A practical guide to staff development planning

It is difficult to put the development needs of individuals first. Here’s 3 main reasons why –

  1. We are so focused on the here and now as we try to sustain day-to-day operations in the midst of constant change and upheaval, that we haven’t got time to think ahead for our team members into the mid-long term.
  2. We are put off by staff development processes which can be bureaucratic and take too long.
  3. We’re not really sure what good development planning with our teamies looks like.

What it comes down to is feeling like we just don’t have time for it. But did you know dissatisfaction with employee development is a reason why people leave your team?

3 reasons why staff development needs to be a priority for you.

People continue to need formal training opportunities to meet specific knowledge or skill gaps. They also seek the availability of a “learning environment” in which they can find information, collaborate and build their own learning plans.

People value tailored learning experiences such as mentoring, secondment, external attachments, shadowing and coaching wherein they take control of the experience they have whilst they are in the learning environment.

So, offering a few training courses from the corporate training catalogue once a year at appraisal time is not sufficient.

  1. People care whether you are taking a real interest in their future. It’s a simple as that. The best leaders are the people who are always developing others. These are the teams that people want to be in, these are the people others want to work with. Just think back to the best leader you ever had, and chances are they paid due attention to supporting your development.
  2. People whose leader shows a proper interest in them as a person are way more likely to be loyal, committed and productive. They know what’s in it for them and feel valued.
  3. People want to be developed. They prize highly investment in their skills and capabilities. Investment in them as a human being is the ultimate reward. Good people want that investment so much that they’ll go elsewhere to get it if it isn’t forthcoming.

5 steps to developing staff

1. Make it a two-way process

People are most empowered when they are in the driving seat when it comes to their development. But equally we all need the input and feedback of others before we have a rounded view of our development needs.

Start by asking your team member what they think. While some will find it hard to tell you what their development needs are, most can tell you where their strengths are and where they struggle. Help team members to acknowledge and embrace imperfections. Guide them towards realistic thinking about time and effort needed to be ready for the next thing. Be clear that wanting to improve does not mean that we are currently failing.

2. Identify the development needs

Challenging ourselves is part of how we learn but getting the balance right can be tricky. Too little challenge can stall personal growth. Too much can lead to discomfort and anxiety. Optimal development happens when our team members are stretched sufficiently. This is a deeply personal experience. Only the individual themselves can know what sorts of things give them enough stretch.

Helping a team member recognise and understand their levels of comfort around various development opportunities is an act of supportive leadership. Encourage them to identify what success would look like when stretched to meet a new goal and to establish what help they would need and from whom to get there. Encourage them to assess their work and share any challenges they’re having in their current role. Would they benefit from a stretch goal in the areas they struggle the most?

3. Consider your team goals

Consider skill sets you’re likely to need from your team in the future. In what ways might this person develop their skill sets to help your services be more future-proofed.  

Work with your team members to align their learning goals and aspirations with business objectives. Through discussion you can identify together the necessary skills, knowledge and competencies that support those goals.

4. Write the plan

Long development plans with many actions are off-putting. Keep the plan to between three and five learning objectives.

Stick to the SMART objectives rule – the plan should pin down how each learning objective is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and to be completed in a set amount of time.

Once objectives are written, you need to consider the right learning opportunity to reach that goal. That’s best done in discussion with your team member. People don’t learn unless they are enjoying the experience and clear about what they are going to gain from it. Consider project work, shadowing, secondments, mentoring, coaching and networking as learning opportunities.

5. Support the application of learning

A learning plan is an active document. People are learning every day. So, to maintain an interest in your team member, involves regularly asking how learning is going and seeing whether any learning goals need adjusting.  This is a two-way exchange but does not need to be a long discussion.

Set up some opportunities where you team member can quickly apply the new skills to the job and get feedback. This will help them reinforce and embed their new skills into their skill-set. If they don’t use the new knowledge as they acquire it, they will lose it.

Final word

Be a role model for learning. To create a good learning environment in your team, allow for experimentation, trial and error. Foster an environment where it’s okay to try out new things and practice new skills. Developing ourselves takes time and space. Try new things yourself and share your experiences.