We live at a moment in which young, skilled workers have their pick of jobs, so giving your team opportunities for professional development is a requirement for employee retention. A 2019 Deloitte survey found that nearly half of millennials would quit their job in the next two years, given the choice. And among those who hoped to switch jobs, 35% said it was because there weren’t enough chances for advancement, and 28% cited a lack of learning and development opportunities.
As a manager, the responsibility for helping your team members grow in their roles falls to you. You’re in the best position to direct them toward the training, mentoring, and educational resources they need to move their careers forward. And one-on-one meetings are your best opportunity to help them set goals and then monitor their progress in meeting those goals.
One-on-ones are the time when you can give each member of your team your undivided attention and rise above day-to-day concerns to discuss big-picture goals. Here, we’ve devised three professional development templates for one-on-one meetings. Each of them is designed for a different stage in the process, so you can get the ball rolling and then keep the momentum going.
Professional Development Template for Introducing Goals
There are a few situations in which you might be introducing professional development goals into your one-on-ones for the first time. It might be because you’re new to your position, so you want to establish goals with each team member or learn about the goals they’ve already set.
You might also need to start from square one if you’re working with a team member who is new to your team or was recently hired. In the case of new hires, you should wait until after onboarding to start discussing professional development. Give them a chance to get the lay of the land and find their areas of interest within the company. Meanwhile, you can spend those first few months observing their strengths and weaknesses and coming up with a road map you think will be a good fit for them.
How to use this template
Let your team member know prior to the meeting that you’ll be discussing their long-term goals. That’ll give them time to mentally prepare for the conversation. However, don’t expect them to give you a detailed description of their hopes and dreams during this initial one-on-one.
Some team members might immediately list all their aspirations for the next year. But most will need time to start thinking beyond their current to-do list. Your job is to present them with options, connect them to resources, and then follow up when they’ve had some time to consider their path forward.
Why you need this template
It’s important to introduce professional development goals in a structured, organized way. Show your team members that you have a step-by-step process in place. They’ll know you’re taking their development seriously, and they’ll start taking it seriously too.
Ask about each person’s goals and passions and let that inform your development plan. You should also come to the meeting with your own suggestions for how you’d like to see this employee grow. Even if you and your team member have different ideas, they’ll be happy knowing their manager sees their potential to grow.
This template will help you find a goal that fits each individual, whether they’re a highly motivated self-starter or someone who is basically comfortable in their current role. In either case, this is the one-on-one where you establish that setting professional development goals is not optional — it’s mandatory.
- What are your professional goals for the next six months? The next year?
- Would you like to take on new responsibilities? Feel more confident in your role? Be on the path toward promotion?
- What skills would you like to acquire in your work here?
- Is there a piece of software you’d like to become proficient in? Would you like to improve your skills in leadership, communication, time management, or some other quality?
- Are there any projects or areas of the company that you’re interested in exploring?
- Have you always wanted to try your hand at coding? Graphic design? Would you like more face time with customers?
- Here’s what I see as a potential path for you . . .
- Your leadership skills make me think you’d do well as a manager. Your dedication and willingness to learn would be an asset to X team.
- Does that interest you, or do you have something else in mind?
- Between now and our next meeting, I will provide these resources for you:
- An introduction to a potential mentor; internal documents about the requirements for a different role; links to educational tools.
- Let’s circle back to this topic on X date.
- Can you commit to looking at these resources and discussing your professional development by that time?
Professional Development Template for Setting Goals
Don’t wait too long between introducing professional development into your one-on-ones and setting concrete goals. Two weeks should be enough time for team members to consider your ideas and contribute their own.
You can also reuse this template when team member has accomplished one goal and is ready to set their sights on the next one. After all, professional development is an ongoing process that should continue as long as you’re their manager.
How to use this template
In this meeting, you and your team member will commit to concrete goals and design a step-by-step plan to achieve them. The length of the plan will vary, depending on each employee’s specific goals. Still, a good rule of thumb is that if a goal takes less than a month, you’re thinking too small. Conversely, if a goal will take more than a few months, break it down into smaller goals. That way, your team members don’t get discouraged and lose steam.
The plan you devise should consist of incremental benchmarks to mark progress, and a timeline to complete each step. As in the first meeting, following up is half the battle. Give your team member whatever resources they need, and create opportunities for them to practice the skills they’re acquiring.
Why you need this template
This template helps you and your team member take a dream and turn it into a plan. In all likelihood, your team members already have professional aspirations! They just don’t know where to start or how to make time for them among their other responsibilities.
Your role is to quantify these professional development goals and equip your team member with the tools they’ll need. This method works even if someone is working toward a “soft goal,” like being a better communicator. You can still break that into bite-sized chunks, like “answer emails on time,” so it’s actionable rather than abstract.
- At our last meeting, we discussed X and Y as potential goals for you to focus on. What are your thoughts on those now?
- Let’s come up with a definition of what success for this goal looks like.
- For a technical skill, this might mean using a tool without assistance. For time management, it could mean turning in all work on time for a month.
- Here is a checklist of the benchmarks you need to complete this goal, and suggested time frames for each.
- Does this time frame seem realistic?
- Let’s discuss the first benchmark you’ll be working on:
- Complete an introductory course/set up an interview with a specialist/take on a new responsibility.
- Do you know how to proceed with this benchmark? If you had two hours to work on it right now, where would you start?
- Can you commit to completing this step in the next X weeks?
- After this meeting, I will provide the following resources to you:
- Educational resources, etc.
Professional Development Template for Tracking Goals
You don’t have to spend every minute of your one-on-ones talking about professional development. But you should check in on goals each time you meet. Weave these questions into your one-on-one agenda throughout the life span of each goal.
How to use this template
Check in on progress to make sure you’re still sticking to the plan you agreed on. Make adjustments as needed. Don’t just ask a team member what they’ve done; ask how they felt about it.
Why you need this template
This template isn’t just about getting a status update. It’s about celebrating achievements, adjusting expectations, and checking your employee’s overall mind-set.
Every time a team member completes an incremental goal, treat it as a win so they feel good about their progress and motivated to keep pushing. If you don’t encourage your team, professional development will quickly fall by the wayside.
When checking in on progress, hold your team member accountable but don’t be too rigid. People fall behind, and their interests and priorities evolve. So don’t just just cross incremental goals off the list and set new ones. Make sure your team member is still excited by their professional development goals. For example, maybe they thought they’d love graphic design but recently discovered they are color-blind! If that’s the case, don’t chain them to a goal that no longer makes sense.
- Are you on track to complete the most recent benchmark we set?
- If so, well done!
- If not, what roadblocks are you encountering?
- How do you feel about your progress on this goal?
- What has been challenging or surprising about it? What have you found rewarding?
- Are you able to balance your professional development goals with your regular work?
- Does the original timeline we agreed on still seem realistic? Are you feeling overwhelmed?
- What can I do to support you in moving forward?
Professional Development Means a Stronger Team
Everyone on your team needs long-term goals. Without them, even high performers start feeling unsupported, burned out, or just plain bored. But when people know that they’re making meaningful progress and have the support of their leaders, it boosts productivity, retention, and morale.
As a manager, you have the power to get your team members off the hamster wheel and onto a rewarding path. You can use these professional development templates as a tool to make your team more engaged and committed. When you prioritize professional development, you’re in the strength of your team, your organization, and your own legacy as a leader.