Developing Others – Moving from “Never” to “Mostly”

The following Lee Hecht Harrison online poll results were published in the August 2012 issue of T+D magazine.  (Poll conducted in May 2012 with more than 450 respondents.)

Do you feel your manager is interested in your professional development?

  • Mostly – 22%
  • Sometimes – 27%
  • Rarely – 26%
  • Never – 26%

Some questions for you …

  1. Are you a people manager?
  2. Are you responsible for an outcome that requires teamwork?
  3. Do you spend time talking with your team members about daily tasks, quarterly objectives, and meeting your customers’ needs?
  4. Do you spend time talking with team members about their development and desired career path, and how each member may achieve the direction in which he/she wants to travel?

Just a guess here … but I would imagine that those of you who answered “yes” to number one, also answered “yes” to numbers two and three.  But – some of you may have answered “no” to number 4 … or at least your answer may have been “not as much as I should.”

“Developing Direct Reports and Others” is one of 67 competencies included in the KornFerry/Lominger Leadership Architect competency set.  Thoroughly grounded in research, these 67 competencies describe the behaviors that are resident in successful, high performing organizations around the world.  Using their global research, the Lominger team has ranked the 67 competencies in order of most to least skilled.  With the normative data group totaling more than 7,500 learners, the absolute bottom ranked competency – worldwide – is Developing Direct Reports and Others.

The good news for those of you who said “no” to number 4 above – you are not alone.  The bad news for all of us is that our team members are not provided with the opportunities and assistance that will allow them to achieve their personal goals.  (And – if they cannot achieve their personal goals, are they able to engage in achieving your team goals or the organizational goals?)

Why are we so bad at developing others?

I am sure that we can list many reasons.  Some of those may be:

  • “I don’t have time.  I have work to do.”
  • “I am concerned that the employee will assume an entitlement attitude and expect to get the job upon completing the development plan.”
  • “The team member is not performing well in their current job – so why should the employee be developed for a future job?”
  • “I don’t have the budget to send the team member to class.”
  • “I don’t know what to suggest for development.”

Aren’t these reasons really just excuses for inaction on our part?  As managers, we must realize that participating in the development of our team members is a critical role for us.  Developing Direct Reports and Others is our work.

Employee development correlates with performance, engagement, productivity, and improved business results.  Study after study corroborates this information.  What can be done to banish these excuses and increase our skill and comfort level with regard to Developing Others?

Start with a conversation.

Individual one-on-one conversations with team members provide the opportunity to get to know each person’s development needs and dreams.

  1. Begin with a conversation about today.   What is working?  What is not working?
    • Depending on the relationship you have had with your team members up to this point, one or more might be hesitant to be upfront.  Explain your purpose behind asking these questions.  You really want to help them develop and grow, don’t you?  Be transparent.  There are no guarantees regarding future employment – but there is great benefit and opportunity in developing new knowledge and skills.
    • And be patient.  Even if your team members hesitate to comment, subsequent tries at this conversation may result in true sharing.  Remember – declare your intent to be a partner in each team member’s development.
  2. Ask about each team member’s career desires.   (The old “what do you want to do when you grow up” question.)   Listen to the answers here.  In some cases you will get a “position” answer.  In some cases, you will get an answer that includes “responsibilities.”  And in some cases, you will get an “I don’t know.”
    • With a “position” answer, withhold your immediate reaction.  (The “you aren’t ready” or “that position is filled” or “we don’t have that position in this company” responses are apt to quickly slide off the tongue.)  Instead, probe deeper.  What is appealing about that position?  What tasks or responsibilities seem challenging?
    • If the position truly does not exist, talk about the responsibilities and opportunities that position would present – and why the person is interested in pursuing that type of work.  Again, with this type of conversation, you are getting at what really ignites excitement in the team member.
    • With a “responsibility” answer, you will unearth potential developmental content.  Focus on the “why” with regard to the responsibilities so you may uncover the person’s driving passion.
    • With an “I don’t know”, you have the opportunity to help this person create a path.  Assign your team member the task of thinking deeply about his/her interests, goals, and desires.   For example – When you are at your best, what are you doing?  What are your contributions?  About what are you passionate?
  3. Decide on one or two items for development.  These items might be team member strengths or areas for improvement or areas that venture into unknown territory.  Key point – the team member should be the one who identifies the developmental topics.  Your role as manager is to coach, suggest, guide … but leave the choosing to the one who will be developing.

Two Different Discussions – Performance versus Development

Don’t confuse a performance discussion with a development discussion.

  • The Performance discussion focuses on current tasks associated with the team member’s current job.  The objective is to look at results and then identify those that meet expectations and those that do not.  Regarding those results that do not meet expectations – the conversation moves to bridging the gap between non-performance and performance.
  • The Development discussion focuses on building skills and knowledge for the future – either in preparation for expansion of the current job or for new opportunities.  The objective is to help your team members engage in tomorrow and embrace new challenges. 

Performance discussions lift up team members to meet today.  Development discussions elevate team members to face tomorrow.

A development focus has been identified.  Now what?

Investigate development options.

A course or workshop may be your first thought.  However, that is not necessarily the best way to meet development needs.

Most development occurs through on-the-job experiences. How do you create or find those experiences?

  1. Look at your department and your role.  Is there an opportunity to provide the team member with a “special project” that will help build the specific skill?  Or would you be able to delegate one of your tasks to this team member to help him/her gain hands-on experience?
  2. Ask a colleague for help.  Is there a person who is a role model in exhibiting the specific skill?  If so, tap into your network and ask this person to assist.  Arrange a discussion over coffee or lunch where the role model shares insight with your team member.  Or your team member may shadow this person for a period of time. Your colleague will also suggest alternative methods for developing that specific knowledge or skill.
  3. Do some research.  Are there books, journals, or conferences that address the skill to be developed?  If so, encourage the team member to begin development with some background research.
  4. How about a coach?  Is the team member in a position where coaching would contribute to the developmental path?
  5. Or how about a mentor?  Is there someone who would be a suitable mentor for this person?
  6. And of course, many workshops exist to help build skills and knowledge.  If this option is selected, have a conversation with the team member before AND after the workshop.  Sandwich the workshop/learning event with a pre-workshop discussion that clearly outlines where you want the team member to focus (expectations) and then a post-workshop follow-up conversation to discuss how this learning will be applied to future developmental growth.

Support and follow-up.

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
– Harvey S. Firestone

This is important to repeat:  As a manager, one of your primary responsibilities is the development of your team.

Once you have determined the developmental needs and helped the team members decide on the developmental options … your job has just begun.  Continual reflection and discussion with your team members is key.

  1. It is not real unless it is written.  Encourage your team members to document their development plan – including objectives and milestones.  Suggest the notation of incremental measures of success.  A great way to do this is to look at quarterly timeframes.  What will be accomplished in 3 months, in 6 months, in 9 months?
  2. Schedule periodic one-on-one conversations to discuss developmental progress.  These don’t have to be long, cumbersome meetings.  Length is up to you and your team member.  Make sure you schedule the time and then remain committed to keeping that schedule.
  3. What do you talk about during these developmental one-on-ones?  Some conversation starters:
    • What have you learned since we last met?  (What a great question to jumpstart a conversation about development and growth!)
    • What progress has been made on your development?
    • What do you not know that you would like to know?
    • What obstacles are you facing as you develop?  And how will you overcome those obstacles?  (Notice – the focus is on the team member’s ownership of the development plan).
  4. Be alert to changes (or lack of action) with regard to the plan.  Investigate why and assist the team member in adapting the plan.
  5. Be supportive – be transparent – be realistic – and be available.

As we look back on our careers, we remember those who challenged us and helped us to grow.  With these memories in mind, I have two wishes:  May you be the person that others will remember as the catalyst to their career growth AND may the next Lee Hecht Harrison survey report “Mostly” as the majority response.

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual. 

– Albert Einstein


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