Research suggests that at least 73% of employees believe the opportunity for professional development is necessary for them to be satisfied in their job. In fact, lack of development is one of the most frequently cited reasons people leave a position. And this doesn’t apply exclusively to millennials. It’s equally important to Generation X and baby boomers as well.
Despite its critical importance to the employee experience, professional and career development are generally the lowest scores on employee opinion and climate surveys. For decades, organizations have struggled to ensure their efforts (and they really are making an effort) resonate positively with the workforce. And the reason these efforts fail to satisfy the needs of employees in many cases is because the plans at the center of development are frequently not worth the paper they’re written on.
Let’s face it. Plans do little to develop people. There is no doubt that they’re important for the organization to be able to project manpower needs, plan for succession, develop the leadership pipeline, budget, and more. But for employees, the plan itself often represents a rushed, perfunctory, bureaucratic process that doesn’t engage or provide the inspiration and direction required to help them grow.
The 4 biggest failures of development planning
Years of field research have helped me identify the four most common failings of individual development planning in organizations.
Plans are completed to satisfy an organizational requirement – not the employee’s soul.
Too frequently, leaders treat development planning as a process or procedure to be checked off as completed. But development planning is probably the least transactional dimension of a leader’s job. Authentic, meaningful development is relational and must tap the employee’s needs, interests, preferences, and aspirations.
Plans are heavy on ‘busy-ness’ but light on the ‘business’.
Essentially, there’s a lot of activity but not enough connectivity to what matters. Too frequently development plans are filled with tactics and actions that don’t connect to broader objectives. This has employees putting out considerable energy and pursuing many different directions that may or may not support their own aspirations or the needs of the business. At the end of the year, this leaves people exhausted but no closer to achieving their goals.
Plans often look less like a customized game plan for the individual and more like a course catalogue.
Training is certainly an important part of the development puzzle; but it’s not the only piece. Unfortunately, busy leaders who are charged with submitting plans for many employees within a narrow time window resort to limited thinking. It’s easy to list a bunch of classes and hit the ‘submit’ button. Instead, they need to be thinking more creatively and expansively, looking for opportunities for exposure and targeted experiences that support the employee’s unique needs and interests.
Plans are treated as static documents that are filed away after completion.
Rather than becoming dust collectors, these documents need to be living, breathing tools that prompt ongoing reflection, conversation and revision. Plans are a first pass based upon what the employee and leader know today and they’re subject to ongoing change based upon the shifting landscape of the business and the person.
Leaders who challenge themselves to overcome these common pitfalls will find have employees – and businesses – that thrive. And they’ll quickly distinguish themselves as preferred employers that attract, grow and retain top talent.