One of the primary reasons employees become disengaged is that they feel undervalued and that their manager is not taking an interest in their career development. When I ask the leaders I coach why they don't do this, they say it's because they lack the time, or there aren't that many opportunities available.

I think the time issue is a red herring and the real reason people don't find the time is that they don't feel comfortable about having the discussion, because they are not sure what to say. I know this because it was an issue that I once faced.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of seeing Julie Winkle Giulioni, a top leadership speaker, speak at a leadership conference in Lithuania. I provided the opening keynote, and she gave a great talk on talent development.

According to Julie, talent development is an on-going conversation, not just something that we cover in our employees' annual reviews. She shared 18 questions that could be used to start the conversation. The questions she uses and recommends to her clients fall into one of three groups:

1. Hindsight--questions that foster a discussion with your direct reports about what they have experienced and what they would like to be more involved in going forward.

2. Foresight--questions that look at how the market is changing and what direct reports could do to prepare to take advantage of future developments.

3. Insight--questions that get direct reports to think about what they want to achieve and areas in which they could improve and what they are prepared to do to make those goals and improvements.

By asking questions in all three areas it will help you, and your direct reports, better understand the challenges and the opportunities that are available.

Here are the 18 questions:

  1. When do feel most alive?
  2. What makes life worth living for you?
  3. What's so embedded in your DNA that you just can't keep yourself from doing it?
  4. What lessons do you find yourself learning over and over again?
  5. What kinds of situations have triggered stress or negative emotions for you in the past?
  6. What do you wish you had more time for?
  7. How are customers changing?
  8. What do you predict will be the next big thing in your field?
  9. What impressive or effective moves are other organizations in your industry making?
  10. Where are there untapped opportunities in your line of work?
  11. How is your organization changing to be more competitive?
  12. What are some of the most significant challenges your industry faces?
  13. What lateral move would widen your perspective?
  14. What one skill would help you be twice as productive?
  15. What do you want to achieve in the next six months?
  16. What could you be doing less of?
  17. What skills and talents do you yearn to use more?
  18. What are you willing to invest to make your career goals happen?

Just asking a few of these questions will get the conversation going, and once the conversation has started, you can look to use some of the other questions to keep it going or just follow your employees' lead.

When you show an interest or make suggestions for your employees' personal development, it will be very much appreciated. Career development isn't just about their next possible promotion or a position they could occupy. It's about preparing them for future roles. The more interest you can show, the more engaged your staff will be, the happier they will be, and the higher your retention rate will be.

If you want to know more about career conversations that employees want, check out Julie's and Beverly Kaye's book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.