Collaborative Development Meetings

Too often, a negative performance review can come as an unpleasant shock to employees who had assumed their work had been fine. During their six month or year end review, many workers are incredulous to find the boss is unhappy with their performance.

When negative feedback comes as an ugly surprise at the end of the year, the problem is often an overemphasis on evaluating employees rather than developing them – that is, providing ongoing support, guidance and constructive feedback. To remedy this situation, organizations are increasingly conducting what we call regular collaborative development meetings throughout the year.

These meetings differ from performance evaluations or annual reviews and are not meant to replace them, but rather, complement them.

Collaborative development meetings are structured to continually develop staff rather than evaluate employee effectiveness. They provide support during the year to meet objectives, handle tough situations and offer ongoing feedback.

Collaborative development meetings provide the platform for both leaders and subordinates to ask relevant questions, trouble-shoot issues as they arise and create an environment where discussions about roles, performance and feedback from colleagues and subordinates can be used to further a career.

The tone set by the leader is crucial to the success of the collaborative-development meeting process. Leaders who empathize, are curious, remain non-judgmental, ask probing questions respectfully and are open to feedback, tend to hold effective developmental meetings.

Leaders who care about developing and challenging staff, and are committed to their success and wellbeing are most effective. Developing this ability takes time and practice but pays off in engaged, dedicated and high-performing staff.

The difficulty is taking – and finding – the time to practice. Time pressures may make employee development seem a luxury. But we observe when companies make employee development a priority, they tend to schedule development time and stick to it. Employee developmental meetings often save time by increasing efficiency and productivity while reducing lost time in mistakes and misunderstandings.

Holding developmental meetings regularly maintains a focus on providing ongoing feedback and support to staff. The tendency to rely on six-month or yearly reviews or only approaching staff when there’s a problem makes creating a development-oriented culture difficult.

When feedback is already scarce at work, instituting a comprehensive development plan is essential.

Pre-meeting work
Preparation is necessary before the first formal meeting is held. The leader and subordinate should both consider what they want to achieve during the meetings.

For example, leaders should ask their subordinates to write down what they want to achieve professionally over the next six months and note their strengths and weaknesses.

Leaders should also write down what they would like their subordinate to work on: keeping in mind the overarching needs of the department and organization.

Leaders often identify similar developmental needs to their staff. For example, leaders may record a desire for the staff person to be more accountable, develop team-building skills or be more comfortable voicing an opinion in meetings.

By giving staff and leaders time to consider the needs of the staff person and the organization, the stage is set to determine workable goals related to the developmental need.

Needs Assessment
During the first developmental meeting, the leader and the employee compare notes on what they have determined to be the current developmental needs.

If the ideas vary widely, (e.g. the leader might want the staff person to work towards a leadership role while the staffer wants to develop technical skills) a discussion of the discrepancy is helpful.

Identifying where leader and organizational expectations may differ will result in more clarity. Confusion about one’s role, how it should be performed and what is expected can result in worker dissatisfaction and poor performance.
Goal Setting
When the leader’s needs mesh with the subordinates’ assessment of their needs, they can start generating goals to meet. Once goals are discussed and recorded, (include just two at the most, otherwise the focus is easily lost), a timeline is set for review of the staff person’s progress. Schedule a meeting no more than three months later.

Follow-up Meetings
At the next meeting, briefly review the developmental needs and goals. Ask subordinates what changes in yourself, style or behaviour have you noticed? What roadblocks appeared, how did you overcome them? If you weren’t able to overcome them, what solutions did you try? What worked for you and what didn’t?

Leaders should have relevant examples of what they see the staff person doing that is working and make suggestions about what they could improve. It may be helpful to offer personal examples of overcoming challenges when appropriate and be sure to ask for feedback about how best to support the staff person going forward.

The collaborative developmental process dovetails with performance reviews and evaluations, in terms of accountability. Both the staff person and the organization should be accountable for development. Organizations let staff down if they do not reward the results of developmental changes. If staff begin to see their efforts as unnecessary or incidental to their jobs, they lack the incentive to enhance their performance.

Plans generated during collaborative developmental meetings should be woven into performance expectations and tied to tangible rewards: bonuses, profit sharing, advancement and promotion or compensation.

By making developmental meetings collaborative, consistent and tied to job expectations, leaders can help staff develop, prevent problems from festering and enhance staff commitment and performance. If people feel that they are important and their welfare is given attention and priority, they do better in their jobs and feel better about themselves.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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