Development done right (when everything around you is changing)

However fast things are changing, you still need to build the skills of your workforce, says Jack Allen. 

Business, as with life more generally at the moment, understandably seems to be in a worried state of flux. Change is no longer a monthly or quarterly occurrence. It’s now delivered by the hour.

In the face of a pandemic, it’s understandable that priorities can shift. Truthfully, work probably isn’t the most pressing issue unless you’re tending to the health of others. But the impact of Covid-19 on work has to be recognised. One aspect that’s one of the first to suffer in times of change is employee development.

53% of companies have no fixed L&D initiatives at all. While there are various reasons why this might be, the constant change is surely one of them. Nobody wants to make an investment that won’t stand the test of time. Today, resources will naturally be under closer guard than any time in recent memory. 

But, amid the change, there is one constant: your people. Regardless of their changing skills, they all have unique behaviours that they’ll bring to bear (though perhaps no longer to the office) every day. We think that it’s these you should be considering when planning their development. 

With that in mind, here’s a three-step development best practice guide to help you and your people build your skills amid all the change.

Define the essentials

In a tech-driven world, hard skills come in and out of favour. But some behaviours never go out of fashion – be it authenticity, adaptability or concentration. It therefore makes sense to establish the behaviours that are central to success in a given role, before investing in any development initiatives.

You might find that your employees excel in areas that aren’t their natural preference. This is surprisingly common

You’ll need to get introspective here. Often, the skills you think are vital are really just nice-to-haves, and the essential behaviours can slip through the net. Competency frameworks can help you identify what’s most important.

Competency frameworks offer a visual representation of the skills, knowledge and behaviours most central to success in a role. By visualising these, and mapping employee skills to a consistent framework, you can evaluate and develop their positive working behaviours. From there, you’re able to establish personalised development plans.

To really get a handle on what’s essential to succeed in your business, competency frameworks are your best bet. That said, you can use other methods. For example, you might choose to (remotely) interview your top performers to understand the skills they possess and the knowledge they use on a daily basis. You could even incorporate your interview findings into your competency framework. 

Distinguish between preferences and capabilities

Whether it’s your CEO or your cleaners, everybody has natural preferences and capabilities. These, together, make up your day-to-day behaviour. Here are some quick definitions: 

  • Natural preferences – your instinctive behavioural tendencies, heavily influenced by your personality; stable over time.

  • Capabilities – effectively, what you can do. Heavily influenced by experience, feedback and personal development. Can be changed according to context. 

Good employee development considers both of these. However, this process can be confusing. You might find that your employees excel in areas that aren’t their natural preference. This is surprisingly common – we all establish coping mechanisms to stop us from reverting to a natural preference that, at work, might be counterproductive. 

This is how, for example, the most disorganised of people at home can be excellently organised at work.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that excelling in areas outside of your preferences takes up a lot more mental energy. It can be unsustainable, therefore. That’s why it’s important for managers to consider how well employees’ natural preferences align with their daily tasks. Otherwise, burnout can quickly rear its head.

Personalised development strategies should take into consideration both natural preferences and the employee’s capabilities. This will help you to establish where people can naturally excel, and where they’ll need more support.

Set SMART targets

Here’s one you’ve probably heard before. But it bears repeating – making sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) has two clear benefits:

  • Gives your people the best chance of hitting their targets

As we’ve already established, some people are more organised than others! Having strictly defined targets will put the proverbial blinkers on, helping your people avoid distraction (which, at the moment, there’s plenty of). Additionally, with SMART targets, it’s always clear when they’ve been hit. There’s no room for moving goalposts, which will improve employees’ engagement with their development programme. 

  • Provides clear data and evidence to argue for the success of any development initiative.

Personalised development takes time and resources, both of which might be in shorter supply than ever before. This, naturally, can cause resistance or criticism from other quarters of the business. Clear data on the performance of any development initiative – and the value it’s added to the business – will make sure any resistance doesn’t linger for long. 

Gauging behaviour

As skills requirements continue to change, there’s something to be said for maintaining a consistent development process throughout. This is just a rough outline of how you might approach that challenge.

Crucially, it’s important to make sure that: a) you know what’s truly crucial for success in every role, and b) you understand how well these requirements overlap with the natural preferences and capabilities of your people. 

This way, you’ll have a clear view of what success looks like, as well as a picture of where each of your people needs to develop. In these times of uncertainty, that’s a pretty good outcome – whether you’ve got a development plan in place or not.


About the author

Jack Allen is a content marketing executive for Arctic Shores.


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