Development plan or development planning? There is a difference

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If your organization is like most, you’re likely seeing less attention paid to development planning.

It’s understandable. Leaders face time challenges like never before. Teams are increasingly distributed across geographies, making connections complex. The general sentiment that employees should own their own development frequently leads managers to a sensibility that’s too hands-off. And self-service/on-demand learning models increasingly leave development to the system, often taking managers out of the mix.

Unfortunately, this reduced focus on development planning comes at a cost. When leaders don’t commit the time and energy to engage with others, they not only sub-optimize professional and career growth; they also compromise the following:

  • Employee engagement and satisfaction that comes along with development;
  • Chance to strategically develop critical skills and capacities while building organizational bench strength;
  • Retention of talent and bottom-line business results.

But the problem may not be what you think. Many managers routinely generate development plans — some with meticulous precision and according to the processes, systems and schedules outlined by their organizations. In fact, there are plenty of development plans out there but not as much development planning.

In a world where we routinely turn nouns into verbs (we Google this, we Uber there), we’ve done the exact opposite with development planning. It’s a verb that we too frequently turn into a static noun. So, it’s time to return to the act of helping others grow versus focusing myopically on the form. It’s time to put the “ning” back in development planning.

What does good development planning look like?

Development planning that moves the needle is not a one-and-done event; it’s an ongoing process of reflection and refinement that leaders and employees engage in over time. And one of the tools that this process generates (and iterates) is the development plan itself. But the magic and value lie not with the plan but with the planning process — the relationship and conversation that continually clarify goals, strengths, interests and values in service of employee growth.

If you dare to take this on, you might find the following planning framework helpful. Helping others engage in meaningful development involves facilitating reflection and refinement of thinking that is:

  • Documented. Putting it in writing signals that this is significant and that you both are taking it seriously. It acts as a reminder to you and the employee and helps to drive follow-up. Write it on paper or online so you can treat it as the living, breathing and changeable tool that it is.
  • Agile. Development plans today must be flexible and responsive to the complex and everchanging environment within with they operate. That means identifying and pursuing multiple goals concurrently. It means figuring out where one development strategy might advance multiple goals and leveraging the synergies of related actions.
  • Relevant (to employee goals and the needs of the organization). Frequently development becomes activity for activity’s sake. For it to be valuable, however, it must be intimately connected to what matters most to employees — where they want to go and what they want to do. Creating a link to individual goals is essential. But development is a two-way street. So, making sure that the learning also contributes to the organizational big pictures ensures greater support.
  • Energizing. The only plan that has a chance of being implemented over time is one that genuinely speaks to the employee. Are they excited about moving forward? Is the next step engaging? When the going gets tough, it’s this level of energy that will sustain focus and momentum.

Daring to engage with others around their development in this way requires reflection, refinement, and recognition over time – something that can only happen through a genuine commitment to others and a commitment to ongoing conversation and exchange. And when leaders do this, the verb and act of planning creates unbeatable relationships and results that dramatically exceed what’s possible with just a noun – the plan.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Winkle Giulioni is the co-author of the bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want” (the 2nd edition will be released January 2019), a respected speaker on a variety of topics and a regular contributor to many business publications.

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