Supported Self-Development: Chapter One – Excerpt
It was first thing in the morning. Joe sat and stared at the four performance appraisals on his desk. The development plans needed to be completed. And then the development was supposed to begin. Joe agreed that development was important. Most of the people who worked for him certainly wanted to continue learning. Beyond that, there was just a lot he wasn’t sure about when it came to development. People in HR told him he ought to build his coaching skills. But he didn’t really have time and he wasn’t sure what exactly he was supposed to do as a coach.He’d been to a few workshops and there was good information. But it all just seemed very complicated and a lot of work. In the workshops he heard about styles and other ways he was supposed to change his behavior. Some people called them steps; other people called them perspectives. There were even colorful diagrams. It sort of made sense in the moment. But that faded pretty quickly. Bottom line: It was ok; but it was just too much. He already had a job.
He knew he didn’t see himself as a teacher. And the truth was that Joe really didn’t know a lot about some of the things his people wanted or needed to learn. How would he teach them if he had to? How could he coach them? Besides, development sometimes seemed like a black hole. While he agreed it was a good thing, he wasn’t sure his people were learning enough and he was concerned that they weren’t focused on what they should be learning. Whatever the case, he knew that his employees were not learning fast enough.
In the past, he would give his employees the development plan forms to complete. They would complete the forms and then he would have a discussion with them. And after that, well… not a lot would happen until the next year’s performance appraisal. During the year, Joe would ask about progress when he remembered or when one of his employees had a question. But that was about it. He wanted to do something different this year. But he wasn’t sure what…
Like Joe, many managers certainly know that development is important and, like Joe, many managers don’t really want to be coaches – or teachers. Most don’t have much time, their resources are limited and they don’t have all the answers. Instead of trying to force managers down a road many do not want to go, let’s step back and reframe the discussion. Let’s build on what managers already know how to do. And let’s remember that there is another person in this, the person who is supposed to be developing.
Joe looked at the development plan forms. They looked just like project planning forms: they had a goal, a schedule with implementation steps and milestones, and criteria to assess or measure progress. He also noticed a section that asked what the benefits of reaching the development goal would be: the business case. This way there would be a direct connection between development and results – the benefits of engaging in the development. Joe suddenly had an idea. He would build on what he already knew how to do – manage projects.
Implementing a development plan doesn’t have to be very different than implementing any other type of project. So what does managing the project mean? A project manager usually does not get involved in the details and probably won’t have all the answers. The details are the responsibility of the person implementing the project. The project manager does the following:
• Collaborates on formulating the initial plan and on any re-planning
• Ensures that there are necessary resources and support to accomplish the project
• Engages in problem solving to address current and anticipated barriers to progress
• Utilizes regular project status meetings to do these things and to keep track of progress, so that he or she can engage as needed
Picture a typical status meeting. The person in charge of implementation presents or discusses information on status. During the meeting the project manager listens, asks questions, challenges as needed, provides feedback and advice, etc. If the project manager did not do these things (and others) during the status meetings the project might go off track, lose money and fail. Because the project manager is ultimately accountable for results, he or she does not want that to happen.
Now picture a meeting between a manager and employee to discuss the status of the employee’s development plan. Does the meeting progress in the same way as the status meeting described above? Often the answer is no – even though the same skills are required.
Unfortunately a learning or development situation often seems to evoke the traditional teacher-student relationship. With SSD, the assumption is that both people are adults, not teacher and student. The employee, the project implementer, is capable of learning and taking charge of that learning. The manager is capable of managing and providing various kinds of necessary support and guidance; this happens either directly or indirectly.
Avoid Assumptions – Clarify Expectations
Joe sat back and thought about how he would get started with this idea: he would treat development plans as if they were projects. The employees would be in charge of implementing the projects and he would be the project manager. There were two things he needed to do:
1. To explain that he wanted to treat development plans like projects.
2. To establish who was going to do what – what he ought to be able to expect of the employees and what the employees ought to be able to expect from him -just as in the beginning of any project. He knew that doing this reduced misunderstanding and conflict. And with less drama, people usually accomplished more.
The first turned out to be easy. He simply explained that:
He wanted to help them develop.
He thought he could be more helpful to them doing what he knew how to do instead of trying to be a teacher or a coach – which he wasn’t sure he knew how to do.
As for the second, Joe thought that the easiest thing to do would be to meet with his employees all at the same time. The employees would brainstorm answers to two questions:
• What should we reasonably be able to expect of Joe (my manager) during the development process?
• What should Joe (my manager) reasonably be able to expect of me during the development process?
Joe would brainstorm answers to similar questions: what he should reasonably be able to expect of them and what they should reasonably be able to expect of him.
Then they would discuss their answers and come to an agreement on mutual expectations.
Joe knew they would revisit what they’d agreed to and most likely adjust it. But it was a good way to get everything on the table. Joe set the meeting and sent out the question for his employees to think about before the meeting.