A career development framework for managers, leaders and coaches

Supporting employees in developing their careers is one of the most important things any manager can do. This type of coaching not only lets employees grow, it even increases their ability to meet their daily work objectives. In other words, investment in a person’s long-term growth yields short-term performance benefits.

We suggest that coaches have career development discussions at least once a year with each team member to review his or her career goals. Here is the framework we recommend following during these discussions.

Determine the length of discussion

Don’t be surprised if a meeting to discuss career goals lasts as long as two hours. An important aspect of holding these discussions is getting to know your team members better, so trying to squeeze them into a short time period sends the wrong message.

Send questions ahead of time

To help your team members identify their longer-term career goals, you need to ask specific questions that spark their imagination. Questions that make them think about their interests, their unique skills, and what they love about their work can help them identify developmental opportunities they may want to pursue.

We recommend career discussion questions that focus on three areas: overall goals and needs; current role goals and needs; and potential future roles. Here are some of the specific questions you can use:

  • What are your passions and motivations?
  • List your greatest talents and skills that should be utilized in your role.
  • What is the most effective way for you to set goals? How can I assist you in setting them?
  • What personal life goals do you wish to share?
  • What do you get paid to do?
  • Define success in your current role.
  • What specifically would you like to accomplish this next year?
  • What skills do you need to develop that would allow you to achieve that goal?
  • As you see things today, what are your professional aspirations?
  • What other professional skills would you like to enhance or learn?

We recommend that you send your questions to your team members a few days in advance of your conversation. Ask them to write down their thoughts and share them with you before your discussion. This will help ensure you are prepared to respond effectively to the ideas and goals they express.

Map out your discussion

Your role during the discussion is to ask your pre-planned questions, listen intently, then help your team member determine his or her goals. Ultimately, you want to help them create a short, specific,  career-development plan. The plan should identify at least one, but no more than three, priorities they’d like to pursue over the next year.

There is no certain format that the plan has to take. It can be as simple as just a few bullet points to outline their priorities and their follow-up actions. Some team members may wish to create more elaborate plans. The ultimate purpose of the written plan is make sure that you and your team member have a reference point to make sure progress is being made.

Once you have identified goals, you will need to offer specific ideas to pursue. Here are some suggestions:

Take part in a company task force or special team assignments. If your organization has created an internal task force or special team to tackle a specific challenge, have your team members who are interested in the issue volunteer to be part of the project.

Lead a team initiative. If your team is facing a specific challenge, don’t feel like you always have to create the solution. Instead, assign a team member or a group of team members to explore the issue and create recommendations.

Attend external training courses. There are numerous training courses, both local and online, that your team members can take on topics of interest or to develop a specific skill set they need to advance in their career.

Read books or attend webinars. At times, taking an entire course isn’t necessary. Instead consider having your team member read a book or attend a webinar.

Take part in an industry conference. Having the opportunity to interact and learn from other professionals in your industry can give your team members exposure to information and ideas they don’t hear every day.

Become the team expert on a particular topic. Have your team member develop an in-depth, expert-level knowledge or skill set that’s unique. The act of developing the skill or knowledge will help them grow, and it will also help the team overall.

Create a follow-up plan

It is important to clarify how often you and your team members will assess progress against their plans. These post-discussions give teeth to the coaching activity, so it’s more than just a nice conversation.

Your one-to-one follow-up meetings don’t have to be overly formal. Just review the plan with each team member. Ask about the actions they’ve taken in the last ninety days. Ask if they’re running into any challenges or roadblocks. Ask if there is anything more you can be doing to help them reach their goals.

It’s important to help hold your team members accountable for their career development. It’s easy for day-to-day work to take precedence over longer-term skill and knowledge development. When your team members are busy, they may forget about the career-development work they have committed to do. Without you as an accountability partner, they’re more likely to put it on the back burner.

By Sarah Wirth and Bill Eckstrom for CW Observer

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