Professional development conversations are an important part of any company culture, but how do you create an environment where everyone is eager to engage in these high-value conversations?
There are a few things to keep in mind as you encourage all levels and positions to participate in a transparent manner:
The professional development goals of supervisors must be known by those working for them, since it is those men and women who are in the best position to determine the effectiveness of their supervisor’s efforts to change. By modeling the process and soliciting direct feedback from their teams, supervisors can best be assured of their own progress. This level of openness sets the tone across the board and should begin with the CEO.
Senior leaders often espouse an open communication philosophy. They announce that their door is always open, they want suggestions, and critical feedback. Sometimes they even have a suggestion box where employees can anonymously make suggestions or register concerns and complaints. Employees rarely take advantage of these structures, even when they believe their leaders are sincere in asking for critical feedback.
Supervisors often also seek feedback by asking such direct questions as “How am I doing on X?” or “Tell me when I’ve done Y.” But those you supervise are usually reluctant to offer more than general comments to these very general questions. If, however, a supervisor asks specific questions—for example, “When I interjected during the slide show, did it disrupt the flow or add to the strength of the argument? As you know I’m working on not interrupting others”—he or she demonstrates the desire for a serious critique.
When professional development conversations are highly valued in the organization, with everyone participating enthusiastically in a non-threatening, growth-oriented environment, most of us will more easily (and perhaps eagerly) approach our supervisors with our own shortcomings, showing a sincere desire to improve.
The workplace climate encourages us to say, “I’m having trouble with X and I’ve tried doing Y, and I’m not sure where to go from here. Can you help me?” There’s no need to wait for the formal performance review scheduled every six to twelve months.
To be successful an organization has to make it safe for people to be open and honest, and for learning and professional growth to be highly valued in a caring environment with high standards that values high-quality work. Such an environment requires more than the words in an employee handbook or an open-door policy. It requires leadership from the top of the organization that models expectations in the true spirit of collegiality and open communication.
You’ll know you are skilled at conducting professional development conversations when those you supervise are eager to approach you with their shortcomings, asking for your help and guidance without fear of being seen as deficient. And when they approach you outside of the formal professional development process for help because they are eager to grow and change, that’s the frosting on the cake!
—Robert V. Keteyian is a communication consultant/coach and the author of Do You Know What I Mean?—Discovering Your Personal Communication Style. He teaches in a leadership program and is dedicated to helping people develop good communication practices in businesses and organizations. To find out more about the Communication Styles Framework, visit www.robertketeyian.com.