Develop People - Ottawa Employment Hub

Develop People

Are you fostering performance excellence and providing career development opportunities?


As an employer or leader, you can take steps to create a climate that promotes performance excellence and fosters learning. An organization’s ability to learn is one of the key drivers of success in the 21st century world of work, as it must constantly adapt to the fast pace of change.  Developing your employees will not only help create a learning culture, it will also help to retain your talent.

Foster a learning culture

The ability to learn continuously has been identified as one of the key competencies of the 21st century workplace in today’s knowledge economy.  To help your business and employees succeed, you should strive to create a culture of learning.  See Consider a Learning Culture under Build Your Desired Corporate Culture for details on the key ingredients of this culture.

To foster this culture, you should ensure that you are focusing on the following activities:

  • Define objectives for your work unit and determine, with your staff, discovering the needs of the unit and of individual employees to achieve those objectives.
  • Discuss opportunities and encourage the development of education plans; review them on an ongoing basis.
  • Provide feedback as part of your day-to-day routine.
  • Provide employees with a variety of on-the-job learning opportunities.
  • Encourage employees to take time to attend training courses or participate in distance learning events.
  • Help employees apply formal training on the job.
  • Promote team and individual study by encouraging the sharing of knowledge and experience.
  • Coach employees in the development of new competencies; and

Take this Learning Culture Audit to find out how you and your organization are doing now.


While some of these are touched in this section, you can consider all of them when you are looking to develop the skills, knowledge and abilities of your workforce (Source:  Finders & Keepers):

  • Training – Formal or informal, in-house seminars, external courses, one-on-one sessions, instructor-facilitated group instruction, web-based individual tutorials, post-secondary offerings—there is no shortage of options.
  • Buddy system – New hire partnered with an experienced worker.
  • Feedback – Formal, informal, consistent, constructive, individual and group, just-in-time, all the time.
  • Job enrichment – Add new challenges and opportunities to the current job, in close consultation with the employee (offered, not imposed!).
  • Lateral moves – Employee moves to a new position at same level of responsibility.
  • Promotion – Employee moves vertically, to a position of greater responsibility.
  • Relocation – Employee moves to a new facility or community.
  • Cross-training Employee works in other positions or in other work areas for a period of time.
  • Rotate jobs or assignments – Some jobs or responsibilities rotate among workers.
  • Coaching – Supervisors, co-workers or external coaches assist employee with performance improvement.
  • Mentoring – Role models help employees to understand organizations values and goals and to explore organizational, career or personal transitions.
  • Committee work – Employee serves on or leads committees.
  • Special projects – Employee takes on new challenges.
  • Teamwork – Employee serves on or leads cross-functional or cross divisional teams.
  • Resource support – Employee receives a range of supports for learning and working, including job aids, written documentation, employee handbooks, operating manuals or software tools for independent study.
  • Learning plans – Employee develops an annual individualized learning plan with the employer, describing their goals and accountabilities.
  • Career ladders – Employer plans and communicates alternate paths to advancement.
  • Tuition reimbursement – Employer provides funds for employees to take approved training to encourage education.
  • Professional connections – Employer pays professional dues or supports attendance at industry conferences, with a requirement to report back on what was learned.
  • Certify – Employee earns ‘credits’ and works towards internal certification in work units or skill sets.
  • Celebrate – Employer recognizes, rewards, and communicates employees’ achievements in newsletters, annual award banquets.
  • Walk the talk – Employer demonstrates and communicates the value of continuing learning at all times, by all means, for all employees.


Discuss and assess performance

Your organization may have a formal performance management process in place or this might be something that you want to consider establishing. These processes are designed to motivate the employee, improve performance and contribute to his or her satisfaction and fulfillment.

Whether or not there is a formal process in place, you are strongly encouraged to discuss job performance and goals and objectives with your employees on an informal, regular basis.  If you are frequently out of the office, consider setting up periodic appointments (monthly or quarterly) with your employees.


Performance management is an ongoing communication process, undertaken in partnership between an employee and his/her immediate manager, which involves an ongoing dialogue about:

  • Specific performance objectives to be achieved
  • How each job links to the goals of the organization
  • What “doing the job well” means in concrete terms
  • How employees will work together with their managers to enhance performance over time
  • How performance will be measured
  • What development will be undertaken to ensure continued success and job satisfaction for each employee.

Key steps in a typical Performance Management process include:

  • Planning Performance– Identifying key responsibilities and setting performance objectives or goals.
  • Managing Performance– Ongoing monitoring, with informal and formal feedback, and ongoing coaching and mentoring; you may want to include quarterly informal “check-in” meetings
  • Appraising Performance and Development Planning– Meet with employee to review performance results and assess achievement of goals and prepare a Learning Plan to address any needs identified in the appraisal.


While performance reviews should take place on an ongoing basis, performance appraisals must meet annual deadlines.  The appraisal rests on a mutual understanding (reached through performance reviews) between the manager and employee with regard to major duties and responsibilities, work standards, and goals or objectives to be met during the review period.


Research demonstrates that specific, challenging objectives, combined with immediate feedback, lead to higher performance.  A SMART Performance Objective focuses on Outcome/impact, rather than on activities.  It is:

  • Specific:  Provides concrete detail
  • Measurable:  Includes performance indicators
  • Achievable:  Challenging, yet attainable
  • Relevant:  Linked to broader business goals (next level up)
  • Time-bound:  Milestones identified; completion dates


As a manager, you should ensure that your employees receive performance reviews and appraisals in a timely fashion, as required by your organization.  As a business owner, you may want to take steps to put a process in place.

Keep in mind that the purpose of conducting performance reviews is generally to:

  • Discuss training needs, aspirations and job tasks;
  • Identify and address areas of improvement;
  • Recognize and encourage strengths; and
  • Discuss positive, purposeful approaches for meeting goals and objectives.

Questions to consider:

  • What do you feel you have accomplished in your job, over the review period?
  • Are you generally satisfied with your job and its requirements?  Why or why not?
  • What work objectives would you like to achieve in the next year?
  • How do you see the work objectives you have identified in Question # 3 as contributing to Tundra’s overall business objectives or priorities as you understand them?
  • How do you see your career progression over the next year, the next 1-3 years, and over the longer term (5 years and beyond)?


Most employers and leaders find it stressful to have performance discussions.  To ensure that these discussions go as well as possible, consider these tips:

  • Schedule performance review meetings well in advance so employees have sufficient time to prepare.
  • Schedule adequate time for discussion, including ample time for the employee to bring up issues.
  • Ensure the meeting place is comfortable and private, that you will not be interrupted, and that the discussion cannot be overheard.
  • Do not respond to telephone calls during the interview; this is an important event – the employee deserves your undivided attention.
  • Plan the content and structure of the interview such that you focus on the strengths and achievements of solid performers and emphasize the importance of improvement in your poor performers.
  • Be constructive in your feedback and frame it in terms of a ‘stop, start, and continue’ model. Focus on behaviours, not dispositions.
  • Consider possible reactions and plan how you will respond.
  • Create a positive communication atmosphere, emphasizing the shared ownership of performance management, and encourage the employee to contribute to the discussion.
  • Be open-minded and prepared to ‘re-think’ your position if new information arises.
  • Where necessary, be prepared to work with the employee to develop specific plans to improve performance.


Give and receive feedback


It is essential to provide ongoing feedback to your employees to allow them to develop to their full potential. Managerial input is a crucial factor in the successful performance of most employees. It answers many of employees’ most important questions and helps them to do the following:

  • Stay focused and motivated: “Does anybody know I am here adding value?  Does anybody care?”
  • Keep moving in the right direction: “What should I do next?”
  • Steadily improve performance: “What am I doing right?  What do I need to improve?”
  • Extend the range of individual responsibility without compromising work quality: “Should I take on more responsibility or will the quality of my job performance suffer?”
  • Find out, in this era of constant flux, what’s changing and what’s staying the same: “Is the strategy that worked for me yesterday going to work for me tomorrow?”


While most people find it much easier to provide positive than constructive input, it is important to incorporate both types into your day-to-day “management style”, and not just focus on them during performance meetings or reviews.  When there is inadequate feedback:

  • People become anxious and uncertain
  • Work quality is diminished
  • There are recurrent mistakes
  • Productivity is lowered
  • Managers lose credibility with employees
  • Employees miss out on valuable learning opportunities

You should ensure that you are offering praise and gratitude for a job well done on an ongoing basis, and not just as part of a formal review.  Public “thank-you’s” and personal notes go a long way towards increasing morale and promoting an “extra mile” attitude.


When it comes to negative reviews, things get a little more complicated. Providing constructive criticism is an essential aspect of developing your employees.

In general, there are three rules to providing negative feedback:

  • Communicating the problem – whether you are giving or receiving the criticism, ask questions to get a clear picture of the situation and make sure you listen to what the other person says.
  • Clarify – Once you have a clear picture, you need to be specific. Focus on the behaviour and the facts – not opinions, personalities.
  • Commit – Propose a solution. Once an agreed-upon solution is identified, ask for commitment – a commitment to change.

When you know you have to discuss concerns about an employee’s poor performance, there are five steps to follow in preparation:

  • Set a goal – specify exactly what you want the other person to do or stop doing;
  • Plan your approach – what words to use to express your point, the tone of voice you should use, what positive comments you can use to build empathy, etc.;
  • List specific examples– give examples that illustrate the behaviour that you want changed;
  • Consider the person’s situation– if they are under stress, your approach will be different than if they are more calm;
  • Choose a time and a place– always discuss employee performance in private.


It is also important that your employees feel comfortable providing you with feedback.  If they can communicate openly and make suggestions without fear of retribution, they will be more willing to take risks and contribute at a higher level.  When receiving feedback, ensure that you:

  • Listen carefullyto what they have to say, without interrupting them;
  • Maintain solid eye contact;
  • Ask questionsto ensure you fully understand what they’re trying to communicate; and
  • Write downwhat they’ve told you.

Remember, if you ask for feedback, make sure that you respond in a professional manner and try to act on it.  Raising expectations that things will negatively impact employee morale.


Provide ongoing coaching


Coaching can be defined as helping employees to improve in current jobs and develop potential for the future; this is what you do in giving feedback during performance reviews.

Developing performance excellence is not only about official annual reviews and performance feedback, it is further enhanced by those managers who act as a “coach” on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind:

  • Coaching can be formal or informal; it can take the form of a structured learning session or an informal discussion with someone to help them deal with an issue.
  • Coaching can be used to improve performance in a specific area, to help someone modify a behaviour, or simply to provide encouragement.

The overall objective of coaching is to lend an objective perspective to a situation an individual is facing, helping them identify actions to be taken and providing them with the momentum/discipline to follow through on the action plan.


As a coach, you should:

  • be prepared to offer each individual a number of opportunities to develop skills or discuss the development of a certain skill from a number of approaches or situations;
  • create a climate of trust to encourage people to talk about their mistakes and lessons learned from them;
  • make yourself available to meet with employees in a timely manner to discuss situations as they come up; and
  • at an organizational level, promote a culture where feedback, reflection, innovation and change are encouraged.

These tips will help you become a successful coach:

  • Establish the right environment– create a climate of open and honest communication;
  • Employ active listening skills–  show you are interested in what employees have to say; allow employees to lead the way;
  • Reflect on what employees have said by paraphrasing, clarifying, interpreting, or summarizing their feelings and thoughts;
  • Once you have summarized employee’s thoughts and feelings, you can then identify appropriate next steps.


Asking these questions on an ongoing basis allows the individual to evaluate what was right and wrong with a situation and provide an avenue for change.  The goal is for the employee to come up with what he or she can do to improve.

  • “What did you like about what you did?”
  • “If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?  What would you change, and how?”
  • “What help do you need from me?”



  • Be a role model for excellence
  • Encourage growth through positive encouragement
  • Ensure people know how they fit with overall goals
  • Be specific about improvements needed; offer development opportunities; proactively encourage the employee to go beyond their comfort level
  • See mistakes as learning opportunities
  • Separate the behaviour from the person


  • Make promises you can’t deliver on
  • Be inconsistent (turn from coach to autocrat)
  • Be impatient
  • Ignore problems
  • Threaten
  • Lose your cool
  • Be general and vague about issues of concern
  • Fail to follow-up as promised
  • Not recognize improvements


In attempting to improve performance, the tools you have to work with as a coach are:  trust, mutual respect, a sense of common purpose, integrity and honesty. Successful outcomes from coaching discussions increase where the agenda for change is limited to one aspect of behaviour at a time. Expectations must be agreed upon, both in terms of output and behaviour demanded. The criteria for success must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bounded.

These factors are also key to coaching to improve performance:

  • The coach has to have a fully formed picture of successful performance.
  • The picture must be specific enough for the coach to be able to compare real-time behaviour with his/her vision and develop insightful and appropriate interventions.
  • The coach must relate the behaviour to the required competencies.
  • The coach must model the competencies and present an emotional commitment to the vision through his/her overt behaviour.


Focus on mentoring

Mentoring involves working with your most talented employees to help them advance (ignore them and they may find someone else!).

Benefits include:

  • Faster learning curves
  • Increased communication of corporate values
  • Retention of top talent
  • Increased loyalty
  • Improved communication and sense of belonging to team
  • Increased productivity
  • Creation of innovative environment
  • Acquisition of key allies for the future


The process involves the use of many coaching techniques, but goes above and beyond helping an employee (“protégé”) to do his/her job well. Mentors share their experiences and wisdom over a longer period of time to develop others to do what they do so well.

A mentor is:

  • A role model (lives the organization’s values)
  • A coach (clarifies the way the company operates and encourages the “mentee” to avoid traps that might derail them)
  • A broker (makes your contacts available to the mentee)
  • An advocate (becomes a cheerleader; helps them into the spotlight)

Keep in mind – You can either serve as a mentor to employees yourself or take steps to help them find their own mentors.


In developing a strong mentoring relationship, you should ensure that you understand what makes a good mentee, as well as what qualities you should have to be an effective mentor.

A Good Mentor:

  • Has strong interpersonal skills
  • Maintains good contacts inside and outside the organization
  • Openly recognizes accomplishments of others
  • Demonstrates proven management skills
  • Has knowledge of field
  • Makes themselves available
  • Shows a desire to mentor (without guarantee of success!)

A Good Mentee:

  • Has a track record of success
  • Shows initiative
  • Is loyal and committed to company’s values
  • Has a results-orientation
  • Enjoys and willingly accepts challenges
  • Takes responsibility for career path and growth
  • Values feedback, and welcomes suggestions for change

You should also keep in mind that:

  • It must become part of your schedule – meet once or twice/month
  • Use thought-provoking questions in discussions of how best to handle specific issues faced by mentee
  • Don’t hold back giving constructive criticism
  • Share your successes and your failures
  • Build mutual trust


Understand how employees learn

How your employees learn is influenced by both adult learning principles and their individual learning style.


Competency development is based on the principles of adult learning.  Below we summarize how adults learn best. You can help your employees put these principles into action by involving them in the learning process, facilitating action learning, and providing a variety of learning opportunities.

  • Adults learn best when the learning is autonomous and self-directed – Involve the employee in their learning – the more decisions people make around their own learning strategies, the more likely they are to be motivated to get the most out of the learning experience.
  • Adults learn best when the learning is directed towards a goal – People learn more effectively if they have the desire to learn and they are driven by specific objectives and practical outcomes.
  • Adults learn best when the learning is relevant and practical – Base the learning around cases and problems from practice, use real-life teaching situations and provide practical examples.
  • Adults learn best when the learning acknowledges the learner’s experience – Adult learners come with various experiences and they have much to contribute to the knowledge and skills from the outset.
  • Adults learn by doing – People will learn most effectively through action learning – dealing in real time with a problem that has no preset solution.
  • Adults learn by evaluating their own progress – You should encourage your employees to measure and note their progress on an ongoing basis.
  • Adults learn best by using a variety of learning methods – You should provide your employees with a variety of learning strategies; for example, readings, on-the-job challenges, mentors, coaches, formal learning courses, learning journals, video, assessment tools.
  • Adults learn best when the learning takes place respectfully – Understanding the barriers that adults experience when learning, it’s imperative to be courteous, patient and express appreciation for their contributions.


The following is a checklist for a successful employee learning experience, based on adult learning principles:

  • The goals of the employee training or development program are clear
  • The employees are involved in determining the knowledge, skills and abilities to be learned
  • The employees are participating in activities during the learning process
  • The work experiences and knowledge that employees bring to each learning situation are used as a resource
  • A practical and problem-centered approach based on real examples is used
  • New material is connected to the employee’s past learning and work experience
  • The employees are given an opportunity to reinforce what they learn by practicing
  • The learning environment is informal, safe and supportive
  • The individual employee is shown respect


Finally, how an employee learns is influenced by the individual learning style. Learning styles refer to the ways you prefer to approach new information. Each of us learns and processes information in our own ways, in addition to sharing some learning patterns, preferences, and approaches.

You can complete a questionnaire online for an assessment of your learning style.

Feel free to use this tool with your employees to find out how they best learn and gear your learning activities to their individual styles.


Promote on-the-job-learning

You can directly facilitate your employees’ success by helping them focus on the four key components of on-the-job learning:

  • Observation
  • Experimentation
  • Reflective Thinking and Self-Assessment
  • Feedback


In order to develop a competency, one needs role models whose behaviours reflect excellence in the competencies to refine.  A particular area of knowledge, a new theory, idea, or set of “how to” instructions can also be drawn from formal training, suggested readings or other training materials.

As a manager, you can facilitate observation by:

  • Taking note of and discussing others’ appropriate behaviours, and encouraging the employee to do the same.
  • Encouraging the employee to participate in a mentoring relationship; this will provide great opportunities for observing other ways of doing things and how to work effectively within the organization culture.


Practice is undoubtedly the most important element when it comes to acquiring a competency. Actually trying out the observed behaviours, the abstract theory, idea or instructions to do something is key to learning. Learning is enhanced through a diversity of experiences versus one experience repeated over and over. Learning also involves a willingness to take calculated risks in trying out new approaches which you, as a manager, need to support.

As a manager, you can encourage experimentation by:

  • Enquiring about past experiences, already developed competencies, professional interests and aspirations and motivation factors.
  • Acquainting the employee with the organizational culture. You can also facilitate their integration in the work unit by focusing on the specific contribution they make to the team.
  • To the extent possible, trying to give the individual challenging projects that allow them to lever their strengths and develop expected competencies.
  • Exposing the employee to a diversity of experiences to maximize learning.
  • Providing opportunities to practice new skills and ensuring the employee knows they will not be punished for making mistakes in doing so.
  • Guiding the employee in the development of new skills by suggesting that they consult a colleague who has previously completed the tasks and can provide tips on ways to incorporate competencies into the day-to-day work.
  • Asking the employee’s opinion on issues they know well and following up with them on actions taken.


Reflective thinking allows an individual to measure the efficiency of their interventions, and to take stock of the strategies used in light of the results obtained. It is important that employees think about what happened that can perhaps lead them to modify their approach in the future.

Self-assessment allows employees to measure progress to date, to identify gaps in the competency, and to develop an action plan to monitor their progress against development goals in order to focus their development efforts.

As a manager, you can help your employees engage in reflective thinking and self-assessment by:

  • Discussing their performance with them on an ongoing basis, and after specific deliverables/initiatives.
  • Ensuring that you discuss their self-assessments in performance meetings.


Feedback is an effective learning tool for your employee because it provides them with information about how others perceive them, allowing them to recognize areas that need improvement. They need to show openness to feedback, both positive and constructive, while seeking it in a proactive way and a timely manner to ensure that it is pertinent. Feedback is an essential tool to get real time validation around the impact of developmental efforts and new behaviours demonstrated.

As a manager, you can help your employee use feedback as a learning tool by:

  • Working with the employee to identify potential sources of feedback.
  • Ensuring that you provide both positive and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis, and model appropriate behaviour by seeking feedback from others. (See Give and Receive Feedback page of this portal)


Offer learning opportunities

Learning opportunities can come in the form of on-the-job activities, relationships and feedback, classroom training and other forms of off-the-job learning.


There are many ways to provide employees with learning opportunities. The CCHRSC outlines the following cost-effective methods for employee training and development.

On-the-job experience:

  • Committees enhance learning by allowing members to see issues from different perspectives.
  • Conferences and forums allow employees to focus on topics that are relevant to their position and the organziations.
  • Quality improvement notes are developed for staff to learn from, both in terms of what went well and what improvements are required in specific situations.
  • Field trips can take place if your organization has more than one site, or it can be to a similar organization. This helps your employees gain a better understanding of the full range of programs and clients that your organization serves.
  • Job aids are tools that can be given to employees to help them perform their jobs better.
  • Job expanding entails assigning new additional duties to an employee after they have mastered the requirements of their job and are performing satisfactorily.
  • Job rotation allows an employee to work in a different area of the organization, temporarily, while keeping their current job.
  • Job shadowing allows an employee to learn what someone else in the organization does by following that person and observing them at work.
  • Learning alerts can include newspaper articles, government announcements, and reports.
  • Peer-assisted learning is when two employees, with different areas of expertise, agree to help each other learn different tasks.
  • “Stretch” assignments give the employee an opportunity to stretch past his or her current abilities.
  • Special projects give an employee an opportunity to work on a project that is normally outside her or his job duties.

Relationships and feedback:

  • Coaching refers to a pre-arranged agreement between an experienced manager and her or his employee. The role of the coach is to demonstrate skills and to give the employee guidance, feedback, and reassurance while she or he practices the new skill.
  • Mentoring occurs when a senior, experienced manager provides guidance and advice to a junior employee.
  • Networking allows individuals to meet to discuss current issues and to share information and resources.
  • Performance appraisals are partly evaluation and partly developmental. The results of an appraisal can be used to identify areas for further development of the employee.


Classroom training:

  • Courses, seminars and workshops are formal training opportunities that can be offered to employees either internally or externally.

Off-the-job learning:

  • Courses offered by colleges or universities
  • Professional associations provide employees an opportunity to stay current in their chosen field.
  • Reading groups (or learning circles), where a group of staff meets to discuss books or articles relevant to the workplace/organization.
  • Self-study, such as self-paced independent reading, e-learning courses and volunteer work all provide learning opportunities. The employee engages in the learning activity by choice and at her or his desired pace of learning.


Many of these are touched on in earlier sections of this website.

Scroll down the CCHRSC’s Implementing an Employee Training & Development Program page to the section on Cost-Effective Methods for Employee Training and Development to get tips and guidelines on how best to utilize these different opportunities.


In your role as a manager, you will work with your employees to identify formal training opportunities that will benefit each of them. However, you also have a role to play when formal training initiatives are completed.

When an employee returns from any formal training, your involvement can help them apply new knowledge in the working environment and will encourage them to further their learning. Helping the individual put into practice newly acquired competencies as quickly as possible allows for better integration of knowledge and skills.

Creating a continuous learning environment, as outlined above, will facilitate this process.  You can also help the individual apply formal training on the job by asking the following questions:

  • Did the learning intervention meet your expectations?
  • How do you intend to apply new knowledge/skills in your ongoing work?
  • How can I help you put newly acquired knowledge and skills into practice?
  • If the course did not meet your expectations, how do you think that your identified needs can be met?

EXAMPLE:  When an individual comes back from a course in oral communications:

  • Ask for a brief presentation or document on this topic at the next team meeting.
  • Give them an opportunity to deliver a lunch & learn session in the near future and coach them through a “dry run” providing developmental feedback.

There are also more general actions you can take to incorporate a variety of formal training into the individual’s day-to-day work.

  • Ask about the learning interventions that they found the most relevant and why.
  • If you notice a strong interest in the training topic, ask the person to do some research that could prove useful for the team and to present results at the next meeting.
  • Offer the person the opportunity to be part of a working group that deals with this issue or ask them to create one.


Look at career development

Engaging in discussions around career development, and highlighting career options, will help you to retain valued workers as they will not only feel more engaged, but will recognize the potential to grow their career within your organization. It is important to be realistic in these discussions, but also be open-minded to career paths that may see the individual “grow” beyond their current role, or potentially out of your organization.


Your decisions around promotions and transfers impact the success of your business. Understanding your employees’ career goals is a key factor in making these decisions. It is important to match your employee’s interests and aspirations to the needs of the organization and if you don’t know what these are, you won’t be able to do this effectively.

In deciding how you want to handle promotions in your organization, you should consider the following components:

  • How much will seniority be a deciding factor versus competency?
  • How are you measuring competency in performance management?
  • Do you want to provide both horizontal and vertical career paths?
  • Do you want to develop a formal or informal process?

In many smaller organizations, the decisions may be more on the informal, ad hoc end of the spectrum. However, you still need to ensure that the decision is transparent and clearly communicated to all. Promotions should not be something that employees hear about “through the grapevine.”


Ensure that your performance management process incorporates career development discussions. You want to provide learning opportunities that not only close performance gaps, but also address your employees’ longer term career goals. Some of the barriers that prevent managers from talking to employees about their overall careers include:

  • No one knows what the future holds
  • Now is not the right time
  • I would not know what to say
  • We have just re-organized
  • I cannot help / I have nothing to offer them
  • I don’t know what is available outside my area
  • Why should I – no one helps me!

Your employees do not expect you to have all the answers. Simply taking the time to listen is important in itself.  Also remember these guidelines when you are engaging in career discussions.

  • Explore individual’s overall expectations about career growth, both short and long term.
  • Explore multiple development options, including enrichment in current job; vertical promotions; lateral moves or realignment to a smaller scope in response to work -life considerations.
  • Test your own assumptions about the candidate’s interests.


Questions you can ask to get the conversation going:

  • What are some important career and professional development issues for you now?
  • What are your short and long-term expectations about career growth?
  • What is important to you in terms of work?
  • How are you defining “success”?
  • What strengths are you using most in your job?
  • How do you think your co-workers see you?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What skills do you need to develop to move forward toward your career objectives?
  • What skill(s) do you have that we are not making use of in your current role?
  • How long do you see yourself operating at your present level?
  • Do you want to move into any other department or function of interest, or progress in a different direction?  If so, what areas and why?
  • How do you see yourself fitting into any recent organizational changes?


The CCHRSC recommends looking at these two questions in developing a Career Development/Learning Plan:

  • What goals do you want to achieve in your career?
  • Which of these development goals are mutually beneficial to you and your organization?

The Council recommends a four-step approach to work through with employees, including links to self-assessment tools that they can use in advance of the discussion with you or another manager within your organization.

  • Step 1 – Self-assessment– The employee identifies his or her skills, abilities, values, strengths and weaknesses. Click  here for some tools they can use.
  • Step 2 – Assess your current position and your work environment– The employee does an assessment of the requirements of his or her position at the present time and how the requirements of the position and/or organization may change.
  • Step 3 – Identify development activities – Identify the best ways to achieve your development goals.
  • Step 4 – Put your plan in action.


It is also important to hold these discussions throughout the year and not just as part of more formal performance assessments.  Remember to think beyond the typical career path. Career growth is less linear today and there are many paths from which to choose. Listen carefully to what your team member is saying about their dreams and goals. Then partner with them to come up with ways to accomplish that next move for them.