Lies and Truth About Development Planning

Eileen AzzaraExperiential learning, Individual Development Plan

development planning
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When it comes to development planning, there’s no shortage of excuses for falling behind and taking shortcuts. Which of the following sound familiar to you?

  • “I just don’t have the money to spend on developing my skills.”
  • “I wish I could do something but my manager is holding me back.”
  • “I just don’t have the time to focus on development planning activities.”
  • “I can’t come up with development goals that are measurable enough.”

If you or your clients are currently citing any of these lame excuses for allowing development planning to be a low priority, read on. None of these reasons are valid. In fact, they are common misconceptions that people have about development planning.

Lies About Development Planning That May Be Holding You Back

You need to spend a lot of money to get quality development.

Oftentimes in large organizations with ample budget for training and development, there’s a handful of carefully chosen people, usually executives or senior managers, who are swept away to a beautiful campus where they receive individualized attention designed to make them better leaders. They attend insightful lectures, interact with smart people from other companies just like themselves, and eat like royalty. (If you’re looking for a con, I’ve also heard they don’t get to sleep much.) When they return to the office they speak of how amazing it was, how much they learned, and that ultimately they will be better leaders because they were given the gift of attending that program. Who can blame them, it sounds pretty great.

Whether or not such programs provide value, one of their unintended negative consequences is the perception that high quality development planning activities are expensive. With just a few individuals chosen to participate in these programs each year, it’s easy for those left behind (i.e., nearly all of the other employees in the company) to think true development is out of their reach. After all it’s human nature to think that more expensive products are higher quality than lower priced ones.

Fortunately, this is just not true for development planning. It takes much more than attending a program, expensive or not, to facilitate learning. Research has consistently found that experiential learning facilitates development, and there are definitely ways to get it within the scope of your everyday job – without an expensive, formalized development program. You just need to think about how the skill you want to learn applies to your own work, and seek out an opportunity to do so if there’s no direct link. It won’t come to you unless you look for it.

You can’t do it without manager support.

Back in the day, development plans were owned by managers, not their employees. Leaders were expected to ensure employees were executing their development plans and hold them accountable for not doing so, which generally meant making sure they attended required training. It also meant if an employee wanted to attend a particular training program or participate in a special development activity, manager approval was required.

Today, ownership of employee development is shifting to where it should be: with the employees. Managers are still expected to support their team’s development planning activities but it’s more of a facilitative role rather than one of enforcement. Although there are still plenty of ineffective managers that don’t do this well, employees have all the resources they need to take their development into their own hands with or without management support.  There are online courses and training from providers such as Udemy and Lynda, and if you can’t find something in your price range you can probably find it for free on YouTube. There are networking groups, LinkedIn groups, and Meetup groups for just about anything. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can start your own group. And because you need feedback to facilitate development, there are tools such as Fast Mirror for Individuals that allow employees to independently launch their own feedback surveys and create customized development plans. So if you’ve been saying that your manager is holding you back from pursuing your professional development, that is an outdated perception. Use the many resources you now have available and take ownership of your development, because nobody else is going to – nor should they.

You don’t have time to focus on development – it takes too long.

In our consulting work we’ve coached so many employees and leaders who were striving for “quick hit” development goals despite having genuine desire to further their skills. “I can’t do anything that will take up a lot of time,” “I still have to be able to do my day job,” and “I need to be done by XYZ date” were common concerns expressed by many clients.

If you’re thinking the next thing I’m going to tell you is not to worry because development doesn’t have to take a lot of time, I’m not! The fact is development does take time. There’s no magic course, activity, or fast track to becoming better. It takes time….it doesn’t happen overnight….yada yada yada….all the things you’ve seen in the memes and quotes on your favorite social media. So the excuse that development planning activities take too much time is not so much a misperception as it is a flawed view of what development planning truly requires. It is counterproductive to your professional growth to expect to be able to bang out some quick hits in your development plan for the sake of saving time. If you’re really struggling to figure out how to fit things in, read some time management tips such as this article and find ways to make the time. If you’re not motivated to do that, consider how committed you are to your goal.

Your measurement must have numbers.

When people set goals to improve technical or financial results, they’re pretty good at coming up with success measures because numerical data is inherent to the stated deliverable (increase in revenue, reduction in program errors, etc.). For non-technical or competency-based development (leadership, communication, etc.), numbers are also readily available as success measures through feedback surveys that score behavior on an effectiveness or frequency scale.

This is great, you know we love feedback surveys! But if you’ve spent all this time on your development, don’t you want more insight than an ambiguous number?  An average score from an effectiveness scale of 1 to 5, which will probably fall somewhere between 3.8 and 4.5, is not going to provide you much insight. What did you do well and what do you need to continue to work on? What did people find surprising? What impact did you have? The answers will tell you not only how much you’ve improved, but why and how.

Don’t reduce your development to be solely focused on numerical data, include qualitative measures as well.  Ask for specific examples of what you did, how you did it, and what impact it had. If you need some ideas, check out this blog post for examples of SMART goals that include success measures both with numbers and without.

What about you, are there other reasons you’ve been citing for minimizing your development planning efforts that you should reconsider? Share in the comments!

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