanding to guide development conversations, employees will feel more supported, and both parties will have a clearer understanding of how to put development plans into action.
The Manager’s Role
Development is most successful when it is driven by the employee, as it ultimately pertains to their future. Managers play a key role in supporting their direct reports throughout the development process. When managers have the authority to facilitate discussions about growth, they can:
- Facilitate a mutual understanding of employees' aspirations, goals, and desires
- Ensure alignment of expectations and provide a realistic perspective
- Promote self-awareness through coaching methods
- Facilitate access to necessary resources, tools, and materials
- Collaborate on next steps that align with both business and team objectives.
Ensuring a successful development conversation
Development conversations frequently occur in conjunction with performance evaluations. Although development and performance should be distinct areas of focus, employees' performance will inform and influence their individual development plan. Encourage managers to prepare for development conversations by revisiting notes from previous one-on-one meetings and reflecting on past performance to have a clear understanding of their direct report's strengths, specific development needs, and any additional long-term goals.
Here are a few key considerations for managers to keep in mind to make development conversations effective and productive:
- Use concrete examples rather than general statements. If a manager's perception of an employee's progress or growth differs from the employee's own perspective, provide specific examples that can be integrated into development plans.
- Provide relevant and accessible options. Managers should be aware of the various tools, resources, external opportunities, and educational courses available to employees. Encourage them to use internal frameworks and networking to find the right opportunities.
- Adopt a coaching mindset. Effective development conversations require a continuous focus on growth. Managers can demonstrate interest and curiosity by asking open-ended questions and being receptive to any ideas employees present. Remember that these ideas will shape development plans, which will be unique for each employee.
- Keep development a priority. Allocate time and space for development planning in conjunction with performance reviews and during regular check-ins. Encourage managers to work with their direct reports to plan and schedule these check-ins for accountability and to ensure that discussions are productive and progress.
Initiating the Conversation
The development conversations that managers have with their direct reports will vary for each team member. Managers may use some or all of the following advice in a given conversation. This guide will assist in keeping the conversation on track, but the key to success is personalized and honest conversation. It is essential that employees feel comfortable discussing their development or areas of improvement with their manager without fear of criticism.
Here's a helpful guide for managers to reference:
Establish the context:
Begin the conversation by explaining that while the employee is responsible for driving their own development, you are there to provide accountability throughout the process. This includes scheduling conversations and setting aside time for development initiatives. Share that during the conversation, you will review the personalized plan and discuss next steps. By the end of the conversation, you will both have a shared understanding of what the employee wants to develop, what help they need, and how frequently you both want to check in on their development goals moving forward.
Proceed with the conversation by helping your direct report gain self-awareness about where they want to begin their development. This part of the conversation is about identifying motivators and strengths, so you can align development or career opportunities with what's most rewarding. From here, it's easy to determine the next steps or select coaching exercises based on how the conversation has evolved. This is also the time to identify weaknesses or areas of lesser interest to your direct report. This can shed light on tasks that may take longer to complete or consistently produce a different result.
Allowing employees to express their personal motivators and perceived strengths will assist in creating a development plan that they find engaging and rewarding. Encourage honest responses by asking questions such as: What activities do you find yourself losing track of time on? What tasks give you a sense of accomplishment? Are there tasks that you find easier than others?
Develop the plan:
Motivations can now be transformed into actionable goals. Coach your direct reports to create goals that are both measurable and valuable.
Utilize the three E's of development: Experience, exposure, and education. These can serve as a foundation for identifying the right opportunities to support learning and development, from connecting with mentors to finding training courses.
To understand the specific skills that an employee needs or wants to develop, use the following guiding questions:
- What feedback have you received that made sense to you?
- Where do you find you keep getting stuck?
- What excites you to explore further?
- What do you find you never have time to work on?
- What has been a barrier for you?
What do you find the most challenging?
- While it would be ideal to focus on developing every skill for an employee, prioritization is crucial. Choosing one or two main areas of focus allows for a more refined action plan. Ask your direct report: What is the highest priority for you in achieving these goals? How will developing this particular skill make a difference for you? What are you curious to learn more about?
To hold your direct report accountable, set measurable milestones. These should be specific and track progress. Begin by asking your direct report how they think they will measure success or when they will feel successful. Be direct: How will you know when you've succeeded?
Bringing the conversation to a close:
Summarize the areas of motivation discussed, the agreed-upon goal or action plan, and the next steps at the end of the conversation. Set a time to check in on progress and review any areas that need improvement at the end of the conversation.
A development-focused conversation held quarterly is ideal, but development is most effective when it's ongoing. Don't limit these conversations to scheduled time; make sure you're regularly communicating with your direct report, so you can stay informed about their progress throughout the process.
Ensure effective development conversations:
Development is unique for each employee, so it's important to incorporate personalized plans into your workplace. With the right guidance and tools, managers can more effectively drive development conversations and enhance the employee experience as a whole. While every employee has the right to own their development, managers and HR teams are responsible for supporting this growth in any way they can.