Employee development conversations: A manager’s guide

Employee development conversations are key to engaging and retaining talent. This guide and worksheet for people leaders and managers shares why 1:1s are key to taking your teams on their career development journey.

Employee development conversations: A manager’s guide

People don’t leave jobs, they leave…  

You know the answer. You may have even been there yourself.  

According to one recent study by Corndel in their 2024 Workplace Training Report, 41% of workers in the UK have left a job due to poor management 

And when you compare this stat with another recent finding, this time from the Chartered Management Institute, it’s hardly surprising: 82% of new managers in the UK are ‘accidental’ managers, meaning they have no formal training or leadership qualifications 


The good news is, there are some straightforward methods that all managers can – and should – apply to support employee development. And as with so much in life, it all begins with a conversation. Or to be more precise, a career development conversation.  

Why career development conversations matter  

Carried out correctly, 1:1 career development conversations between a team member and their manager create both the bedrock of that employee’s development and its supporting structure 

In these conversations you’ll provide feedback to your direct reports on areas where they’re performing well and where they can improve, which is sometimes called ‘developmental feedback’.  

You will also guide, advise, and support your team member to:  

  • Create an employee development plan  
  • Establish and discuss their career goals 
  • Explore learning and development opportunities and how they can identify and access employee training 
  • Develop their soft skills (if required)   

And because employee development conversations have a regular cadence – you will keep returning to these areas, building on them every few weeks or months.  

According to LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report, "progress toward career goals” is the number one motivation for employees to learn. This shows that these conversations are integral to employee retention and company culture long term.  

The manager’s role  

As the team member’s manager, it’s your role to support that person’s development by facilitating a structured, productive, two-way conversation where your team member feels heard, advised and – hopefully – inspired.    

As part of this, you’ll need to set the tone by deciding whether a more formal or informal approach suits the team member, your relationship to them, and the organisation you both work for. This is important; if you’re too formal you can risk coming across as intimidating, which may put your employees off from being open about the performance goals they’d like to set. At the other end of the spectrum, a too casual and informal approach may lead to you and the team member not considering their career development adequately.  

As well as setting the right tone, part of your role is to inspire and lead. Some of the most effective employee development conversations occur when managers share some of their career insights, learnings, experiences, and aspirations. Too often we don’t have capacity in our day-to-day work to share this information with our colleagues, but by opening up a little about your goals and experiences, you can help inspire and motivate your team member.    

For managers with relatively little managerial experience and/or training, or who are newly promoted to the role, setting the right tone and sharing career insights can be difficult to manage. In fact, even managers with plenty of managerial experience can find these conversations hard! The good news is, there’s plenty of support available and OpenBlend’s career development conversation worksheet is a great place to start (as well as this blog, of course 😊).  

Preparation for the development conversation  

Fail to prepare, prepare to…You know the drill.  

To equip yourself to succeed you’ll need to prepare sufficiently for your employee development conversation. The steps outlined below provide a useful preparation guide:  

  1. Review where your team member is now, such as their feedback and what motivates them 

Review your notes from any 1:1s you’ve already had with the team member, and any goal setting or development they have previously discussed with you or a previous manager.  

Don’t wait until the day before the conversation to ask for feedback, give contributors plenty of notice to gather it and do make sure you read it before the meeting, taking particular note of any developmental feedback, as this will need addressing the most.  

  1. Recap your understanding of the capabilities they need now and will need in their current role for the next relevant period

Part of the conversation will involve you briefing your team member on the activities and wider organisation goals for the coming weeks, months, or year. Make sure you’ve spoken to your manager and/or leaders to understand clearly what’s expected of you and your team. You want to enter the conversation as equipped as you can be on what capabilities your team member will need to develop to help support your organisation and teams’ broader objectives.  

  1. Look at what their next role might require, including industry trends where relevant 

If this employee development conversation is part of an annual or six-monthly review, you might what to look further ahead to what your team member’s next role might be and how industry trends might impact it.  

  1. Be ready to manage your own reactions to your team members’ ambitions 

It can be frustrating to manage people who come across to you as lacking ambition or motivation – but remember that this is a highly subjective area. What may seem ambitious to one person, may not be to another. Try not to judge or criticise your team member’s ideas and aspirations. Instead, listen carefully to what they tell you and think about how you can inspire and engage them to be more ambitious in their goal setting.  

Likewise, you might find your team member seems overly ambitious, again, you will need to manage this very carefully. Consider their aspirations as objectively as you can, andcan and give them  timethem time to fully explain how they believe they can achieve their goalsm. 

  1. Ask them to prepare 

Help your team member to prepare by reminding them to request feedback from their colleagues, and to save down any unsolicited feedback they’ve received (both positive and not so positive). Junior employees might also need you to provide some guidance around how to request feedback. Likewise, junior team members may not have much experience of setting performance goals, in which case you might want to share some guidance such as a goal-setting framework beforehand to help think about their goals. If you do this, make sure they know they still have the employee development conversation to change, refine and discuss these goals.  

How to structure employee development conversations  

There are three stages that we recommend you follow to have a productive 1:1 development conversation. You can view these in more detail in our handy Development Conversation Guide PDF that’s available to download.  

Stage 1: Discover   

Open warmly; recap the agenda and develop your team member’s self-awareness by exploring their strengths, motivators, drivers, and challenges.   

Useful question: To discover your best fit, where do you see your key strengths that might be valuable to utilise ?  

Stage 2: Create   

Help identify their development mission and overarching aim; identify 3-5 areas to develop; assess current skill level; identify needs and expectations and any required learning opportunities.   

Useful question: What 3 - 5 areas of growth will be important to build further to achieve this mission in order of priority?  

Stage 3: Pathway (GROW model)  

Set Goals for each development area; examine their current Reality, including needs and obstacles; explore Options and how to overcome any obstacles, plan the Way forward, with one or two upcoming steps to create momentum. Check for motivation here – if this is low, reset the goal. You can use our handy GROW worksheet here, too. 

Useful question: What is the Reality today, what will help you progress  eachprogress each goal, and what might get in the way?  


End on a positive note; emphasise why the planned development will be valuable to the person’s career; show your confidence in them and  haveand have an initial date planned to follow up.  

Useful statement: It will be great to incorporate these actions into the period ahead. They will help you to…  

By following these steps together, the outcome will be a personalised career plan that helps drive forward employee growth.  

 5 Tips for effective employee career development conversations  

  1. Set yourself up for success: Schedule the meeting at a time that’s typically quieter than others, turn off your emails and put your phone on silent.  
  2. Check your team member has prepared: If necessary, reschedule the meeting if they haven’t had the chance to fully prepare. 
  3. Make sure you’re prepared: Follow the steps outlined above in ‘preparation for the development conversation’. 
  4. Remember it’s a two-way street: Some employees feel awkward talking about their performance goals and career development. This is normal, particularly for those new to development conversations. It’s likely they’ll ease into it after a few sessions.  
  5. Close the meeting with a clear set of next steps/actions for you and your team member to take away. 

Found this helpful? Download our handy career development conversation worksheet as a template to use to guide your next career focused 1:1. Or book a demo of Develop to see how OpenBlend helps organisations to deliver personalised development at scale.  


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