Employees want development and developmental feedback. Every legitimate, broad-based survey from the past ten years confirms that as a fact.
Here's the challenge: most managers aren't very skilled at developing people over the long-term.
The data show that, although managers acknowledge the importance of development, they are usually ranked near the bottom in terms of there effectiveness and attention to "development." Related to this is the ability to deliver critical feedback, also a skill that receives a consistently low rating. In all fairness, colleagues and others in the organizational food chain aren't really any better when the data are analyzed. (Makes sense. Colleagues and others are also executives, managers, and supervisors).
What About High Potentials?
In a study done by Kaplan et al., in 1991, the findings revealed that high potential employees, especially executives, receive less feedback than others. (Subsequent research yields the same information). When high-po's do get feedback, it's more along the lines of how terrific they are. Feedback to high potentials is seldom specific and their bosses even tend to skip over the formal, face-to-face, yearly performance appraisal. We should all be so fortunate.
What to Do?
OK, let's agree that delivering pointed, negative feedback is uncomfortable for most people. It must be, otherwise there'd be more of it.
The easiest way I know of to "get honest and developmental" is to sit down and agree on a set of specific skills or competencies needed to achieve strategic objectives. In general, we all lean toward the notion that skills can be developed and, when they are, it will bump up performance. Taking this approach makes it easier to discuss specific performance issues because each is tied to a skill that was agreed to at the outset.
Sure, it takes thoughtfulness and face time. If you need a little more motivation, research also shows that employees rate managerial/executive performance, in part, on the relationship established with direct reports.
The very act of sitting down together is experienced as an indicator of managerial competency.