Ever run a status meeting? Let’s picture it:
The person in charge of implementing the project reviews the schedule and budget; talks about what’s working, what needs to work better and any potential or actual roadblocks.
If you’re the project manager, you’re probably listening, asking questions, providing feedback and advice. If there are problems, you might help with those. Maybe you talk about adjusting the schedule or why you can’t, maybe you discuss resources that could be helpful, etc.
Now let’s picture a status meeting to discuss an employee’s development plan. Does the meeting progress in the same way as the status meeting described above? Usually no – even though you’re discussing the status of a project – the employee’s development plan – and the same skills are required.
We could spend a long time speculating about why the employee development status meeting usually doesn’t work as well as the other. But instead, let’s look at what it takes to have the employee development discussion actually function like an effective project status meeting.
There are four key elements
The employee must be willing to take the lead for his or her own learning. That’s because each of us already is in charge of our own learning. If you doubt that, think of the last time someone tried to force you to learn something you didn’t want to learn.
As the manager, you need to be comfortable with the employee taking the lead. You also need to be comfortable with providing various types of support. Just because the employee has the lead doesn’t mean he or she won’t need assistance from time to time. Few can figure out everything on their own whether the project is learning or something else.
Here’s the caveat: Some managers believe they are responsible for their employee’s learning. Some employees believe that too. This process won’t work for them.
Clear roles in the meeting
Your job as the project manager is to run the meeting in about the same way you’d run any other project status meeting: ask questions, problem solve, provide support as needed, and deliver feedback.
The employee is project implementer. He or she is responsible for providing status updates on how the project – the employee’s development – is progressing, what’s working well, areas where he or she could use some help, etc. In other words, the employee provides feedback first. You follow with questions, etc. Having a solid plan to refer to makes this much easier and more effective.
Plan with milestones
The status report and discussion are based on the development plan. Like any project plan, there should be a reason for each step in the plan and each milestone should be described with enough specificity so that it will be easy to determine whether the employee has reached the milestone.
What I mean by specificity is this. Development is about acquiring knowledge and/or skill. You know someone has achieved a milestone or the overall goal when they can demonstrate that knowledge and/or skill.
If the employee is experiencing some challenges, he or she should be able to discuss them as well as actions he or she has taken or believes should be taken to address those challenges. Same as any other project. The focus should be on what the employee needs to do to achieve the goal.
Be Specific & Behavioral
When the project is about learning, it’s very easy to make the discussion personal and to use loaded terms like how smart or dumb, quick or slow, etc. the employee is or might be. Employees often do this too.
That’s not helpful. It diverts attention from learning and focuses it on value judgments that have little do with what the employee is working to achieve. Instead, the focus should be on what the employee is doing, what works, what doesn’t, and, if necessary, what to do differently and what resources might be useful if they are available.
Summing it up
Many managers are uncomfortable when they think about conducting a status meeting focused on an employee’s development plan. You do not have to learn a whole new set of skills. Treat the development plan as a project. Have a project plan with the employee as the person in charge of implementing that project and the manager as the project manager.
Then when it is time to have the status meeting remember:
If you can conduct a project status meeting, you already have the skills you need to conduct a meeting with an employee to discuss how they’re doing on their development plan.