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Last week I started the topic of Development Conversations, the value and challenge of the conversation including the promise to get to some of the tough stuff this week. The development conversation assumes that 1) you have already given feedback or 2) the person has approached you with a development interest. I strongly recommend one of those two as a prerequisite to planning for and conducting a meaningful development conversation.

One key point: the more experienced the person or complex the development, the earlier you should expect to engage the person in the determination of development.

Two Challenges and One Mega, Sub-Challenge

The top two challenges I have experienced in planning for or conducting a development conversation are:

  1. Isolating exactly what capability needs to be developed. Sounds funny, but too often we give a label to the need, assume we have it right, and miss the true gap.
  2. Determining “how” to develop that need. The easiest answers are training, assignments, or coaching. The challenge is to  determine what action or combination of actions will actually help this particular person develop.

The mega challenge is to both isolate a need to change an attitude or mindset and to work through how that individual can create a personal shift. More on that next week.

Isolating the Real Development Need

Getting at the real need rests on the clarity of your expectations and the quality of your information. Without a clear target and high-quality facts and observations, you will only be guessing at the person’s development. Let’s assume you have identified a general area of development. Next, take a not-so-simple three steps:

  1. Lay out all of your facts and observations. If you’ve worked with my Expectations-Feedback template, just take that out and make sure you have the exact observations, frequency, situations, and other patterns. You may want to use your Drawing Board to paint the picture. Just the facts, not your opinion. In fact, you will be well-served to eliminate “assessment” in development discussions. Exp-Feedback Graphic
  2. Compare critical facts to your expectations (or targeted capability). Think of the expectations lining up directly across from the facts, like two cliffs with a gap in between.
  3. Generate multiple ways to articulate the gap. In this step, you will have to think about what you know about the person. What kind of person is s/he? People are Funny, and most often not quite like our own funniness.

You can do this before meeting for your development conversation.

Depending on your clarity and  information, you may be ready quickly or find you are not ready, or begin by collaborating with your person.

The Case of Tina

Meet Tina. She is your most recently hired direct report. You grabbed her away from a few competing companies with the promise of being able to do great things in your company. She is very bright, an expert in her field. She was in a management-consulting firm for a handful of years. The problem for Tina is how she has engaged with your boss and other senior managers. She has come prepared to propose and get a decision several times recently. When challenged, she pushes back, basically telling your boss that he is wrong and she is right. You’ve talked to Tina and provided feedback. She was defensive, but agreed that the meetings didn’t go well. Take a look at the Expectations-Feedback Tool–Tina Case .

So what is the real development for Tina? I can think of at least three different possibilities:

  1. Develop a new approach to planning that includes thinking about stakeholders and preparing with me.
  2. Develop or enhance her skill in leading and engaging different views at the same time.
  3. Develop a new mindset that her success will come from influence and collaboration rather than being the expert.

Depending on Tina, the real need may be one or more of these. For sure, she will have a view AND should be in the driver’s seat on developing that capability. By the way, if Tina pushes back immediately on the need, you can illuminate that she is doing exactly what you are talking about now! You might suggest she ask a few questions to better understand how you are thinking about the need.

The more challenging the capability, the greater “gift” you give someone. It is so easy to leave the real need undiscovered. Your preparation doesn’t need to take a long time, but the value is in both the prep and the conversation. Here’s a Development Conversation Guide you might find helpful.

Bridging the Development Gap

Once you have a target for development, you need to think about the “how to develop” question. This is critical. Who has time or resources to spend on activity that doesn’t produce the desired result?

The right actions can be determined by:DevTypeApproach

  1. Considering alternative approaches and the likely effectiveness within a desired timeframe. Our Tina needs to take new action quickly—making significant progress the next time she leads a discussion. 
  2. Matching Tina’s learning preferences to the approach. If you know Tina well, you might be able to anticipate a good choice. But whether you do or not, Tina should be in the driver’s seat on the plan.

For Tina, I would have a combination of approaches, including mentoring on the company culture, “tutoring” if she needs to re-think her presentation format, and coaching from me (her boss) on how to engage my boss. I’d plan a debrief meeting specific, immediate feedback, focused on progress and next steps.  Maybe  all, one, or none of these approaches will resonate with Tina. She might have a different, better idea that I can endorse.

Tina is the person who will benefit most from her development. It’s her career. Therefore, it is a much more effective approach to put her in the lead. She needs to see the consequences and opportunities from development. If she doesn’t, whatever the actions—she’s likely to just go through the motions to check the box. Take a look at the table to the right and consider the options for Tina.

If you are dealing with a much less complicated situation or a more junior person in his or her career, you can be far more directive. But, the ownership always needs to reside with the other person.

And, if you can’t think of alternatives, there are great resources like FYI and The Leadership Machine to name two.

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If you like this content, you can check out other posts on Conversations, Building Capability or People Are Funny.