One evening many years ago I walked out of work with my boss. We worked on the far side of the building so we had a few minutes to chat. Over the course of 10 minutes, she asked me about my career: What did I want to accomplish, where did I see myself going--and talked about how she could help position me to succeed. 

That was the first moment anyone I worked for expressed any interest in my future. Not only does it remain one of the most impactful discussions of my professional life, it changed how I approach management.

I am always surprised that business owners take it personally when employees leave their companies for new opportunities. People work hard for a paycheck, but money doesn’t buy loyalty. If you want your team to walk through walls for you, they need to know you will do the same for them--and that doesn’t just mean raises and job responsibilities. Show you care not just about teaching them to achieve your business goals, but to help them achieve their own.

As my former boss and I chatted that night, the meaning wasn’t in what we talked about. In fact I really don’t even remember what I said to her. What I recall so vividly was the feeling of having someone senior actually want to understand my goals and direct me on how to achieve them. There was nothing in it for her, and my career path ultimately had little resemblance to whatever we might have discussed. It doesn’t matter. What really stuck with me is the tremendous power of caring. She cared. She was committed to me. She wanted me to be successful for no other reason than because I was demonstrating potential. I would have walked through a wall for her after that discussion, and twenty years later I still would.

Fast forward to today: As a business owner it’s hard to find time to breathe, much less to get intimately involved with the individual career aspirations of a large team. Yet I believe it is one of the most important roles I have. Owning an ad agency means working with many people who are only a few years out of school. Often a career discussion means simply helping them understand that it is important to actually think about where they want to go professionally. My goal is not to tell them what to do but to help them think through their own aspirations and ensure they view career planning as critical to their success. Here's how to structure those conversations.

Schedule a regular time slot in your calendar for one-on-one time.  Whether it’s a regular early morning coffee or a monthly lunch, block a time to meet with different people. Make sure to sit down with those you don’t get to work with every day. Having this on your calendar won’t guarantee that something doesn’t come up that causes you to reschedule, but it will remind you to make the effort. Make sure your calendar alerts you a few days beforehand so you can ask someone to make the time in his or her schedule to meet you.

Remember this time is about them, not you.  It’s ok to talk a bit about what’s going on with your business, but this time is about asking and listening not talking. Find out whether they have thought about where they are heading in their career. If they had a magic wand, what would they be doing for a living in 5-10 years?

It’s ok if their future doesn’t include you.  Not everyone aspires to work in the same company until they get a gold watch and retirement party. Make sure not to steer the discussion toward what they want to dofor you. That’s both self-serving and intimidating and is unlikely to get them to trust you with their real goals. 

They just may remember your conversation in 20 years.