It’s the time of year when many leaders find themselves consumed by the business planning process. They scour through historical data, evaluate the current state, scan the environment, forecast the future, identify multiple scenarios that may present themselves, consider alternatives that will drive organizational success, and create actionable strategies and tactics to realize results.
What if leaders brought the same thoughtfulness, rigor, and discipline that’s applied to business planning to individual development planning?
After all, it’s people within an organization who connect with customers and clients day-in and day-out. It’s people who can surface issues, improvements, and innovations. It’s people who either have or lack the skills to execute on enterprise-wide plans. And it’s actually people — and how well they’re developed — who dictate the success of any planning effort.
What if leaders elevated individual development planning to the same (or greater) level of importance as business planning?
For sustainable success in today’s rapidly changing and ambiguous environment, it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways to incorporate meaningful individual development into broader business strategy planning. Because a well-trained, highly engaged workforce committed to continuous growth and learning is the most powerful differentiator that any organization can bring to the marketplace.
And doing this is a lot easier than it may seem, but only if leaders are able to break some unproductive habits that have developed — and in many cases institutionalized — over the years. In fact, there are four deadly sins that, if addressed, can unleash potential and the power to move even the most ambitious business plans forward.
Deadly sin No. 1: Focus on the form
Completing the fields and checking all the boxes on the prescribed paperwork is not the same as development. Too frequently, leaders rely upon organizational processes and well-executed mechanics, forget that development is a human — not a human resources — endeavor. Shift the focus. Move the conversation and the relationship into the foreground and allow the form to simply memorialize a great conversation.
Deadly sin no. 2: Conflate development with performance
Many organizations have distanced performance reviews from career development for good reason. Discussions of performance, while critical to the individual and organization, are backward looking. Development needs to start with the here and now and project that out into the future. Certainly, performance and skill gaps can and should be addressed and incorporated into growth plans — but only as one of many factors that can help propel others forward.
Deadly sin No. 3: Assume everyone has their sights set upward
The primary explanations leaders give for shying away from career development conversations is their belief that everyone wants a promotion, pay raise, corner office or other perk they can’t deliver. And it’s so unfortunate, because study after study suggests that only about 25% of the population is actually plotting their next promotion. Most employees are looking for ways to expand their skills and contributions. In fact, research I conducted with Beverly Kaye as we wrote "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want" found that the No. 1 outcome employees want from a career conversation with their supervisors is "creative ways to use my skills and talents."
Deadly sin No. 4: Force it all into a single meeting
"One and done" is done when it comes to development planning. The old annual ordeal has always been overwhelming and undereffective. But given the rapid pace of change, it’s unreasonable to expect that planning conducted today will still be relevant in seven months, seven years or sometimes even in seven days. A distributed approach to development — one that’s more iterative — better fits the cadence — and needs — of today’s dynamic business environment.