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Human Resources
Jun 30, 2017

Are Development Plans A Waste Of Time And Money?

Sponsored Content provided by Dave Hoff - Chief Operating Officer and Executive VP of Leadership Development, EASI Consult

The title of this article is a question, and it’s one Marc Effron, President of The Talent Strategy Group, as much as answered with a definitive “yes” in his recent article, “Delusions of Employee Development.” 

In that article, Effron cites a statistic from The New Talent Management Network’s report, “The State of Talent Management 2011” – 23 percent of human resources professionals rated development planning as being effective in their organization.

He then goes on to make two indictments:

  • HR is delusional about how managers will approach development planning.
  • The assumption about employees is equally unrealistic.
His solution? Radically reduce your expectations. A good first step to doing that is to set just one development goal, rather than several. Effron also suggests differentiating your development investment using a “Talent Philosophy” (HR speak for allocating your resources toward your highest potential employees). I agree with this but have a different twist on it which I will describe later. 

I like that Effron put the onus on managers by making them responsible for setting the development goal. He also advocates imposing significant rewards and consequences for managers in how they assist their staff in accomplishing goals.

I can already hear the pushback as you read that paragraph –“You are suggesting that managers spend a significant amount of their precious time helping employees accomplish their development goals?” Yes.  What responsibility is more important for managers than developing the capabilities of their people?

I agree with Effron’s point that it is, indeed, delusional to continue to think managers and employees are going to be committed and invested in accomplishing development plans. So, why haven't the commitment and investment been there, and why won’t they be there moving forward? I think it comes down to motivation, commitment and consequences.

Only certain types of employees are intrinsically and extrinsically driven to continually improve in their work and want bigger and better going forward. There are some employees for whom work is a means to an end - they do the job they have been hired to do and will give you their best eight hours a day, but they have other interests and obligations beyond that.  Another group of employees prefers to not put in the work to accomplish goals for a five-percent increase when they can get a three-percent increase without accomplishing goals.

Effron notes four other changes to achieve realistic employee development, in addition to reducing expectations, which I agree with, and differentiating your investment – I agree here, too, although Effron doesn’t include a way to measure potential, like EASI Consult’s Burke Learning Agility Inventory. For more information on the Burke LAI, go to the EASI Consult website.

Those remaining changes are:
  • Managers should set development goals for their people. I agree, along with having consequences.
  • Double-down on experiences. In his article, Effron espouses what he calls “experience maps,” which is a little different from “career ladders,” in that if you want to work in a function, it shows you the jobs/experiences you need. But that approach won’t work if someone is going to move across functions. I am a fan of competencies as the way to have that conversation and Effron is not.
  • Create development plans in talent review meetings. I have no problem with that. I think competencies and learning agility dimensions need to be strengthened and can add to the specificity of the conversation. You could even include experience maps in the discussion. Be specific about what you want the person to demonstrate and how whether it has been accomplished will be measured.
  • Make managers accountable for development. Amen.
So, what has changed the way people like Effron and I think about development? It’s the recognition that you aren’t going to develop everyone, so don’t try and boil the ocean. Think about it this way – if each employee on a team achieved all his or her development goals, would there be new positions to put each of them in? That achievement rate likely wouldn’t happen, of course, but you probably wouldn’t be able to accommodate those employees if they did. 

Until about 20 years ago (some people may still believe this) where people developed was in training classes. Mike Lombardo, who was at the Center for Creative Leadership at the time, wrote a book called “The Lessons of Experience.” In it, he determined, through research, that people learn best on the job, not through training programs. 

Effron reiterates that finding by encouraging organizations to sell their learning management systems, stop sending the masses to these classes and put the money back into development on the job. I mostly agree with Effron, but there is some limited training that, if done with on-the-job work, can be effective. 

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas about how you can make your development efforts more effective.

EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit, email [email protected] or call (800) 922-EASI.


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