Mind the gap: 3 tips on how to have a strength-based development conversation.

May 25, 2021

I am waiting in a conference room. The one without windows. The walls are sterile white and there are 2 chairs, a small table, a TV screen to connect a laptop to and a flip over. The nicer rooms on the floor were all booked. Let me rephrase that – all rooms in our office were booked solid for the next 3 weeks. It is midyear review time.

I was late in booking a room so I ended up in this white dungeon of a room. I sigh deeply. The room might as well have been black as the midyear reviews suck the oxygen right out me, especially when we get to the development conversation. I want to put my forehead on the table in resignation, as my boss is now also 10 minutes late. She has back-to-back of these conversations today. The good news I guess is that I am looking at 1 hour and 50 mins of this instead of 2 hours.

 I am not sure how you experience development conversations – but in general they left me feeling low in energy and slightly depressed. And that is because the majority of the time is spent on the gaps.

Which I find an absolute waste of time.

And after 20 years in corporate life, I still do not get it. The template in itself is even gap focused. It has a box for your strengths. Then a box for your development points. And then a box that has the title: actions you will take to close your development gaps. That box alone makes me very obstinate.

 My view on development is as follows: you have strengths, and you have weaknesses (that’s another thing, we aren’t allowed to call it weaknesses anymore, but we rebrand it development points). And spending loads of energy on my development points would, at its best, make them mediocre. They will never become my strengths. However, if I further develop my strengths, they could really become my superpowers. Now, it is not that black and white – if one of your development points could really hold you back from using your superpowers to their fullest you might have to get them to mediocre (example: I am not that political but I am really great at delivering kick ass results, then I have to work on my political skills so that my delivery isn’t at stake due to clumsy stakeholder management. But it is never going to be Tessa-for-president, right??).

Now I am guessing (and hoping) there are many of you that are now going ‘yeah!’ or something like ‘I hear what you are saying’ or ideally ‘(wo)man, you are saying exactly what I feel!’. Here are my secret in-house rebel tips to turn that conversation around…. 

Tip 1: In the prep phase: in the area that asks you for your development points, talk about your strengths. Say you would like to ‘further increase strength x or y’. If I am asked for 3 development points, I make 2 like those and 1 about a work experience I would love to have as a next role.

Tip 2: Take the conversation out of that horrible office and move it to a coffee bar in the neighborhood. The atmosphere is important – we call that ‘the design’ of a conversation.

Tip 3: Start the conversation with what it is that you really want to achieve. Maybe not that specific role or promotion (although that is also possible) – but sketch what you want your ideal working life to look like. Talk about what you are passionate about, what you are great at. Then see where that greatness would fit instead of trying to mold yourself into roles that others say are great for your development, but you know that those jobs will make you die a little inside each day.

Give it a go!

PS – if you aren’t clear on what it is you really want – that is module 2 of our Work On Your Terms program!

This is where we share how we Work On Our Terms ourselves. We share the strategies as we apply them in real time, share our free mini-trainings, our most loved books, meditations, obsessions, fresh off the press tips and tricks, and behind-the-scenes snapshots of our weird, wonderful life.

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