To prepare for the conversation, leaders should first pose the following questions to themselves and be prepared to share this information with the employee during the conversation.
1. What do I see as this person's ultimate potential?
The response should focus on the highest level that you, the leader, believes the employee can reach inside the company and the indicators (drive, willingness, performance) you have seen which demonstrate the employee can get there.
2. What do I think the employee needs to do to get there?
This response should focus on the additional training (perhaps leadership training or specific skills training) or development (maybe an expanded leadership role or a role in a different function inside the company) the employee needs to advance to their ultimate potential.
3. What do I feel are the employee's key strengths?
This answer should highlight the strengths that the employee should continue to leverage throughout their career.
4. What do I know are this employee's immediate key developmental needs?
This response is about the short-term development goals as opposed to what was referred to in question two. This might be something such as needs additional senior level exposure so others inside the company get to know this individual, or needs presentation skills training in the next 12 months.
5. What do I see as the employee's next assignment?
The response should focus on a realistic next assignment for the employee and the timing of when it could happen.
The conversation with the employee should be conducted during an uninterrupted time period. It is important for the conversation to be interactive so, as leaders pose questions to their employees they also refer to their own self-questions and interject their thoughts throughout the discussion. The following questions recommended questions to ask employees during the discussion:
Questions for employee:
1. What are your short-term career aspirations? (i.e., next assignment: 2-5 yrs)2. What are your longer-term career aspirations? (i.e., ultimate career goal or level of position)3. Do you know what it takes to get there?4. Are you willing to do what it takes to reach that position?5. What do you feel are your key strengths?6. What do your feel are your key development areas?7. What steps and actions are you willing to take in the next 12 months to grow in these areas?8. What would you like to do as a next assignment?
These conversations should be documented and conducted on an annual basis, at a minimum. Some leaders conduct them with employees every six months, which is also effective however, annually is the minimum recommendation. Conducting these discussions is a vital step in ensuring that organizations have impactful talent management and development practices in place.
Career aspiration discussions not only let employees know where they stand, but gives them an opportunity to provide input on their development. Additionally, these types of discussions ensure that leaders are differentiating their resources and appropriately developing employees who have the strongest desire and potential to reach the most senior level positions in the company. It also enables the appropriate development of those who prefer not to excel to the highest levels but are the true technical subject matter experts. Developing the talent in a differentiated manner gives companies the best return on their training dollar.