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R&D: How to Discuss Development Goals with Employees

Performance reviews can, and should be, more than a bureaucratic endeavor and their teams often find mid-year reviews to be little more than a form-filling process designed to keep HR happy. But, as with so many other things in life, you get out what you put in.

Employees that seek out feedback and work on those skills and competencies in which they are weakest will prosper; managers who help their employees do so will find themselves at the head of a happier and more effective team.

This is particularly true in the R&D function where the technical skills that employees need just to work in such highly-coveted roles are often not the ones that help them progress up the hierarchy. R&D teams are increasingly dispersed throughout the world and require all employees to display softer skills such as good communication abilities, as well as being able to engage colleagues from a wide variety of cultures and educational backgrounds, regardless of whether they are more junior, more senior, or at the same level as them.

What R&D Managers Should Do

Managers should ask themselves two questions before outlining action steps and success measures for their employees:

  • What steps would I expect someone to take to reach this development goal?
  • What activities would indicate growth in this skill area?

The answers to these questions will help managers map out the route they expect an employee to take to reach this goal, and the next steps the manager should take to check the status of the employee’s progress.

Managers should make sure to consider the employee’s current and desired skill level when outlining action steps to reach these development goals. You want the goals to be attainable, but not too easy for employees to reach.

When discussing development areas with employees during reviews, remember not to dwell too much on the negative aspects, or on what’s gone on in the past year (see the advice here for procurement managers). Instead, ask questions that are open-ended and thought-provoking to get more constructive answers from staff.

Examples of such questions include:

  • If we could change one thing to increase your engagement tomorrow, what would it be?
  • Thinking about your last project, what action steps could you have taken to meet the deadline?
  • Do you think challenges with meeting deadlines are caused more by skill or will issues?


CEB R&D members can use the Development Guide Builder to prepare development plans that focus on the specific competencies needed to make a team more innovative, or review the ‘Delivering Performance Reviews” e-learning module.

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