3 Essential Components of a Career Development Discussion

Effective professional development is closely tied to increased employee motivation.

Effective career development requires an in-depth understanding of each of your team members—their needs, goals, and how to help them achieve them. To do this, you can’t just define a career path or development process that works for everyone. Rather, you have to learn and plan for each individual. 

This takes time, but is worth the effort because effective professional development is closely tied to increased employee motivation. In fact, EcSell Institute research shows a strong correlation between team members who rate their manager as effective at motivating them to sell/produce more and those who rate their manager as “very strong” at helping them with their career development. 

This connection between career development and increased motivation is not surprising. This is because when you ask your team members to improve their skills and advance toward their career goals, they generally become more engaged in their work. And more engaged employees work harder and are more likely to perform at a high level. 

We believe all career development efforts should begin with an in-depth conversation between a manager and team member about his or her personal and professional needs and goals. 

The Format

For a career development conversation to be effective, it needs to include discussion in these three areas: 

1. Overall goals and needs 

First and foremost, managers need to have a deeper understanding of their team members on a personal level. What motivates them? How do they like to be recognized? What do they see as their greatest areas of strength? What personal goals do they have? When team members share this kind of information, they are sharing insights that can help their manager better understand them as a person and coach to their unique needs and abilities. 

2. Current role goals and needs 

Asking about a team member’s goals and needs in his or her current role is one of the most important aspects of a career development discussion. This is because many employees will not want to move into management positions. Therefore, talking about ways they develop in their current roles is essential. A manager will want to uncover their personal production goals, the support and motivation they need to reach those goals, and how they can leverage their talents more effectively. 

3. Potential future roles 

If moving into leadership or a different position is a team member’s goal, it is important for the manager to know it. Then, the manager can help determine whether a different role is truly what fits their talents and, if so, how they can begin to prepare themselves for that role. Conversely, if a different role is not the right fit for that employee, the manager can help them understand what future direction fits them best. 

You can download an in-depth career development template here.

Engaging, open-ended questions about the above areas can help create an effective dialogue between manager and team member. For the discussion to be most effective, we recommend that the manager share the questions with the team member ahead of time, and ask the team member to write down his or her responses (short sentences or bullet points are sufficient) and share them with the manager before the conversation. This ensures that the team member has time to think about his or her responses, and gives the manager time to consider those responses to determine how to best discuss them. 

The Frequency

A career conversation typically is held just once a year, so managers should not be surprised if they last up to two hours. An important aspect of holding these discussions is getting to know team members on both a personal and professional level, so trying to squeeze them into a short time period would send the wrong message. Managers also should not hesitate to ask additional or follow-up questions. Their pre-written questions are only intended to be a guide for the conversation. 

After the career discussion is complete, the manager should ask the team member to take the key ideas that were discussed and use those them to create a career development plan. There is no certain format the plan has to take, as each plan will be as unique as the skills, interests, and goals of the rep completing it. The plan can be as simple as a few bullet points to outline the follow-up actions the employee is going to take, with key steps and timelines outlined. Other team members may wish to create a more elaborate plan, which is fine, as well, as the ultimate purpose of the written plan is simply for the team member and the manager to have something to reference to make sure progress is being made against the plan. On at least a quarterly basis, the team member and manager should revisit the plan to ensure necessary actions are being taken to drive the team member’s development. 

In summary, effective professional development is essential to helping team members perform better. Not only does it build their skills for their current role and build their abilities for future ones, but it is also essential to their motivation. The best practices noted above can help ensure employees feel engaged, valued, and developed to be successful in their career this year and beyond.

Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth areco-authors of “The Coaching Effect.” 

Bill Eckstrom is the founder of EcSell Institute, a research-based organization that works with leaders internationally to help them better understand, measure, and elevate coaching’s impact on performance. Eckstrom was invited to the TEDx stage in 2017, and his talk “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life” was the fastest-growing TEDx Talk in the history of the event when it was released. 

Sarah Wirth is vice president of Client Services at EcSell Institute. She has 20 years of experience in employee assessment, leadership development, sales executive coaching, and customer service. She has advised executives from across the globe, consulting with such organizations as Mercedes-Benz, Estee Lauder, Ritz-Carlton, The Cheesecake Factory, and many more. 



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