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Conducting a Productive Career Development Discussion

ted-saulby Ted Saul

Most people like to talk about their future plans especially when it comes to their career.  A recent survey of employees revealed that managers ranked with parents, teachers and professors as who they look to and trust for career advice.   It has been found in large corporations that having regular development conversations prove to play an important role in retaining top talent.  The same is true for the small and medium businesses as well.  Whether you have one or a hundred employees it can be a benefit to be sure they have an idea where they are going in their career and how the company can participate.


In doing so, employees will feel valued by management and develop loyalty towards you and your business.  Employees with a sense of direction tend to be more stable and less likely to leave on impulse.  Your staffing strategy will be more organized as you understand what attracts people to your company and the development paths you can offer.  For example, if during your talks a few employees show an interest in moving into selling, you may want to initiate training sessions that demonstrate how to use and develop their current skills in marketing and sales.  Who better to represent your products to customers than long-time well developed staff.  Overall, this type of dialogue will serve to make good employees even better while allowing you to keep informed of current morale issues.


So how do you lead a career discussion?  Start the meeting by asking them how they are feeling about their current role and future. Find out if they are getting what they need to grow in their job.  If they aren’t, develop a list of tasks that can be accomplished to move forward.  Do some out-of-the box thinking and have them share what their dream job might be and what they’d like to be doing in three, five and ten years.  Set reasonable and obtainable goals together. This might include attending internal or external training, job sharing or movement towards promotion.  Propose methods for putting into use the newly obtained training and experience.


Finally, include plans to review progress made towards goals on a regular basis.  This step will reassure employees that you are serious about helping them.  Note that it is important to keep this discussion separate from performance reviews.  Employees should not feel that they will be penalized if they fail to complete a task on their career plan.


To be successful, holding this meeting once or twice a year is a minimum requirement.  Career progression may consist of many steps and needs to be managed and followed up on by the individual. Be sure to reinforce that career development is owned by the employee.  You are there to assist and provide resources but in the end the employee must take responsibility for where they are going.

Ted Saul is a business coach and project manager whose mission is to help startups and small business develop plans and processes for growth.  He can be reached at, TWS787 and LinkedIn.