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Unique Employees Need Unique Development Plans

Unique Employees Need Unique Development Plans

So here’s a radical idea: people are different and therefore need different professional development plans.

To which you say, “Duh!”

But have you considered the implications? If the cookie-cutter approach is wrong, what is right? Here are some ideas to consider as you work to develop your people.

  • Objectives: Are you dealing with building a functionalist or a generalist? What’s the timeframe? For example, is it more important for this person to be closing more sales within six months or to be ready to assume leadership of a business unit in 3 years? As with everything in business, different objectives will generally lead to different plans and actions.
  • Strategies: At the highest level, there are only three development strategies. You need to analyze each employee and prioritize the strategies.
    • Fix a controlling issue – A controlling performance issue is one which is damaging the organization and which, if not fixed, should lead to termination. For example, one of my clients had a brilliant manager who unfortunately had a nasty, unpredictable temper. She had excelled in creating new business opportunities, but had also driven away important customers and driven down her co-workers’ morale. No amount of brilliance could make up for the damage she was causing. Her temper was controlling, and either it had to be brought under control or she needed to be dismissed. There was no value in addressing any other development opportunities until one of those two things happened.
    • Strengthen weaknesses – This is probably the most common approach to development plans. Alice’s review says she excels in three performance areas, is average in four, and is below average in one. Most organizations I have worked with will build the performance plan to address the below average area. My question is this: is it a controlling weakness? If not, consider the next strategy instead.
    • Leverage strengths – Suppose your business is baseball and you have A-Rod on the team. He can hit for power, he can hit for average, and is a fine fielder. Sadly, he’s a lousy pitcher. Are you really going to try to develop him so he can join your bullpen? I think not. You’re going to try to get his homerun production back to his previous steroidal level, or to add another fifty points of on base percentage. You’re going to try to make his strengths even stronger.

Have you ever had an A-Rod on your team, someone who was, for example, the best strategist on your team but was a mediocre analyst? Did her performance plan focus on delivering better analysis or on becoming even better at developing winning strategies? Bottom line, would you rather have a team of players who were average at everything, or one made of stars who could excellently compensate for each other’s weaknesses?

Hint: Teams need to be balanced; individuals do not.

  • Life Stage: A newbie might need help gaining the basic skills needed to earn his salary. A veteran might need help getting ready for the next level. One performance plan might be specific and directive, the other general and collaborative.
  • Motivation: One person might be working for income. One might be working for recognition. One might be working for internal satisfaction, a sense of purpose, or progress towards some cherished goal. The skilled manager will work to gain insight into what drives each person, and ensure the development plan feeds that motivation.

I hope you agree that a manager who wants to develop his team far and fast would do well thinking long and hard about each individual, then customize accordingly. As a wise spiritual teacher once said, “When I see someone go too far to the right, I tell them to go left. When I see someone go too far to the left, I tell them to go right.”

So it is with development plans: They should reflect each individual’s current reality and future goals.

When in your career did the right development plan make a major difference? How do you approach matching each individual with her development needs?

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2 Responses to “Unique Employees Need Unique Development Plans”

  1. Bing Chou says:

    Mark – I’m working on writing down my development goals for 2011 as well as thinking through potential hires that may in our future. “Teams needs to be balanced; individuals do not.” will be an especially useful guideline for us as we draft our goals. Thanks for the post.

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    Bing – glad this resonated with you! Let me know if I can help you think through your plans.

    And as always, thanks for commenting!

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