There's no question whether organizations should prioritize professional development, especially if they want to retain talent. But not all organizations are having the types of growth conversations that put employees in the driver's seat and set them up for success.
According to Gallup, 87% of millennials and 69% of non-millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a job. Yet according to CEB, 70% of employees are dissatisfied with their company's growth options.
From a Fierce lens, what's often missing from the development conversation is an emphasis on allowing the individual to plot their own course of growth. Creating pre-planned paths for development can be beneficial for sparking ideas and providing options, but it's important that the individual's vision for themselves be the primary driver behind the plan.
At our 2017 Fierce Summit, Brian Canlis, special guest and owner of Canlis restaurant, shared what he asks candidates during the interview process:
"How would being an employee at Canlis help you become the person you want to be?"
This question shifts the context of growth to where it becomes driven by the individual and their vision of who they want to become, rather than what they want to become. The who refers to the human being behind the work. And the answer is different for everyone.
Integration: Shifting Your Growth Context
To some extent, integrating a self-driven approach will require organizations to redefine what growth means because it can mean different things to different people. For example, growth isn't always about promotions or gaining more knowledge in a particular area. Asking the question who do you want to be? is going to illicit a lot of different responses.
A potential reality we need to keep in mind as leaders in the development conversation is that those we're coaching may not know where they're going or who they want to be. When encouraging them to plot their own growth, some employees will know exactly who they want to become while some will only have a vague idea. And others won't have a clue. Sample growth paths can be helpful in this area by providing a possible avenue
As leaders, we need to meet employees where they are. Providing sample growth paths that increase skills and accountability over time is important, and individuals need to be provided with the right tools to be able to follow these paths if they choose to.
In plotting a course of growth, plans obviously need to be intentional or they will fail. However, sample growth plans run the risk of being too prescriptive if we become attached to them. People don't know what they don't know, so it's important for organizations to walk the line of providing potential growth paths and being open to alternative paths that will naturally unfold when the individual is made an agent of their own growth. Overly-prescriptive pathing is also a hindrance for organizations who want to be more innovative—it doesn't work for people, and it doesn't work for business.
One way to encourage employees to be an agent of their own development is to have them look for areas of opportunity that will help organizations be more agile. Too often the people deciding what that path is for business aren't as close to the front lines of the problems, and these people need to be seeking the perspectives of those who are. For example, the front lines may be able to forecast job positions that aren't needed now but may be needed in 3-4 years to come. Being aware of this potential need could provide additional growth options.
Supporting a Self-Driven Path
To shift the organizational mindset, leaders need to be asking their teams:
"In what ways do you want to grow, and how can we fit that into the needs of the business?"
An important part of creating a growth plan is having a fierce conversation with yourself. Writing a stump speech is a great way to do this. Have your team members answer the following questions for themselves:
- Where are you going?
- Why are you going there?
- Who is going with you?
- How are you going to get there?
Keep in mind that not everyone will have an answer to these questions and communicate to them up front that it's perfectly fine to not know. The main benefit of posing these questions is to ignite their thinking around growth and begin exploring possibilities together.
Whether an individual is certain or uncertain about the direction they want to go, having the right growth conversations will stimulate thinking and set their development on a positive trajectory.
One of the best ways to facilitate growth is to ask, "In what areas would you like to gain new responsibilities or grow your skills?" Then begin delegating new tasks in these areas. Skillful delegation is in essence a growth conversation—with this approach, newly-assigned tasks become exciting self-driven opportunities that can potentially create more clarity in an individual's growth plan. It's important for leaders to avoid dele-dumping, an ineffective delegation style where leaders assign tasks without consulting their team members. Dele-dumping often leads to stress instead of growth.
Another immediate way to support employees on their path of growth is to take an ongoing approach to feedback. When an employee is successful, acknowledge them right then and there so they can gain more awareness of the areas where they excel. When things aren't going so well, let them know as soon as you see it so that they have an early opportunity to course correct and grow in these areas. If feedback conversations are saved for bi-annual or annual reviews, employees completely miss out on daily opportunities for growth.
A core idea that we need to carry with us and integrate into these growth conversations is that our success relies on others as well. It benefits others when you let them know the potential you see in them, and it can give people ideas and help them see what they may not see. I feel grateful for people seeing things in me and saying, "I think you would be great at XYZ." Although I'm accountable for my own growth, I'm inherently limited by my own perspective. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for the perspectives of others and their willingness to communicate what they saw in me.
This brings me to the Fierce idea that no one owns the capital T truth under the sun, and this is also true when it comes to your own life. Others will inevitably see things you can't see.
Having the right conversations creates the clarity necessary for growth. Get your organization started on a self-driven approach to development by downloading our eBook 5 Conversations You Need to Start Having Today.