Good to Great – a philosophical change in thinking development

The process – mandatory recurring performance and development discussion

In most of the organizations employee-manager discussions are carried out regularly to assess individual performance and to verify reaching of personal objectives. Hopefully there is an opportunity for personal development planning (PDP) discussion as well to identify current and future development needs and wants. Typically there are questions like “where do you see yourself in five years time” or  “are there any training needs you have identified” or “I think you should take this project management course just in case”… because others in the team have taken it too….

Framework for discussion, process itself and topics are slightly different in every workplace and I trust the organizations to find a way to conduct these discussions in some way. I guess the first step is to ensure these discussions do happen and it is not all manager planned and driven. There would need to be a respectful and open dialogue in between the two to accomplish some sort of common understanding of current state and how to move on to the future with jointly agreed goals and plans. Company objective and purpose for these discussions is to have some structured way to monitor and steer performance and ensure there is at least one mandatory opportunity for confidential discussion in between the manager and employee. In case these discussions are just one more  step in annual cycle of people process without true genuine attempt to create value for the company and individual there is very little point in using them as a vehicle for building satisfied workforce. If the only purpose of the development discussion is to “tick the box” for completion then a company may not understand the value of the competent and engaged workforce. Not to mention the benefits of maintaining and developing company’s core capabilities and core competencies to ensure business success now and in the longer term.

Having a proper performance and development discussion regularly is not enough if it does not lead into planned and agreed actions to address identified themes. Many companies just identify the development need but fail to initiate any proper action to correct performance issues or to offer any decent development actions. Stating the problem or the need to develop without any tangible means to tackle the issue is simply not enough. It may satisfy the needs of the process and used tool to document the discussion and needs but it fails to deliver the solutions.

Good to Great

In some more advanced organizations there are some predefined core competencies or skill sets that are set as requirements for certain roles or for certain job profiles. These requirements naturally vary by function, by position or seniority level. It is fairly easy to assess competency levels of employees against these predefined criterias, identify developments needs and hopefully agree some actions to address the needs. Many companies do this and are satisfied with the outcomes. This is however fairly mechanical model and in many cases fails to address the real development needs and wants of an individual. It simply states the competency gaps in between the desired state and assessed level of the employee competence and proposes the competency gap to be closed with some appropriate action. This may work fine but it fails to see the individual and emphasizes more role based competencies. From purely learning & development perspective this would probably be fine since there is an approved method to structure desired competencies and match development needs against those. But looking at the situation from broader perspective there are many more aspects of developing people and building competent, experienced, motivated and engaged workforce with clear long term career aspirations and long term development themes to address more holistic needs rather than isolated set of competencies. I will come back to this topic later on in following blog posts.

There is one dilemma that has bothered me for some time. Why do companies (the ones to even bother to do this properly) spend so much time and resources on identifying competency gaps and deciding on action plans for the weakest skills to move them on a next competency level. There is something fundamentally inadequate about this.

So much time and energy focused on improving weakest skills to become mediocre at best. And moving on to next weak skill and so on. Why do we focus on weak skills ? What good are they bringing for the company. I do understand that in some cases a senior SW architect may need to improve his presentation skills due to increased customer and stakeholder encounters but is that really the core competence worth spending the entire development budget and time? There are plenty of examples where we just develop people because they are weak in certain competency or skill set. No matter if it actually increases company performance or the core capability to do business.

Good to Great (by Jim Collins’ book) is a philosophy that applies to developing both core capabilities of an enterprise or taking care of the invaluable people asset a company has. In neither of these cases should the development opportunity to be wasted on improving the weak skills and capabilities. The emphasis should be on understanding the business critical core capabilities and -competencies and developing those to be the best in class. Instead of developing everything to mediocre state focus on improving the good capabilities and competencies to great or even to excellent world class state. Good to Great!

I am pretty sure that the value add of the development discussions and company wide development efforts would be much higher if the emphasis and focus of the actions is on business critical core competencies. Instead of random development needs and actions here and there…

I’ll come back soon with a post on how core capability development is different to competency development and how those to should be intertwined to build a more holistic development framework to support sound business and enable faster and better business transformations and -changes… The key my friend is in systems thinking…

I would be glad to see some comments so I encourage you to leave a comment (especially if you know me dear reader…)



About sleppane

Experienced human resource development professional who has a passion for innovation and development in Learning & Development arena. Passionate about Learning 2.0 - integrating Web 2.0 and more with pedagogical aspects. Keen on developing workplaces, practices and processes if they enable more satisfied workforce. Service Manager @ Sovelto for Learning 2.0 concept
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