How To Hold Employee Development Conversations

How To Hold Employee Development Conversations

Written by Ronan McCabe

Ronan is an experienced start-up founder and Director of Growth with a demonstrated history of working in a wide variety of industries and roles internationally. Skilled in Business Process, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Product Design, People Management and Leadership.

Let’s get straight to it. Every time you have a meeting with one of your people, the discussion should be about their development. This is what is important, for them as an individual, you as a leader and for the company.

When it comes to holding these conversations effectively, that’s where you come in. People leaders set the tone, hold the space and guide their employees when it comes to these kinds of discussions. You can show leadership here through facilitation, so let’s look at how.  

Holding The Discussion

  • Have recommended talking points – This isn’t a meeting for a restricted shared agenda. Instead, work together in advance to establish the areas you would like to cover. This will bring clarity and consistency to the discussion and is a useful process if holding multiple meetings with different people
  • Encourage employee-led conversations – This is about you aiding your people in connecting, expressing and achieving their goals. It must come from them so let them lead out on the discussion.
  • Create a safe and trusting environment – If you don’t have this, it will be infinitely more difficult for you both to achieve what you want from the meeting. Your people need to feel like you take their professional desires seriously because they matter to them. Only then can they feel confident in telling you what they are and subsequently committing to them. You can achieve this through consistency and confidentiality.
  • It should be aspirational – This talk is about their dreams. What they want to do and how they are going to get there. It’s about thinking big and working back so make and hold the space for this. The conversation must be about what’s going to happen rather than what has taken place.
  • Identify targets – Guide the individual through their ambitions by breaking them down into milestones. By doing so, it will help you both identify gaps and what supports are required to fill them. For more on goal setting specifically, you can download Frankli’s free eBook on OKRs.
  • Focus on ways to improve – This is a development conversation. It’s about growth, so ensure the discussion is about advancement. Stay on track.
  • Keep it personal – We say this because this is personal. You aren’t asking for the latest update on a specific project. You are asking about their personal development and where they want it to go. Match this in your approach with empathy and feeling. This is the best way to connect with your people which builds strong relationships and also supports employee development.
  • Create a sense of ownership – The individual needs to take responsibility for their progression, but you can support them in taking charge of this.
  • Actively listen – This not only helps you take everything on board but shows your people you value and respect what they have to say. You are a guide who inspires, supports, listens and offers comfort where necessary. That’s your role here.
  • Don’t expect them to know everything – You might have a very different conversational endpoint from where you started. Begin broad and help them narrow down the focus, so the person has actionable steps when they leave the discussion.
  • Offer clear guidance – There are so many emotions on the side of the individual attached to these conversations. Be clear in your questions and suggestions to get them where they want to go.
  • Support them in channelling their desires into action – You act as support here for their professional goals and aspirations. Help them focus on making them a reality.
  • It’s not about figuring everything out on the day – That’s not how this works. One of your people might be leaving with a detailed plan of action while another’s primary actionable step might be further reflection.
  • Adopt a growth mindset – Don’t meet your people with obstacles, be ambitious too. This has the ripple effect where your people will as well, so always lead by example and keep the conversation motivating, realistic and supportive.

How Often Do You Hold Them? 

We’d recommend starting with a dedicated conversation around developmental as either part of the annual or biannual review. Ideally, these discussions should be thirty-minutes to one-hour. After that, we say, every time you meet. Check-in on their current performance. Ask how things are going and always link back to their development. This can be achieved casually. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled sit-down for the in-between follow-ups. 

Adapting To Your People 

All your people are different, so you’ll have to adapt to them when it comes to these sessions. Some will go in and tell you where they want to go and how you can help them get there. At the other end of this, you’ll find those who are directionless.

For the latter, applying a framework that helps them create goals and navigate towards them can help. For example, a visual aid might be useful for some to take what’s internal and make it external to bring clarity to their aims and objectives.  

You might have someone with no desire to progress in their work. You still have to identify a development opportunity for them. Perhaps the focus can be more on behaviours rather than skills. There is always scope. It’s also worth remembering here that instead of rising professionally, they can expand. It’s up to you as their leader to spot this and support them.

Every employee needs to have a development plan; no one is immune or should be left without one. As a leader, you need to match their desires to promote business continuity. 

Holding successful employee development conversations is about you growing and developing your people’s capabilities. The return can be seen not just in the individual advancement of your people but as a team and company. Healthy productivity and progression creates a great environment and promotes a positive company culture. Having these discussions, and going in-depth, always including where they are going, will bring you all as a collective to your intended targets in the future.


As we establish a new way of working, Frankli is here to help you and your people make the transition. Get in touch with the Frankli Team today to see how. 

It’s time to leave the paper-based ways of the past behind and make the move to a digital process that supports you in achieving your goal

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