How to Structure Development Conversations With Your Manager

In our email newsletter’s Exclusive Tips section (sign up for the email newsletter here, if you haven’t already), we’ve shared the importance of setting aside allotted time each month with your manager to focus on your career development.  Setting up the time is the easy part - you simply schedule a recurring meeting each month.  Getting value out of that meeting can be challenging, though, so it is important to have an agreement with your manager of what you will discuss.  

This agreement can be simple or complex.  A simple agreement may look like a list of questions sent from you to your manager about what they think of your performance.  A more complicated agreement may be a full-on document with goals and progress meters.  Use whatever tool works for you and your manager to ensure you are getting value out of the conversation.

One of the main reasons for creating an agreement ahead of time is to allow your manager time to think through the questions.  Often times it is difficult for your manager to be asked questions on the spot regarding your performance and come up with illustrative examples.  Having an agreement in place also makes sure you know what you’re working towards - and your manager does too.  This will give you focus and purpose in your development.

Now that you know the importance of setting aside time each month to discuss development and why an agreement is important, here is an example of the agreement I use with my manager:

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This one skews more towards the formal side, as it is clear what areas I want to focus on.  This agreement provides room for steps along the way and what I am going to do to reach my career goals.  Just as important, it also provides space to document how my manager will contribute to assisting on my career goals.  This document is updated by both my manager and I at least 24 hours prior to our dedicated time each month.  This gives both parties time to react to any new additions to the document and it helps us both keep track of progress over time.

While this is focused primarily on career growth and development, I believe it is important to include at least one personal goal on this chart (which I have not yet done - do as I say, not as I do, right?).  Why?  So your manager can get a sense of what you want to achieve in life.  Not only will that provide your manager with empathy and understanding of you as a person, but it opens you up to them as a resource to accomplish a life goal.  If you want to learn Spanish this year, your manager may know a Spanish teacher - you will never know this unless you share your goals with them!  Sharing a life goal (or two!) will make your manager more invested in you as a person because you have let them into your life and your aspirations.

Another method I’ve used, at least as a preliminary, intro development tool is the following questions:

  • What aspects of your current role are most motivating to you? Least motivating?
  • What are your short term career goals? Long term?
  • What do you think your talents and skills are?
  • If you could enhance your current role, what would you change?
  • What roadblocks do you see that may hinder your progress towards your career goals?
  • Do you view your next role as a lateral or promotional move? What is your expected timing for your next role?
  • What developmental experiences (projects, committees, training or other initiatives) would you like to be a part of in order to develop your career?
  • What parts of the business are you interested in? Is there a particular role or department that you’d like to learn more about?

These are especially valuable if you are meeting with a new manager with which you have no rapport.  It gets your likes, dislikes, and career goals out in the open from the onset of your manager-employee relationship.  This will help them better understand your career, but also you as a person.  

The key with answering these questions is to be completely open and honest.  If you do not like what you’re working on, say so!  If you want to get promoted, say so!  For both of these scenarios, think about the worst and best case scenarios as a result of bringing these up.  Worst case is nothing changes.  Best case is you get what you want.  The pros far outweigh the cons, so never shy away from being open and honest in answering these questions and sharing them with your manager.

Development is a critical part of life as a young employee in Corporate America.  Don’t lose sight of this.  It is easy for a month or two or six to pass and you realize you haven’t focused on your development.  I can tell you this much - if you do not take charge of your development, no one will.  You are in the driver’s seat in this: set up meetings and structure these meetings through an agreement with your manager on what topics you will address.  Taking these measures will allow you to get on track and stay on track when it comes to progressing your career.

Thought Starters

  • What can you do today to start focusing on your development?
  • What three professional areas do you see as opportunities for you to improve upon?