• Jill Hauwiller

Talent Development Conversations to Have Right Now


The pandemic has changed how employees think about development and your approach as a leader may need to evolve, too. Organizations and leaders are facing more complexity and volatility in the issues they face and the decisions they need to make while supporting their employees and teams. In addition, a connection between personal purpose and organizational purpose has become a priority for more employees and leaders need to help employees make the connection between their work and personal and organizational purposes. One thing that hasn’t changed with the pandemic, but is more important than ever for leaders to remember: employee professional development is a continuous, cycling process.


If the phrase “continuous, cycling process” feels overwhelming, especially during times of uncertainty and change, know that you can break development conversations into at least three different time horizons: short-term, long-term and career. And, you don’t need to cover each time period in every development conversation. This article will focus on short and long-term discussions, while the next article in the Leadership Refinery talent development series will focus on career conversations.


If you missed the first article in this series, It’s Not About Performance Management, check it out for more insights on the difference between talent development and performance management.


Short-term Talent Development Conversations

Focusing on short-term talent development is essential for engaging employees in their current work, especially in organization’s working in rapidly evolving environments. Having frequent conversations about skills and interests can help employees recognize the professional growth they are experiencing in their daily work. These discussions can also help leaders fill special project roles that align with employee interests. Leaders don’t need to schedule additional meetings with employees to have these conversations. A best practice is to make ongoing conversations about development a part of regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings and let employees drive the meeting agenda.


If these conversations aren’t already happening consistently in your one-on-one conversations with employees, here are a few questions to get started:

  1. What have been your biggest victories in the last year?

  2. What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

  3. What new skills or knowledge have you gained in the last year that have been helpful to you?

  4. What parts of your job do you find most difficult?

  5. What parts of your job do you enjoy the most?

  6. What parts of your job do you enjoy the least?

You don’t need to cover all of the questions in a single conversation. In fact, reflection and discernment are important parts of the development conversation process which is where “continuous” comes in. Depending on the employee’s clarity about their interests and awareness of opportunities and career paths within (and outside) the organization, answers may evolve as they gain insights and knowledge.


Long-term Development Conversations

As you and people on your team gain insights about what has been rewarding and challenging in the short-term, you can move into a longer-term look at development. This is the beginning of career path conversations, but with a focus on the next couple of years. As a leader, looking at this time frame will help you connect employees to action learning projects and in-role increases in responsibility.

Questions to guide the conversation at this stage include:

  1. What kind of work would you like to be doing in 3–5 years?

  2. What current challenge or change creates an opportunity for you down the road?

  3. What skills, talents, or experience are you not currently leveraging that you could be?

  4. What strategic initiatives (projects, programs, processes) would support your aspirations?

  5. What results do you need to deliver that are critical to your long-term success?

You’ll notice that these questions encourage employee accountability and ownership for development. This is important because a leader’s role is to support and enable development opportunities, but the employee is ultimately responsible for their growth and career.


While formal development programs can be valuable, they aren’t necessary for career growth, developing leadership potential, or increasing employee skills. Development conversations are informal, leader-employee partnership that is nimble and responsive to a rapidly changing workplace, skill requirements and employee expectations. Organizations that support leaders in this approach to talent development and leaders who create space for these conversations with their teams, particularly in organizations dealing with uncertainty and change, are likely to see better employee engagement and higher employee retention which leads to better business outcomes.


This article was originally published on Medium and LinkedIn.