Anytime we work with leaders, we teach them a framework for learning about the long-term goals of the people they lead. It's important to know this to keep people engaged and everyone working towards a shared vision. That doesn't mean it's easy…and the question came up in a recent client forum, “What if an employee doesn't seem to want to talk about their long-term goals?”
Obviously, it's an obstacle for a leader to not know the long-term goals of the people they are leading. Here's a process to follow when you run into this:
First, be curious (gently): If you're getting the sense that an employee doesn't want to discuss their long-term goals, you should naturally want to know why. If you you're getting resistance to this in conversation, you might ask something like, “It seems like you may be concerned about discussing this…can you tell me more about that?” Be sure to ask in a curious way and not a demanding way. How you ask is as important as what you say. Think “Curious George” and don't be accusatory.
Second, don't push: If being curious doesn't lead you anywhere (or if you've skipped step #1 due to an employee saying something very direct like, “I don't want to talk about my goals.”) then take a step back. There are at least two common reasons people don't want to talk about their long-term goals: either they either don't have them at all, or they don't include working for you or your organization. Either way, pushing further isn't going to be helpful for either of you.
Third, listen and observe: Effective leaders should always be listening, and even more so when they are trying to problem-solve. Does this employee seem engaged? What do they talk about in the workplace? What are their peers saying about them? Is there a type of work they seem to enjoy more than other things? See if you can determine whether the employee simply doesn't have long-term goals yet, or if they are not engaged with your organization.
Fourth, build confidence: If you determine that your employee might not have long-term goals, you can help support their development of this skill by recognizing when they have short-term achievements. Help them build their confidence level now so they can use that confidence to support long-term goals later. Point out their achievements and use examples to back them up. Discuss your long-term goals with them as well. People need to see good examples of goal setting to learn this skill.
Finally, move on: Regardless of what you do as a leader, some people will never want to discuss their goals. You can't force someone to open up. As long as someone if meeting their job requirements, move on to spend your time developing the people that do want to learn and grow. For every person that doesn't want to discuss long-term goals, there are many others aching for a leader that will engage. Spend your time there.