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Development Planning: 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid and What to Do Instead

Posted by Louellen Essex on February 20, 2014 in Leadership, Performance Management, Team Development

One main reason top talent leaves an organization is lack of training, coaching, or mentoring, all critical components of development planning. Ambitious employees want to work in an organization that invests in them, paving the way for advancement in both skills and position. A development plan should provide a road map to strengthen an employee’s ability to perform the current job and/or create a path to a desired career goal. Why do so many development plans fall short, missing the mark, contributing to the exodus rather than the retention of good talent? Here are the three biggest mistakes managers make:

Lack of Accurate Assessment
Most development plans are written after a quick dialogue, often at the end of a performance review. The manager asks what the staff person would like to do in the future and the answer, if at all appropriate, gets translated into a goal or two. Without forethought and more active contribution to the process, the manager gives the impression that development goals are not particularly important.
The Remedy
Take time to carefully determine the gap between the current job performance and what the staff person more ideally would like to be doing, now and in the future. Share your perceptions and negotiate differences, aiming for realistic goals. Then, identify missing skills and experiences needed to close the gap.

Thinking that Development = Training
Most of the development plans I have reviewed consist of training goals, i.e. a list of seminars the employee will take to improve skills or explore interests. While sometimes useful, this focus is simply not rich enough. Talent is developed through a combination of meaningful, focused activities that extend beyond what training alone can offer.
The Remedy
Development should include an array of options: assuming leadership roles, project work, mobility opportunities, lateral assignments, vacation or replacement positions, understudy training, teaching and making presentations, being mentored or coached, becoming a mentor or coach, community involvement, and more. Stage each activity in a deliberate way, i.e. from basic to more complex, from departmental to enterprise-wide, from limited exposure to wide exposure. Choose those that are a good match to fill-in the identified gaps and grow talent, helping the organization and the individual meet their needs.

Shelving the Document
Too many development plans are never executed. The document is dead on arrival to the employee’s file. Without actually arranging for the activities to come to life, managers create resentment for building expectations that are never realized. Soon, employees look elsewhere, concluding they are best developed by moving to another organization.
The Remedy
Just as you would with other forms of planning, for each goal, delineate action steps, timelines and resources needed. Be diligent in making sure each development activity is set up, then check-in to make sure the goals are being attained. Debrief each experience, discussing what was gained to propel the established development path.

Does each of your staff members have a meaningful development plan? Avoid these mistakes and create a path to success that will bond your employees to the future they see with you and your organization.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex