Wise companies in today’s competitive marketplace invest in their most valuable asset — their people. Talent management and the looming shortage of qualified management personnel are hot topics. Most senior managers identify finding, developing and retaining high-performing employees as a key challenge and priority.
The most successful high-growth companies support and promote a culture of learning and development. High-performing employees understand they need to continuously improve to maximize job performance, grow into new roles and responsibilities, and move up the corporate ladder. They also understand their worth and often leave companies who fail to support their development and career path.
How can a company foster employee development? One way is by providing direction and a personalized development plan to support an employee’s career aspirations. These plans are commonly referred to as “employee development plans.” Their success hinges on effective sponsorship and resource support from the top down and whether or not the employee’s goals are aligned with the goals of the boss.
The best employee development plans include an assessment of the employee’s development needs (technical, managerial and interpersonal), specific performance goals for improvement, developmental strategies and a timeline for the manager and employee to assess progress.
Some best practices:
- Assessment. Before embarking on an action plan, the employee and boss need to identify strengths, skill gaps or challenge areas. There are numerous tools to help assess management or other skill sets, including technical or emotional intelligence. One popular tool to find challenge areas is the 360-degree review, or “multirater” assessment, used to gather performance feedback from those who work closely with the employee (the boss, direct reports, customers and peers). The objective is to gather feedback from all around the employee (hence the 360 degree).
- Establish employee “ownership.” Personal development ultimately depends on the employee’s commitment to the plan and goals. The boss’s role in the process is to help the employee design his or her plan, identify what specific educational and development needs or new task assignments they are willing to support and identify any “must dos.”
- Identify the “non-negotiable” — those tasks or performance development activities required to keep one’s job. It astonishes me how many people who have been let go say they “never saw it coming.” As the boss, it is your responsibility to make clear any “must dos” (vs. “would be nice to develop”) as well as “cannot happen” (vs. “maybe not the best idea”). Be clear and straightforward.
- Provide clarity. The best plans include clear goals and establish what success looks like.
- Utilize “SMART” goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Too often, managers identify very general goals such as “improve writing skills.” Instead, specify the criteria for measuring accomplishment of the goals (i.e., “Improve analytical accuracy to include zero mathematical errors in the management quarterly result report effective first quarter 2008.”) Equally important: plans need to include specific actions and development activities (like taking on new task assignments or educational/training activities) to achieve the goal.
- Frequent feedback, support and follow-up. Identify what the company is willing to provide in support of development (i.e., training, coaching, mentoring and tuition reimbursement). Empower the employee to identify new assignments or activities that he or she finds motivating. Communicate your commitment to regular feedback and follow-up — and your expectation for follow-through on the employee’s part. Plans and forms are worthless if they stay buried in a drawer until next year’s review. Best intentions don’t produce change. CNN reporter Anderson Cooper wisely said covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, “Hope isn’t a plan.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is helping others achieve their potential. When properly leveraged and managed, the employee development tool can be a highly effective and strategic advantage in attracting, retaining and developing valuable talent and resources.
I can help you grow your people with my executive coaching services (and I have clients all over the world with Skype). Call me: 360 682 5807 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org