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“Pop-ups”: A promising model for development

Credit: Pixabay

Have you noticed the recent trend toward “pop-up” establishments? Over the holidays, I shopped in pop-up stores and ate in pop-up restaurants, and so did many other people. It’s a phenomenon in which retailers, chefs or other entrepreneurs temporarily take over a space to operate their businesses. They’re only there for one night or perhaps a whole season, and then they move on.

Pop-ups are an ideal way to take advantage of a market or customer base and to seize a promising prospect quickly. Pop-ups are nimble — able to adjust and respond to changing conditions. They don’t rely upon fixed spaces but rather go where the opportunities present themselves. And they’re fundamentally quicker to market, without protracted lead-times.

What if we applied a pop-up mentality to employee development?

Too frequently, development is treated like the businesses in which it operates. Managers have fixed times and places where coaching and mentoring occur. Individual development-planning sessions and performance reviews are scheduled for the same time each year. Development conversations are relegated to formal spaces like offices and conference rooms.

As a result, employee development lacks the nimbleness, fluidity and responsiveness required to drive learning, growth and results in today’s fast-moving business climate. Our traditional, formal and fixed approach to employee development would benefit from a pop-up makeover.

Traditional Development

Pop-Up Development

The manager observes employee performance over time — things that are going well and areas in which the employee might improve.

He or she documents these observations and organizes them into a formal review or coaching conversation.

The manager observes employee performance and uses it as an excuse to have a quick, ad hoc, on-the-spot conversation that might:

  • reinforce success or highlight a struggle;

  • explore strengths, skills, opportunities, and needs;

  • and facilitate a plan to tap interests, learn skills or take performance to another level.

Pop-up developers are spontaneous and iterative — just like the businesses that have adopted this approach. And they’re adept at a few key skills that differentiate them from traditional developers. Pop-up developers:

  • Ask good questions. Pop-up developers are facilitative. They share their observations then quickly engage the employee in conversation through the use of questions that promote reflection, insight and ownership. The quality of these conversations does not rely upon long lead-time planning and preparation, but rather upon leaders who are genuinely curious about and interested in others — and who manifest it with great questions.
  • Collaboratively solve problems. Pop-up developers recognize opportunities for improvement as a chance to partner with employees to jointly understand the issues and generate strategies for addressing them. (And in the process, they build an unbeatable foundation of trust.) These leaders are proactive. They recognize the beginnings of performance or behavioral trends and jump on the chance to work together to address them.
  • Inspire optimism. Pop-up developers see possibilities in all of their employees. They believe that everyone has the ability to learn and improve, including those who are performing well. And this sense of confidence infects employees with a feeling of hope and challenges everyone to enhance their abilities and contributions.
  • Instill accountability. Pop-up developers leave ownership for development where it belongs — with the employee. They know that people are most likely to implement plans they’ve created; so they support employees in identifying and monitoring their own next steps and actions.

Traditional establishments will likely always have a place in our economy. But it just might be time for traditional employee development to give way to a less staid and more flexible system. Perhaps a pop-up approach will better propel people and performance forward!

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at

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