Understanding the “Action” of your Development Plans
The phrase “Development Plan” gets thrown around in learning and development departments so often that, for many, it has lost its meaning. Far too often, organizations make a goal to create employee development plans, they meet and craft goals, and then they never see any action taken. Business returns to usual and the development plan is left in the dust.
There is an argument for keeping your action plan to yourself. Studies show that telling people about your goals can actually result in a momentary feeling of success that can knock you off your path to real success. The thinking goes that if you tell people about your plans to be better, their support is as encouraging as success is and can actually decrease your motivation to succeed -- what’s the point when you’ve already gotten the positive affirmation from the people you told about your plan?
While there’s good science behind that belief, we think it’s not quite so simple. It’s true that it’s tempting to take that warm feeling you got from telling your boss you’re going to be better about self-reflection and call it good, but a truly supportive boss won’t leave it there. A truly supportive manager will take note of that desire, will arrange an official meeting to talk about that desire, and will schedule benchmarks to check in to see how that work is coming along.
How Can You Help?
In order to fight back against a lack of accountability in goal setting and to encourage your teams to not only set goals but also follow through on them, there are a few important steps that your team can implement today. These management strategies won’t result in instant culture change at work, but we believe they will provide you with the foundation you need moving forward to greater success and mutual accountability.
Share your goals and your accountability needs
Form accountability circles
Schedule your accountability benchmarks -- and meet during them!
Share your Goals and Your Accountability Needs
Like we said, there is danger in sharing your goals. It can lead to a premature feeling of success and shoot your efforts in the foot. This can be avoided by going a step further to share your accountability needs along with your goals.
Rather than simply telling your manager what you’d like to improve, tell her what she can do to help you achieve that goal. Furthermore, discuss what those accountability needs will do to help you achieve. Far too often we simply ask for “help” without specifying exactly what that help should look like. (For some inspiration in this area, check out SMART goal-setting).
Is it as simple as a weekly email asking on progress? Or do you need something a little more concrete, perhaps a biweekly meeting? Maybe you need a deadline or a project to show off your new developments. It doesn’t matter too much what your accountability needs are so much as it matters that you are transparent and clear within your manager-employee relationship as to what those needs are.
Form Accountability Communities
The transparency needed to be successful in your Action Plan isn’t simply vertical. You would be wise to include your peers in your development. We’ve all heard the dangers of peer-pressure, but what about positive peer pressure? Keeping your coworker in the cubicle next door in the loop may be just the push you need to achieve your goals.
This is often one of the hardest forms of accountability to embrace as we cultivate openness in workplace development. There is often a kind of competitiveness, even if polite and well-intentioned, between coworkers that doesn’t welcome the kind of transparency that is necessary to say, “I am weak in this area and want to be better.”
We challenge this thinking for a few reasons. First of all, while it’s true that a workplace can maintain competition as a central piece of its culture and still be healthy, once teammates begin watching their back so as not to appear weak, the whole organization is in big danger. Sharing accountability plans can be a good way to work against this negative culture. Second, there’s a good chance your cubicle neighbor actually already knows your weak spots! Opening up to them about your desire to improve and asking them to help you stay accountable can be a positive way to build trust.
Schedule your accountability benchmarks -- and meet for them!
This last bit of advice is simple, but it is far too often the primary reason that we are not successful in our development action plans. You’ve planned your development, you’ve brought people into the fold, you’ve set up goals and benchmarks -- but then the time comes around to check in on your progress and there’s a vital lunch meeting you simply have to take. You really can’t move this phone call that you weren’t expecting, so you’ll just reschedule your accountability check-in. Just push it back.
Sound familiar? We’ve all done it -- in the grand scheme of things, it seems that development plans will always take the back seat. It’s a hard argument to make that it should be otherwise and we understand that. That’s why we encourage you to be mindful of how you schedule your check-ins. The investment in planning carefully will pay off.
Consider when your busy times are and avoid them. Think about scheduling your check-ins at non-conventional times. Make them fun and take them to happy hour. It doesn't have to be overly serious! Just make sure when you commit to yourself that you’ll check in on your development plan, you’ll take it seriously. Integrity is the most important feature of a successful action plan. Once you lose your integrity, the rest begins to slip.
What are your best practices for meeting your development goals and sticking to your development plan? Share them with us in the comments!