Over the years I have had a lot of experience with development plans, sometimes good but mostly not so good and occasionally inexcusably awful..
Done well, development plans can be a fantastic tool to help people build the skills and experiences they need to feel competent in their job and help them move on to greater things. They can motivate people and empower them to grow personally and become more effective contributors to an organisation’s success. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that articulating plans (verbal or written) shifts the ideas to the parts of our brain that focus on processing, making it far more likely for us to put things into action - The Huffington Post covers this in a tidy article.
Done badly, the results can vary from simply wasting people’s time through to creating disengagement and disillusionment.
The biggest mistake is to use development plans as part of an annual performance and appraisal review. I can perhaps see the rationale behind this, but in my experience it leads to a development-as-reward culture. And that in turn can lead to disengagement and disillusionment for those not receiving the reward. It also locks the development plan into a company’s performance review cycle, which can be unnecessarily restrictive.
Development plans should, instead, stand alone and identify objectives and actions that can span any reasonable timeframe.
I also believe that managers may not be the best people to help employees with their development plans. Certainly managers need to be there to help employees along the way, providing support as required and creating the space and opportunity needed to work on the actions in the plan. But they may not have the skills, experience, and time to help employees prepare effective plans. It may also be difficult for managers to remain impartial and unbiased.
Here at Cyma we decided to address these concerns and do things in a slightly different way. An earlier blog discusses how we use independent coaches for everyone. Our employees work with their coaches to put together their development plan, who can help identify the steps, measures and timeframes. The leadership team then works with the employees to explore practical ways to achieve their goals. The plans can be over any timeframe and they have nothing at all to do with appraisal and salary reviews.
We have also removed management from any form of assessment of the plan. Instead, we ask the employee to assess themselves over a period of time that they also choose. This assessment can then be fed back to their coach, who is far better placed to facilitate an impartial and constructive discussion and analysis.
The plan then becomes a living and evolving document, owned by the employee. As managers, we simply find ways to help people develop as they need and when they need.