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The old ways of having development conversations are outdated. Here’s how to talk development with your talent today:


Not too long ago, employees were viewed as almost passive passengers on their career journey. Essentially, HR would hire and train them, and then move them around as needed. But, today, employees want to be far more involved in their career development. They want to create a ‘Career for Me’. In fact, 89% of respondents in a recent Right Management survey said “they are or need to be responsible for the development of their career.” Employees today want to be able to dictate how, where and when they want to work – and employers who hinder that ability are going to lose their top staffers.

Instead, businesses need to engage with employees more than ever before – and offer them the opportunity to discuss their development, goals, challenges and next-steps in on-going and meaningful ways. The old, once-a-year development conversation is dead. Here’s how to engage with employees today:

Have more than one conversation

A development conversation is no longer that; one conversation. Instead, developing talent through conversation relies on a series of conversations about a few different aspects that affect the employee. For example, an employee might need to have a ‘performance conversation’ about Improving Customer Service. But they also might need to have a Leadership Conversation about ‘Building a high Performing Team’. Don’t think development conversations come in one shape and size, and are a once-off. Commit to having on-going, specific conversations when the need arises.

Equip your managers to have the conversations

It’s not uncommon for employees to be swept into the HR department for their development conversations. The problem? The HR team isn’t necessarily working with the employees on a daily basis; they’re unaware of their shortcomings or skills. Instead, the team’s manager needs to be equipped to have the development conversations. If they haven’t been trained in how to do so, they need to be given the words. Technology and software can help guide them by taking them through what to say, when, and how by giving them the right language to talk about development.

Discuss distance and speed for growth

The gap between a person’s current role and a role you envision them moving into in the future is determined by the person’s ability to perform in the target position and their aspiration to move into the target position. The speed at which they could get there is determined by their agility; the time in their current position, their emotional intelligence, and institutional knowledge. Make sure these are points of discussion in your development conversations so your employees understand their career trajectory.

Ensure the conversation ends with direct, actionable next-steps

It’s all very well and good having a conversation about career development, but it won’t result in actual change if it doesn’t come with actionable next-steps. At the end of your conversation, decide on practical ways the employee can improve, and what you can do to help them. It’s often helpful to find out how to Rethink their behaviour, and React differently. For example, in a conversation about ‘Building a High Performing Team’, you might discuss how a leader is unable to delegate correctly. Offer an overview on why it is important, and then give practical steps to help them delegate more, such as, ‘Ask people what they would like to do and give them opportunities to explore that interest.’