I’ve been searching for a guide to help me run better development conversations with my team since I first became a manager two years ago.
In those early days, my development conversations were wooden and over-prescriptive. I’d spend hours preparing 5-page documents, scoring(!) people on ‘success factors’ the team and I had created, and generally telling, not coaching. At least I usually compensated my team with a pint at our local Wetherspoons after for putting them through all that.
So I began looking for ways to improve those conversations. The best articles I could find were inspiring and thought-provoking, but too coy. They hinted at how to unlock great development conversations but stopped short of the big reveal. I was seeking something comprehensive — a one-stop-shop, a golden bible for how to approach these important discussions.
Two years on, I stopped searching and started creating… working in partnership with Gousto’s amazing People team and Clare Marks. And we now hold in our hands a powerful and comprehensive approach to unlocking growth potential. This new framework has step-changed my team’s development conversations in the past few weeks as I’ve applied its approach and question techniques.
But before I share all the details of this best-practice, let’s start by discussing what I believe to be the two fundamentals of personal growth.
The two fundamentals of personal growth
Professional growth comes from action, not words. Even if you have no time for more regular development conversations, make sure you’re always doing the below for your team. If there’s one takeaway from this article, let it be this!
Provide challenging work that means something
Nothing is more important for individual growth than doing challenging work. Taking Excel courses on the side might help (I’m still sceptical), but the bulk of all learning must be on the job. Theory recommends 70% of learning should be from doing, but I’d argue it’s even higher.
The folks at Netflix go even farther in their iconic original culture deck. They don’t even career plan for their employees. Instead, they just surround individuals with other great people and give them challenging problems to solve.
Give regular, constructive feedback
Reading the one-minute manager (summary here) changed my approach to feedback. I realised that committing to rapid feedback would massively help my team do their best work, and my ability to support them. But to be its most effective, feedback should sit within a broader cycle of expectation setting, feedback and documentation.
Introducing our detailed approach to personal development plans (PDPs)
PDPs are a great way to practice and check in on these two fundamentals of providing challenging work and giving meaningful feedback. They are nothing new, but I believe our detailed approach to making them highly effective is novel.
To be effective, PDPs must not just be a document that you create once and never check again. Instead, they must be part of a structured personal development process (confusingly - PDP), that ties together long-term thinking with short-term feedback & action-setting to maximise someone’s growth.
We use PDPs to:
- Work out longer-term goals and motivations
- Plan challenging work for the months ahead
- Regularly recap on progress towards goals and feedback on that work
We’ve mapped these objectives onto a rough cadence for when to have these conversations, shown below.
Note, both the above-recommended cadences for PDP conversations and the below detail is intended to be used as a guide and to provoke thought. We do not believe in being prescriptive. Conduct PDPs in whatever way works best for the unique individual you are working with, rather than follow any template.
The 6-month check-in: Building a ‘classic PDP doc’
We’ve framed our approach here around a personal development plan (PDP) process. In this approach, an employee uses a central document shared with their manager to articulate goals and track progress against them. We’re not precious about what format this PDP takes, the most important thing is that you write things down.
But what should you be writing down? You only need to do three things:
Seems easy? Not for me. I always thought that detailing these asks with someone was incredibly difficult. So to help, we pulled together a discussion guide to guide ourselves through the conversation, ensuring we get the level of deep thinking required in order to produce a highly effective PDP doc.
The 6-week and 3-month check-in: Zooming in on development areas and work plans
In more regular check-ins, you can move from the bigger picture of both their goals and their role to more actionable plans for personal development and feedback on patterns you’ve seen since the last PDP.
Every six weeks, review and unpack the top focus areas identified in the 6-month check-in. This second session guide can help, prompting you to look back and then look forward. There’s also a set of questions for your quarterly catch up on page two (I’ve written a more detailed blog on job-crafting here).
Help us make this even better
We have invested a lot of time to make this comprehensive, with some great input from Gousto’s People team. However, we know we haven’t covered all approaches to maximise someone’s personal development or all the great questions that can draw out meaningful conversation. We’ve also not touched upon the more nuanced sides of having great personal development conversations, like building psychology safety or creating a feedback culture.
So please comment or message me on LinkedIn if you want to share your stories! We’d love to continue to evolve our approach.
And to end on a juicy educational note: see our seven top tips below!