When you hear the words Professional Development, what comes to mind? Many people immediately think about terms such as “succession planning,” or “career path.” While those things certainly require new skills and knowledge, focusing on training for the next job may cause as many problems as it solves.
Someone once described the normal corporate career path as “getting promoted, then waiting for your boss to die or get promoted so you can take their job, over and over until you retire.” While some people certainly aspire to the C-suite and can see a straight path to their ultimate goals, most of us don’t think that way.
This seems paradoxical when you realize that when experts ask people why they are engaged in their work or not, one of the key factors is “chances for development.” If they don’t want to be the boss, what the heck do they want?
Here are some things we need to consider when thinking about development, whether for our employees or ourselves.
Development means different things at different stages of life.
Contrary to what many people think, surveys show that young workers actually want (and need) more time in the office or at least in close contact with their co-workers. That makes sense, since a lot of learning is social and tacit (you learn by being in the environment, rather than formally taught or told). By the time we reach the middle of our careers, with children and other responsibilities, work-life balance becomes more important. As you get closer to retirement age (if that’s your thing) you probably care less about promotion to a new job than not being bored to death or made to feel redundant. Your mileage may vary. When development is tied to promotion, it becomes less relevant to some of your most important team members.
Development is for those identified as “high potentials.”
Since resources are scarce, many organizations try to identify those people who exhibit a desire or talent for a particular position and groom them for leadership. This makes perfect sense (and as a training company, we approve!) but that often means development for everyone else is reduced to job-specific skills, compliance and the like. Limiting growth opportunities to only a handful of identified people means good folks are falling through the cracks, and leads to disengagement and turnover.
Development is crucial to engagement.
Too often, skill development is reduced to “if you take these courses, you’ll get this promotion or get paid this much.” Depending on where you are in life, this might be more or less important. What doesn’t change, though, is most people want to be challenged, get the opportunity to work on new or novel tasks and just learn new skills and information. This is particularly important as people spend less time in physical proximity with those in other parts of the organization. We don’t overhear conversations with other departments that lead to new opportunity.
Real development is often lateral as much as vertical.
If you’re trying to create a culture of learning and development, tying opportunities to promotion severely limits what people can do to develop their skills. When you think about professional development as learning new skills regardless of immediate applicability to their current career track, you may be amazed at what will engage or interest people.
HR and managers don’t necessarily know what their people are interested in.
Truth be told, sometimes their people don’t either. HR leaders worry that their biggest challenge is finding people to fill certain jobs. Often they spend a lot of time looking outside the organization. But how do we know that the next great customer service rep isn’t already working on the shop floor? Opening up opportunities to everyone, even if it’s not a “natural” fit may unlock someone’s potential and help the organization grow from within. This requires broadening who hears about opportunities, and giving people permission to spend time that might not be specific to their job at this moment. It also means having meaningful conversations with people about what they want today and tomorrow.
When we detach development from promotion, we enhance the work experience for more people, leading to more engaged workers. We also help find people within the organization with unexpected talent, motivation and perspective.
Bud to Boss has been helping leaders develop into their potential for over a decade. If you’re a new leader (or a leader of leaders) check it out and see if it’s right for you. We’ve added new content to reflect the increasingly remote nature of work new and developing leaders face today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.