How to have a career development talk with an employee

TL;DR: Career development plays a significant role in how employees think about their tenure at your organization. Whether you have the perfect position open for an employee or just want to see where they want their career to go (so that you can best support their growth), regular career development talks are an essential part of the employee experience.

What is a career development talk? Why should managers have development talks with their reports after performance reviews?

Motivating managers to have career development talks with their reports is one of the most important things that people ops leaders can do for their organizations. These talks help establish where an employee is, where they’d like to go, and how your company can help them get there.

Gallup has analyzed the importance of career development and asked thousands of employees to evaluate if the following statement rang true to them: “There is someone at work who encourages my development.” According to a recent study on why people quit their jobs, lack of career progression would lead 82% of employees to consider leaving their work. In addition, job hunting increases by 9% around work anniversaries.

After your employee’s performance review, your next step should be to schedule a career development talk with them. Hosting these conversations after a performance review will help you maximize the impact of this career talk. And why?

Performance reviews highlight areas your employees need to improve on and where they already excel. You can easily bring all of the data from the performance review and turn it into an employee development plan. Earlier performance reviews provide the big picture, which allows you to dive deeper and share development ideas during career development talks.

Keep reading this playbook to learn how to conduct a career development talk with an employee.

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook will help both first-time and seasoned managers and people leaders understand what they need to discuss promotion and career development with those they manage.

As a people ops leader, make sure to educate your company’s managers on this topic. 

If you are ready to make your career development talk process more streamlined, helpful, and objective, this is the right playbook for you.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

Project management skills

It’s easy to let career development fall to the wayside for more pressing issues that pop up day to day. However, people ops professionals need to keep employee career progression top of mind because that’s what retains your best talent.


As a manager or people ops leader, you might not always have the right roles for employees who want to progress. With a little bit of creativity, you can ensure that employees are learning, growing, and getting paid a fair wage while you search for a title that fits where they want to go.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Career development talks aren’t a one-time initiative. Besides continuously approaching these topics in your 1:1s with reports, make career development talks a yearly process.
  • If you have these conversations in a remote setting, make sure that your camera is on.

    Employees need to be able to see you and understand your body language and facial expressions.
  • Are you new to hosting career development talks? Then, consider joining our People Over Perks Slack community to get your career development questions answered by our ever-growing community of top-notch HR professionals.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Start with a performance review

As we discussed earlier, you want to kick off this process with your employee’s performance review. We suggest starting with a 360° performance review, where you gather data from various sources — including managers, peers, direct reports, and even customers/vendors.

We recommend that you read our step-by-step guide on how to write a performance review (as a respondent) to also make the most of this process and give your report helpful, actionable feedback.

From the data you gather during a performance review, you can start to pick up on employee strengths and areas for improvement. This information can help when you go to discuss plans and opportunities with your team members.

2. Create a general career development talk framework

If your organization doesn’t currently have a career development talk framework, now is the perfect time to work with your company’s people ops/HR leaders to create one.

It’s easy for unconscious bias to slip its way into conversations like this, so be mindful. For example, did you know that, without unconscious bias awareness, managers tend to hire and promote people who look like them?

You’ll want to take a look at the data: Who gets promoted? Who has more opportunities for career moves and development? The people ops team should connect with employees to understand how they feel about the career development process at your organization.

Work with HR to define what this process will look like going forward. You might want to find answers to the following questions:

  • When should we have career development talks?
  • How long should these talks be? (We suggest 30-45 minutes depending on the case/complexity.)
  • How should we format advice? Do we need to create growth plans?
  • Is there an agenda of things we must cover during these conversations?
  • If an employee is struggling with performance, will their career development talks look different?

Standardizing this process and having clear, defined criteria for promotion will benefit employees across your organization. Once everyone is working with the same framework, you can uncover hidden talent and potential in all your people.

If using an employee enablement platform like Leapsome, you’ll be able to create a standard agenda to be used in all career development talks. What’s more, you can sync it with your calendar, easily access performance review data (and analytics), add talking points, and write down private and public notes and action items before, during, and after your talk.

3. Prepare for the career development conversation

After you know when the talk will be held and how the discussion will be conducted, it’s time to prepare for the conversation.

Give yourself enough time before and after the conversation to review the material and prepare for the discussion. At Leapsome, we suggest having at least thirty minutes blocked off before and after your talk.

Write down any of your immediate suggestions, so you remember to bring them up as it makes sense during the conversation. Employee needs will likely lead this interaction, so have some notes to maximize discussion time.

4. Host the career development conversation

After you’ve done the prep work, it’s time to have a conversation with your report. You’ll want to open this exchange with a quick check-in. Let your report know that this conversation is happening to help them excel within the organization.

Make sure that you aren’t coming out of left field with what you are discussing. Career development talks aren’t about digging up new flaws. Employees should know about any negative things you might discuss during this chat from performance reviews or 1:1s.

Take time during the talk to:

  • Discuss career goals and aspirations at the company and beyond.
  • Come up with potential short- and long-term strategies for how the employee will progress at the company.
  • Answer questions the employee might have about their tenure with the organization, so they get what they need from the discussion.

Before you wrap up the conversation, take some time to outline the next steps. Everyone should leave a career development talk feeling like they are on the same page.

Follow-up best practices for having a career development talk with an employee

Restate the conversation’s highlights in an email

Send a short summary email to your employee during the buffer time you added to your call. This email shouldn’t be a next step plan. Instead, let employees know what you talked about and give them some time to think about what they want to do next.

Plan next steps with your employee

When your next 1:1 with this employee comes around, you can put some more thought around the next steps. Encourage your reports to consider their ultimate career goals, and you can start putting together the skills and experiences they need to get there.

Format a career progression framework

Put pen to paper with a career development framework if you don’t have one already. We have an entire playbook on developing a career progression framework and a best-practice career progression framework template.

You might even decide to make a personalized plan to help your team member conceptualize the best strategy for progressing in their career.

Check in every quarter to continue the conversation

Once you’ve had your career development talk, don’t put the conversation on the backburner. Instead, continue to have conversations quarterly to check in on progress as you get closer to the next mid-year review.

You can host these conversations inside your weekly 1:1s with your team members. Taking just a few minutes to discuss employee development every quarter can make a big difference.

Get feedback on the process

After you’ve completed the career development talk process, take some time to gather feedback from your employees. We encourage you to send out a survey to participants who go through your new development process. Once you start collecting feedback, go through the responses, and make adjustments as necessary.

💪 Managers should coach their reports every step of the way! Don’t know where to start? Read our step-by-step guide on giving constructive feedback to employees. 😉

Invest in career development with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

People development influences all aspects of the Leapsome platform — from performance review software to instant feedback and development frameworks. This gives employees a clear understanding of how to develop their skills and progress in their careers. Watch this video to learn about the different uses of Leapsome’s skills framework.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I encourage fair career development talks at work?

Several things might create unfair career development talks. Issues such as unconscious bias can harm underrepresented group access to career development.

As a people ops leader, it’s important to audit the career development talk process you and your colleagues complete. Take time to survey employees across the company to make sure that everyone is following the company’s procedures.

What strategies can I use to have career development talks if there isn’t room for growth?

Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t much room for upward mobility in an organization. You might have the right people occupying roles they love, but that can lead to negativity for employees who are excited to take on new challenges.

There are several ways to provide career development opportunities, even if upward growth isn’t currently available.

  • Facilitate horizontal career shifts: Many of your employees’ skills might be transferable to another department or office. For example, you could see if a sales team member would be interested in a marketing role or an engineer interested in a customer support role. You’d be surprised what employees might be open to, especially if you can train them in a new skill.
  • Create a new role based on company needs and employee wants: As your organization grows, employees might see the need for a new position in your organization. Ask employees what they want from a role, and see if it aligns with company needs.
  • Learn new skills in the same department: Are your employees siloed in one specific area of their department? Try to get those employees trained in different department areas, especially if that will set them up for success when more senior roles become available.
  • Build a mentor program: Lastly, you could build a mentoring program for employees struggling or becoming stagnant in their current position. Mentoring programs will give senior managers a chance to get to know and train employees who want more senior roles in the organization. These programs help senior leaders see potential in employees they may have never gotten to know before.

Should you include salary/bonus talks in career development talks?

It can be easy to feel pressured to accept a particular salary or bonus when you are put on the spot. Career development talks aren’t necessarily the best place to share salary information, especially if employees aren’t aware that the conversation will occur there. If you want to discuss salaries or bonuses during this time, make that known ahead of time.

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