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March 25, 2020
Kate Marshall

Talk it out: How to ensure employee development and successful career growth plans

Want to save time, money, and headaches once you’ve found the most-talented employees for your company? Keep turnover low, and implement employee development and carer growth plans for your team.

So you’ve found the best employee for that essential role. They crushed the interview. Their project was flawless. Your current team members thought they’d be a welcome addition to your company’s killer culture. You make the offer. They accept. Kombuchas all around.

Fast forward to a year down the road. That same employee who, for 12 months, helped take your company to new heights and grow your bottom line suddenly slows their momentum. Nothing seems to have changed, but their motivation is sapped. It could be signs of waning employee engagement, or it could be one of many other issues.

But before we get too deep into the endless rabbit hole of what-ifs, let’s think back to that awesome interview. The employee was enthusiastic and saw a bright future at your company—and, for a year, the future remained promising. 

However, many highly motivated employees want to keep improving or to take on new, exciting challenges. Once they hit a ceiling, there’s no room left to grow. So, what do they do if your company can no longer satisfy their hunger for growth? They look elsewhere.

How do you prevent that? A few ways.

Employee development is essential for continued business and professional growth

As a manager, it’s your job to ensure your employees execute their tasks to the best of their abilities and ensure that those employees drive the business forward. Easier said than done, right? 

No two employees are the same, whether we’re talking about personalities or working styles, carrots and sticks, or communication. It’s up to you to figure out how to break through to these employees—and invest in their time at (and beyond) your company.

Get to know your employees

Here’s a stat that should be a nice little jolt into taking the time to get to know your employees. Forbes reported that 58% of workers trust strangers over their managers.

Yep. Every other one of your employees may place greater trust in their Lyft driver over you. But you can totally change that!

Whether it’s a new hire or an employee who’s been at your company for months, you need to invest time in getting to know them. This doesn’t just mean you need to know their favorite season of Rick and Morty (it’s definitely season 3, by the way). You need to know what drives them. What gets them out of bed? Is it a paycheck? Is it contributing to something larger than themselves? Where do they see their career taking them in the next two, five, ten years? 

But most importantly: how do you help them get there?

Start with yourself

Let’s be blunt for a second. As a manager, you’re expected to know more stuff. To have the answers. Of course, you won’t know everything, and you’ll have to google things and reach out to peers and other managers. But, overall, you’re responsible for helping your employees arrive at an answer or solution in some capacity when they cannot get there alone.

When you don’t have an answer, tell it to ‘em straight. Tell them you’ll get back to them, or work through a problem with them. 

Show your employees that you’re willing to put in the effort to ensure they succeed.

Not only will this help build trust among any employees who may not have complete faith in your management, but it will help you get to know how your employees approach and navigate problems. 

Which brings us to our main point: If you know your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, and goals, you’ll have a much clearer picture to help develop their skillsets and create career growth plans. 

Invest time and money in employee development

Let’s once again go back to that killer interview (last time, I promise). What was it about that employee that jumped out at you? What were the one or two things that distinguished them from everyone else?

If it was no contest between them and the rest, you may have a lot to draw from. But if they edged out other well-qualified candidates, really zero in on what made them stand out. That’s the stuff you want to develop (along with any areas for improvement you may have noticed in the first year, of course).

Here’s how you do that. 

GROW your employees

All growth is reliant on healthy roots, right? In this case, questions are essential. For years now, managers have been using the GROW system to help their employees, well, do just that. GROW stands for: 

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Will (or Way Forward)

The GROW model helps managers identify ways to improve their employees’ performance, solve problems, learn new and develop existing skills, and achieving short and long-term goals identified in their career growth plans. And it all starts by asking questions to draw out sometimes hidden traits essential to reaching these goals. 


This one’s pretty straight forward. What’s their goal? If they don’t have one or more goals, learn what matters most to them and help them develop career goals. These could be performance-related, problem-solving, or simply identifying what they don’t want to do.

If your employees’ candor reveals what they dislike about their role, company, or even industry, that’s still good! You’ve identified areas that may not be beneficial for exploring (at least currently). 

Ready for another acronym? Follow the SMART goal format when identifying goals, meaning: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely


This one isn’t always the easiest to get across when talking about employee development and career growth plans. Some employees (with honest intentions) have big dreams but may need a reality check if their current situation doesn’t offer the best foundation for launching towards the stars. 

Your job as their manager is to help them keep an eye on the sky and both feet on the ground—at least for now. Help them gain a sober awareness of their situation, whether the current environment is already on the right path or the foundation is in serious need of support or repair. 

Again, resetting expectations may not be so easy. Keep these tips in mind during the Reality phase:

  • Have your employee explain (in their words, not yours) how they see their current situation. It’s up to you to actively listen and chime in only when asked and once the question has been answered fully.
  • Get your employee to describe what they’re currently doing to reach their goal(s). If it’s vague, this is where your active listening comes in. Really spend some time coaxing out of them what their day-to-day looks like, their mental state when thinking about these goals, and what’s helping or prohibiting them from reaching their goals. You may disagree, but you have to hear them out to help them.
  • Similar to the previous tip, have them lay out where they feel they are in relation to reaching their goal(s). This can help employees see the reality for themselves; by talking it out, some overly optimistic employees may see for the first time that they have a long way to go before reaching their goals. Have them spell out any progress, shortcomings, and changes before giving your input. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be more aligned than you anticipated going into the conversation.


Now it’s your turn to lead the conversation. At this point, you’ve heard where your employee feels they stand in relation to employee development goals. It’s now up to you to help them get there.

  • Ask your employee what they think their options are for reaching their goals. Have them articulate the next steps required to continue on that path, and spell out what’s needed to improve their current situation. Really press them to approach their current situation with new eyes; help them see their situation from a different point of view. It doesn’t have to be your vantage point, but help them understand that they have options—even if they don’t immediately see them.
  • Help them motivate themselves! Ask them what’s worked in the past, and let them feel good about the accomplishments that have gotten them this far. Help them understand that what’s worked in the past could very well work again, even if applied slightly differently to fit future situations.
  • Next, have them answer some hypotheticals about applying proven practices. Let them describe how they’d convey their lessons learned to a friend or colleague who might be struggling or looking for a new way to approach a problem. 
  • Or, put it back on them: what do they stand to lose if older ways of doing things no longer worked? The goal is to get them to understand that their path isn’t necessarily linear. But by approaching new challenges with proven solutions, they may discover options they didn’t know they had.

And, if something didn’t work in the past, how would they approach a similar problem differently in the future?

Will (or Way Forward)

Here’s the crux of the conversations you’ll have with your employee: getting a sense of their will to execute conditions to reach their goals. It’s important to remember that, if the employee feels unmotivated at this point, listen to why they feel this way, and help them see that you’ll help them find ways to reach their goals.

  • Ask them what their first step is to reach their goals. It may be vague, or it may be grandiose; it’s again up to you to listen and reset expectations if needed. Follow up with exploring how they’ll execute the first step or two—and what milestones they’ll hit when they know they’ve successfully taken those steps.
  • This question can be pretty telling of the employee’s motivation: find out what they really feel the likelihood of hitting their goals is. What chances do they have along their employee development path of succeeding without any major setbacks? (Not challenges—challenges are for sure going to present themselves—but setbacks.) Help them explore what they may do if they hit a hurdle that is impossible to clear and may require a detour. Let them know that, as long as they’re your team member, you’re there to help them clear any hurdles or forge a fork in the road to keep them moving.
  • Finally, find out what they feel they need to be successful both immediately and down the road. Ask them, point-blank, what support they may need to get there. Some employees may be tight-lipped and ensure they need minimal support. This may be true, but most people need freedom and support to reach their goals. Let them know they’re free to pursue their goals, but that you’re there when they need you.
  • At this point, perform a final pulse check on their motivation. Ask them where they stand, and what’s needed to increase their motivation. They may not know, and that’s okay. Remember, you don’t have to have all of the answers. But you are there to help your employees find those answers, whether they come from you or from exploration on their end.

Elevate your employee development and career growth plans

Whether you’re a fresh-faced tech startup or a veteran in your space grappling with a growing remote workforce, ensuring your teams have employee development or career growth plans in place benefit both your bottom line and your team members.

Employees who know where and how they want to grow are one thing. But employees who know their employer supports that growth? They’re more likely to be engaged—and those are the employees you want to hire and retain. 

But how do you get there? Let’s do a super quick recap:

Get to know your employees. 

Yep, that’s it! Can’t stress this enough. Take the time (often) to talk to your employees about their successes, challenges, goals, fears, and unspoken questions. For one thing, it’ll help build rapport, and encourage openness and positive mental health of your team But more importantly, it’ll help you understand how to help them develop as professionals. 

And it doesn’t have to be dry. Show them that you recognize that these conversations aren’t always easy to have. Implement an employee recognition and rewards program, and express your appreciation for them being candid with you. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover hidden talents and passions bubbling just below the surface. 

And all you had to do was ask. 

Want to learn more about how Zestful can help you find creative ways to help keep your employees engaged and growing? We’re listening.

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

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