So often development plans are quickly put together after a performance review at the beginning of the year and, then, only looked at in November to make sure those action boxes are checked. What happened to the learning and application during the year?

But wait! Before we can create a meaningful development plan, we have to start with isolating the real development desired. Here’s where the challenge begins!

  • The development area is often a very big basket of skills, experience, or knowledge. For example, “build stronger relationships” or “take a stronger leadership role.”
  • The word used for the learning does not mean the same thing to different people. For example, “take more ownership” or “be more strategic” may mean one thing to you and another thing to your team member—even though you have talked about it.
  • The focus is stated as a career movement rather than a learning area. For example, “lead a task force or small team” or “expand my role to include…”
  • The learning is stated as an activity rather than a gap to fill. For example, “build my network” or “speak at a conference.”

The only way to make the first two more meaningful is to break them down into behaviors or other concrete learning areas. For the second two, back up and ask “What is that I want or need to learn?”

To isolate the real need consider past performance situations or those required in the future and ask:

  1. What behavior do you want to change, enhance, or add?
  2. What way of thinking is required for the best outcomes?
  3. What experience successfully executed is important—what will it take to be successful?
  4. What specific knowledge is critical to being able to perform well?

An effective development action plan is like a puzzle, fitting different pieces together to ensure those actions will:

  1. Have the right balance of didactic learning (e.g., classroom or reading, etc.), coaching or mentoring, and reflective assessment.
  2. And intentionally integrate the learning into actual performance, so that the person can
  3. Fill the specific gap identified.

This is especially true for complex abilities, such as strategic thinking. While there are courses one might take, the real learning is in the application with the guidance of someone who already has that skill. And, depending on the person’s learning style and application opportunities, a very different set of actions might be planned.

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