A manager in a healthcare organization meticulously completes the form and signs his employee up for several training seminars. He’s pleased with the plan and his commitment to career development.
A VP in a financial institution, believing that employees must own their own development, lets employees complete their IDPs and submit them to her for approval. It’s rare that she doesn’t approve their forms. After all, people know best what they need.
A hospitality supervisor uses a template to be able to fit in the eighteen IDPs he must complete within a two-week period. Since most of his employees are in the same basic role, he sees it as an efficient way to meet his expectations.
What’s Wrong with this Picture?
IDPs are a common feature of today’s organizational landscape. The process was introduced to meet a very real need: to ensure that all employees benefit from conscious attention to their professional development and career growth. This kind of attention can produce powerful results.
- It enhances employee engagement and satisfaction.
- It ensures the ongoing development of critical skills and capacities while building organizational bench strength.
- It contributes to the retention of talent and bottom-line business results.
But, not unlike the message in children’s game of telephone, the purpose of the IDP process has become distorted. Unfortunately, in many organizations, today it bears little resemblance to its original intent.
The problem is not that managers aren’t doing it. They are – some with meticulous precision and according to the schedules outlined by their organizations.
- They log onto the websites.
- They complete the forms.
- They check the boxes.
- The hit ‘send’ so HR receives the needed documentation.
They may even talk to their employees. But, given the rigor of the administrative process and the focus on the deliverables, too frequently the genuine human connection that should be at the core of career development gets lost.
In too many environments, the IDP has lost its heart. Managers who survive the extensive and complex process often feel like they’ve done their career development for the year. After checking all of those boxes on the forms, they check one more.
- Career development
In an effort to ensure meaningful career development, organizations may actually be choking it out.
So, What’s an Organization to Do?
Increasingly, organizations are taking a long, hard look at IDPs and career development in general. Those that are serious about change are developing new approaches to bring humanity back to this very human act of helping others grow. Below are a few strategies that are finding favor with leaders who are genuinely dedicated to making development happen.
Forget the form
OK, that might be slightly strong. But, de-emphasize the form. Make it shorter. Make it simpler. Make it a tool that drives authentic connections – between the manager and employee and among employees and those in their networks.
Individual development planning is all about the conversation. Sure, the manager and employee do some independent thinking. But, the magic happens when the two individuals – both committed to growth – come together and talk.
The form is just there to capture the highlights. But, the conversation is king. Shift the focus of the form from checkboxes and to-do’s to questions that surface critical information, prompts that drive insights, and what-ifs that inspire action.
Hone the habit
Too frequently career development feels like one of those regularly scheduled but distasteful annual events. Even when it’s done well, once a year is not frequent enough. Without help and encouragement, employees and managers alike put the plans away until next year’s ‘inspection.’
So, help them both hone a regular development habit. Introduce a ‘time-released formula’ that ensures that career development is top of mind – not just at IDP time – but all year round.
Organizations committed to weaving development into the day-to-day fabric of the organization use a range of strategies. They:
- Evaluate managers based upon the development of employees.
- Back up their commitment to development with learning and training opportunities to build capacity.
- Put career development on every meeting agenda.
The Bottom Line
The time has never been better for organizations that are genuinely committed to career development to make a change. It’s time to move from ‘impediment to dialogue and progress’ to ‘inspiring dedication and possibilities.’ Now, that’s the kind of IDP most organizations really want.