By the time most of us have the responsibility for helping someone develop at work, we’ve seen lots of potential role models – in school, at home, at work. But that doesn’t mean we know what to do. If anything, we probably have a better idea of what not to do.
A popular answer is to tell managers they should be coaches. But familiarity with the word is not the same as being a skilled coach. Most people still don’t know what they’re supposed to do.
The obvious response is to conclude that you must learn a new skill set. But if you’re already too busy, that’s not going to work.
But you don’t have to do that. There’s a good chance you already have the skills you need. That’s because providing support for someone’s development is about the same as managing a small project.
All projects, large or small, have the same basic structure:
- Set a specific goal
- Develop a plan to accomplish the goal – often including milestones
- Have regular status meetings – includes things like discussion of what’s going well/what needs to go better, feedback, problem solving, re-planning if needed
- Complete the project – have a lessons-learned meeting
Chances are you know how to do that; chances are you’ve done it. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert in what the employee is learning. You don’t have to be the teacher. You don’t have to be a mom or dad. Call it coaching if you want.
What type of development?
Not all individual development has the same goal. Sometimes the focus is on increasing personal awareness. Sometimes the focus is on developing job-related knowledge and skills.
The focus here is on the second one: developing job-related knowledge and skills. It’s certainly possible to increase your self-awareness while you’re doing that. But if that’s going to be the primary focus get a professional coach. That’s not a manager’s job.
Helping an employee build knowledge and skills is part of a manager’s job. The good news is that managers know how to do it – even if they don’t know it. They know how to set specific goals. They know how to build a plan to accomplish the goal. They’ve led status meetings before to see how things are going. And if the goal is clear, they can tell pretty easily whether the employee has accomplished it.
Who does what?
When development is the project, the manager is the project manager; the employee is the project implementer.
As the project manager, the manager has primary responsibility for making sure the plan is established and for providing ongoing support during implementation. That means arranging for various resources the employee can get on their own. The employee has primary responsibility for creating the plan, implementing it, and learning. But here again the manager might provide support as the employee works things through, has questions, etc.
Both the manager and employee are accountable for the goals they’ve set for this project. As with most projects and assignments, the manager’s level of involvement will vary according to how experienced and knowledgeable the employee is.
Managers have limited time and resources. Nevertheless, they are expected to support the development of the people who report to them. Micro-learning can provide quick answers to immediate questions or problems. But if the employee must learn something new over time or if the learning requires more than just a quick answer, managers need a tool that helps them manage the learning process. Project management can be that tool.
When you have to help your employees develop their knowledge and skills use project management as the framework. The project management structure is simple and easy to follow. And if you’re a manager – and even if you’re not – chances are you’ve used it before.
Obviously, a project focused on learning will be a little different than other projects you’ve done. But it’s not unusual to have different projects with slightly different requirements. If you and the employee think of it that way, everything should be fine.