When I managed teams in the past, I asked my staff how they felt after we had any performance-related discussions. They said two things that made me a very happy manager:

  1. The feedback was not a surprise.
  2. The feedback is consistent with what I have shared with them at every monthly one-on-one meeting.

And they left smiling. Hallelujah!

Providing feedback to your employees around their development without it being a surprise is not overly complicated. Here are 5 easy steps you can implement to create kick-ass development plans:

1. Have an initial “get to know you” meeting or one-on-one

During this meeting, have some questions you will ask all of your employees to get to know them. Tell them that you want to understand their goals, aspirations and motivations. Explain that this is important so that development can be customized to them, and so that you as a manager can have a better idea of how to “manage” them.

In a way, this meeting is similar to interviewing a candidate for a job. You want to learn about their work history, their short-term and long-term career goals, what motivates them and even what frustrates them. Really get to know the person and his or her unique offerings and desires. Take notes!

When wrapping up the meeting, reflect back some of your takeaways to the employee to ensure your notes are accurate, and agree on a couple of action items that will start getting him or her closer to at least one of their goals. Ask them to take these away and work on them for your next one-on-one.

2. Have a one-on-one with each employee at least monthly. Below are two great references to set up successful one-on-ones:

3. At the start of each one-on-one, set aside time to do the following

  • Follow up on action items discussed at the last one-on-one. Ask specifically where the employee is at in those areas, what barriers they have been facing, and how they would like you to continue supporting them in these areas.
  • Ask the employee what they would like to discuss and encourage them to come to future meetings with an agenda. Take notes and wrap up each discussion point with an action item that will be followed up on at the next one-on-one.
  • Leave enough time before the end of the one-on-one to give them positive feedback about their performance, as well as areas you would like them to develop and focus on. Ensure these items discussed also have an action item attached to them that you will follow up on at the next meeting.

4. Follow through!

This step is crucial and I would like to demonstrate it with an example. I remember during my leadership days, the organization I was at was extremely supportive of development. Management would solicit feedback from employees on where they wanted to gain more knowledge and skills, however, did not follow through. Leaders would openly ask if employees were interested in specific training topics or offerings and employees gave an enthusiastic “hell yes!” And then, no training was offered.

My advice is, if the organization does not have courses or offerings to develop areas of interest to the employees, you need to find a way to offer it to them. Partner them up with a mentor, or arrange guest speakers to come to your team meetings. Whatever you do, do not leave them hanging. If you do, employees will quickly assume that these are just “empty” promises. Remember, development is deeply personal and emotional. If employees start to feel they are being strung along or breadcrumbed, it will affect their level of engagement and trust in their leader and their organization.

5. Have a performance meeting quarterly that is an extension of your one-on-one.

This would be a specific discussion focused on how your staff is progressing around their goals, objectives and accountabilities. Ideally, this should be an easy discussion because you’ve been having mini-discussions on this topic at your monthly one-on-ones. After the meeting, send a written summary back to the employee including successes, development areas and steps you and the employee will take to close the gap around the development areas.

Be sure to end this discussion by asking them how they felt the conversation went. Ideally, the feedback during this discussion will not be a surprise to them. If it is a surprise, take time to ask them for feedback, and reflect on why. Did you provide feedback clearly enough? Did you ensure the employee understood what was discussed after every one-on-one meeting? Do you need to be more specific around the deliverables you would like to receive from your employee?

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