If the individuals at the top level of an organisation aren’t committed to their own learning and development plans, the impact of development initiatives throughout the organisation will be weakened at every level, says Labour Solutions Australia’s Managing Director, Andrew Northcott.
“What I find, consistently, is that where an executive team themselves are committed to growth and development, both at an individual and a team level, there is a far greater commitment and therefore investment in development at other levels in the organisation,” he says.
“Where the executive team or an individual executive chooses not to be part of an ongoing development process, then often I find that commitment to development falls away in the vertical channel below that person.
“Whether it is the CEO/MD, the executive teams themselves, or any level that falls below them, there really shouldn’t be an exception.”
“You’re never too far gone in business to stop growing and developing yourself, and if you’ve got a commitment to personal growth and development of a personal nature, then you’re going to create a fantastic example within your area of the business for ongoing growth and development,” he says.
Empower, don’t impose
“Senior leaders are responsible for managing the performance of the wider business, and should therefore be held accountable for the provision of the opportunity to learn and develop,” Northcott says.
The starting point for development plans should be a “commitment to competency” that ensures individuals are capable of doing their job.
As much as possible, areas of focus beyond core competencies should be identified by the employees themselves, then supported by the manager and executive levels. And as a general rule, overly prescriptive development plans initiated solely by managers, and plans that focus on just hard or just soft skills, should be avoided.
If a leader does notice an area that needs development – for example, the way an employee is communicating with colleagues – they should explain the behaviour and its impact to the individual, then give them the opportunity to act, rather than enforce a solution.
To empower an employee by building awareness of an issue and the solutions available, and letting them determine the next step, is “far more powerful” than a prescriptive approach, he says.
It’s also important to avoid the trap of thinking development and growth should necessarily lead to managerial positions, Northcott says. This mentality could condemn highly capable technical experts to “a pathway to failure and unhappiness”.
Individual input is important, but there must always be a business case for the plan, Northcott adds.
“It has to be an investment that relates either to the job the individual is doing now, the job they’re going to be developed into, or something aligned to their career advancement that is going to either act as a retention strategy or benefit the business in the future.
“Development plans need to be focused on the short, the medium and potentially the long-term growth of the individual, and may even consider identifying development opportunities that exist beyond the current employer,” he adds.
“To help an individual to form a pathway of learning that has a career lens associated with it rather than just a job lens is very empowering for people.”
Apply it back to the workplace
A clear development plan, informed by an individual’s needs and requests, should always include a mechanism – such as regular coaching and support – to ensure that what they learn can be applied back to the workplace, Northcott says.
Without a mechanism of applied learning, “it’s just investing in something that’s interesting but not necessarily beneficial to the organisation”.
There should also be a feedback mechanism that shows how the investment is impacting the work environment.
If the investment is not generating a noticeable return and the system needs work, there may be a temptation to stop investing to save money, but in the long term this will do more harm than good, he warns.
HR are partners, not providers
HR are “significant partners” in the provision of learning solutions, and need to build awareness of learning needs within the business, but they should not be the sole deliverers of development, or those who actually develop the plans, Northcott says.
“The role of HR and L&D in particular has to be around that identification of needs, the sourcing of appropriate solutions, and then the supporting of managers throughout the business to help their teams go through the development they need.
“Far too often organisations think that because they’ve got an L&D department, that department has to be the solution to all development needs within the business, and it’s just not possible nor fair.”
L&D functions should be involved in the “internal consultative approach to the needs identification”, but after that they should step back and have more of a “vendor relationship” with managers, providing them with talent to support development requirements and ensuring it is effective.