As you likely know, one of the current trends in talent development is a focus on employees taking ownership of the individual development plan. See this article by the Center for Creative Leadership for example, or this recent blog post by HR Bartender for great examples.
Traditionally, organizations told employees what their training and development needs were. That training was provided to employees and poof, compliance attained! Today, HR still needs to provide ways for employees to develop, but has to do so with more challenges. Today, we have reduced training budgets, higher productivity demands, and a broader scope for types of skills to focus development on.
At the same time, the annual performance appraisal is becoming more outdated than the cover letter. Luckily technology has come a long way. Together, all this is starting to create the perfect storm for organizations to shift ownership of the individual development plan to – get this – the employees themselves! Rightfully so don’t you think?
Let’s be realistic about what a shift in ownership means for HR. Although it will be great to have employees drive their own development, they will still need some pointers on how to go about it. Here are five suggestions for what to include when you want to help employees take ownership of their individual development plan.
1. Link development to real-time feedback.
Sure we’ve been linking 360 feedback to development plans forever. However, the traditional 360 feedback approach has been, well let’s just say “long.” Not real time. If a development plan was created 3 months after a feedback meeting, I would have called that great in the past. Those days are over, feedback today needs to be recent. Very recent. Recency keeps it relevant and memorable, which makes the feedback more meaningful.
2. Keep it structured, but simple.
How can we expect employees to take ownership of their individual development plan if we don’t provide them with an easy way to do so? I remember years ago I created a development plan template for a client. It was an impressive Excel spreadsheet comprised of four tabs. It laid out the format for SMART goals, transferred data from one tab to the next, had progress reports, the works. I suppose there are still a few people who would be able to use it. But I don’t even think I would be one of those people. It is way too complex and would take too much time. Today’s development plans need to be easy to use, easy on the eyes, and easy on the brain. Even better, they should be something employees want to refer to on a regular basis.
3. Focus on areas that need improvement whether or not strengths are a focus.
The strength-based development philosophy is fine. However, unless the person is gearing up for retirement, a development plan should not focus purely on one’s strengths. Even the highest performers have specific areas that need development. I bet you can think of many skills you have today that you’ve had to work on over the years to get to where you are now. People really can improve their skills over time. But to truly improve it takes a long-term commitment to practice, feedback, education and self-reflection.
4. Allow for real-time feedback during the development process, not just after.
Often people collect follow-up data to evaluate their success after completion of the development work, but not during. There is no reason to hold this assessment until the end of the development activity. For example, suppose my goal is to improve team morale among my direct reports and my follow up evaluation measure will be the next engagement survey. While I’m implementing my plan, I can collect informal data from my team prior to the actual engagement survey to see if I am on the right track. This way, if I find out things are not progressing as intended, I can make changes and potentially salvage my work.
5. Hold employees responsible for updating and tracking the individual development plan, not HR.
If employees truly own their own development, they need to own the entire process. I can’t help from selling this point with a bunch of unanswerable questions such as: Why should employees be responsible for creating and executing their individual development plan but not knowing where a current copy of it is? Why should managers contact HR rather than their own direct report to view the employee’s individual development plan? Why should an administrative assistant be responsible for updating the boss’s individual development plan rather than the boss herself?
You might have plausible answers to these questions if your company’s development plans are tied to some form of compliance. But if you’ve got other answers that aren’t compliance related, please share them in the comments!