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Create Performance Development Plans that Really Work

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Developing people is one of the most critical responsibilities of a leader. Whether running a multi-billion-dollar retail company or a small local restaurant, a company's success is directly linked to its ability to help its employee acquire and master new skills. As the capabilities of employees increase, so do the organization's capabilities. When employees improve their technical and soft skills, they enhance their company's ability to generate revenue, cut costs and improve customer satisfaction. There is an old saying that a general goes to war with the army they have, not the army they want. While this is true, a leader's army tomorrow can be better than the army they have today if they invest time, focus, and attention in helping their employees develop.

Establish Trust

Trust must be in place to help your employee establish an effective personal development plan. Trust is essential because it enables you and your employees to be honest about short- and long-term goals and what is necessary for each of you to help others achieve their goals. The employee, boss relationship works best when it is mutually beneficial. When you take the time to show your employees that you care about them and that you are looking out for their best interest, they will be more likely to care for you and to look out for your best interest. Leaders build trust over time through small acts such as listening, showing concern, holding confidentiality, and providing support.

Commit to using the tool

Once leaders establish trust, they can work with their employees to create personal development plans. Personal Development Plans are a highly effective tool for defining the areas that an employee wants to focus on developing, along with what actions they are committing to take. Much like any tool, it is only effective if used as intended. Hours are wasted annually by employees and supervisors working on Personal

Development Plans that are talked about once and then put away and forgotten for a year. Developing Personal Development Plans and not using them is like purchasing a shovel to help you plant flowers and then keeping it in your shed for an entire year. At the end of the year, you will have a shovel but no flowers. For this reason, leaders should re employee's personal development plans need to be a living document that is reviewed monthly. During each meeting, the supervisor and the employee should discuss every year by

  • What was the plan?

  • What results were generated?

  • What did you learn?

  • What changes need to be made to the plan?

Developing the plan

As leaders develop a Personal Development Plan, it is important to clarify the goals of the plan. First, there must be clarity on what the employee needs to improve to best help their career and the company. Many times, there are areas of employee performance that leaders would like to see improvements in, that the employees are not aware of being an issue. Before a leader ventures into the developmental opportunities, start the conversation by talking about what the employee is currently doing well. This is an important step because it helps to build the employee's confidence. It will also help to put them into a positive state of mind. Studies show that people are more engaged and creative when they have a positive mindset.

Next, a leader needs to discuss the areas of development that would best help the employee reach their goals. As a rule of thumb, a leader should share three positive areas that an employee is doing well in, for every developmental area that is discussed. During this discussion, it is important to make the distinction between what development can help them to excel in their current role, in addition; to what could help them prepare for their next opportunity.

Note, some employees will communicate that they are not interested in career advancement. They may do this for various reasons including previous disappointment around not receiving promotions in the past, lack of confidence in their ability, or a host of other reasons. If a leader believes an individual has the potential for career advancement let them know you believe in their potential and encourage them to be open to taking on more responsibilities. A leader may see something in them, that they do not see in themselves. By the leader communicating belief, they can inspire the employee to consider possibilities that they previously could not imagine.

Once there is alignment around the areas of focus, it is important to make sure there is a shared understanding of the urgency that opportunities should be addressed. As a leader, it is important to be clear with employees about the areas of their performance that need urgent attention. If an employee has a critical deficiency that is negatively impacting the company, and potentially putting their employment at risk this should be clear to the employee. There should be no ambiguity when it comes to performance deficiencies, and those should be handled through performance management conversations. When it comes to Personal Development Planning, the urgency should be driven by the employee. A leader can frame up the benefits of them moving fast, for example, if a promotion opportunity is coming, and it is in the employee's best interest to learn a new skill to qualify for the opportunity. But in general, the employee should own the pace of implementation of the plan.

As you conduct the personal development plan conversation with an employee, it is always good to ask them what areas of development they would like to work on. Many times, employees will demonstrate more energy and in persistence working on items they have selected on their own. For this reason, consider swimming with the current, and leveraging their existing energy towards achieving a developmental goal. As a leader discusses with them the items they would like to work on, it is beneficial to help them to understand how working on those items will help their career. For example, if a leader has a salesperson that would like to work on building on presentation skills, they can discuss how developing these skills will help them in their current role, in addition to helping them in future roles. This will help to give more incentive to pursue developing those skills.

Once a leader understands what the employee believes they should be focusing on developing, it is time to share with them the developmental areas that they believe could add value to their career. As a leader does this, it is important to communicate to them the benefit that they believe this developmental action will have on them in both the short and the long term. Going back to the example of the salesperson, if this individual has the desire to be a manager in the future, then one of the skills that they will need to develop is coaching and training skills. As the leader is talking with them about potential areas for growth. They can tell them that training others is a key skill for leaders to develop. The leader can encourage them to reflect on what makes them good at selling and ask if they would be interested in developing training for new hires. In developing this training, they would have the opportunity to work on putting together presentations, in addition to gaining experience training others. In this way, you are killing two birds with one stone. The employees get an opportunity to work on developing their presentation skills, while also gaining new experience in training others.

As a leader conducts personal development conversation, it is beneficial to identify 4 potential areas of development. One aspect of human nature that is universal is a desire for control. By a leader working with an

employee to identify multiple areas of development to work on, they empower them to choose where they want to focus their attention. As a leader and employee discuss the 4 potential areas, they should rate each on two variables. The amount of effort believed necessary to build the new skill or behavior and the amount of value it will generate.

The effort here is a very broad term. Effort should be considered in proportion to the time, money, and resources required to make progress on the desired skill or behavior. For example, if the employee decides that they want to improve their coaching skills, they could consider doing this by becoming a certified coach. It would be important to understand that the process generally takes a year, can cost over $15,000, and requires around a 180-hour commitment. Clearly defining the amount of effort required can help the leader and the employee discuss any constraints that might get in the way of the employee reaching their goal. This will help both parties determine if the effort required is worth pursuing.

When it comes to value, it is important to discuss the predicted value that will be added to the individual and to the company through the development activity. Value can be determined in many ways, but revenue growth, time savings, and improvements to customer experience are great places to start. For

example, if an employee is already very competent in developing presentations, they might want to take a new course on building power points. This course might be fun and interesting for the employee but may provide little incremental value to the company. It is important to discuss with the employee what value will be generated by the employee pursuing the activity.

Once the leader and employee have discussed the amount of value and effort related to each potential area of development, they can now work with the employee to prioritize which development opportunity to pursue first. The prioritization activity should help to guide the employee to identify what focus area would benefit them the most. Since this is not a perfect science, the leader and employee should not get stuck feeling like they have to execute the items that are low effort and high return. Logic would say the employee should focus their energy on these items, but the reality is that humans are not logical beings. Emotions drive behaviors. If an employee is dead set on doing an activity that falls in one of the other quadrants, don’t fight it. The most important thing is that the employee is growing professionally. Leaders frequently get stuck trying to get employees to develop in areas that they have limited interest or motivation to work in. When this happens time and energy are wasted trying to influence change vs accepting the employee for who they are and leaning into their strengths and passions. Follow the natural energy the employee has towards the areas they want to develop. This will allow the leader to help the

employee develop, while also building additional trust. There will always be another opportunity to revisit other developmental opportunities.

As the leader and employee finalize the Personal Development Plan, it is important to discuss what activities will come off the plate. Leaders have the tendency of working with employees on identifying what new actions, behaviors, or skills they want to see a person develop but walking away prior to getting into a discussion around divesting activities. Employees only have so much room on their plates, and leaders provide a great service to them when they help to prioritize what they should and shouldn't be working on. Employees' things-to-do lists are like full plates at a cookout. There are a lot of good things on them, but before you can add more, you have to take something off. If an employee’s plate is full, a leader should help them to decide how to make some space. Space can be made in three ways. They can make room by eating some of the food, which means working on their current task. Once they end a current

project, they will have space to add another. They can give some food to someone else, by delegating some of their tasks. Or they can throw some food away, which means just walking away from a project. Depending on the importance of the task on their plate to them and to the company a leader can help to determine how best to make room.

Leaders give a great gift to employees when they help them with personal development. Employees trust their leaders with their careers. The better able a leader is to develop talent, the more successful they will be in attracting great leaders, and delivering against their own professional goals.

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