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Transforming While Performing


I’m always surprised when leaders explain to me why it’s hard to make development a priority. They invariably say that it comes down to time. It’s not uncommon to hear some variation of:

“My people are so maxed out, over-burdened, and under-resourced, that they don’t have a spare minute to dedicate to their development.”

But let’s deconstruct this argument against development.  The first half of the statement is probably the most compelling description imaginable of the business case for development. In our flat and flat-out world, employees are pressed to the limit every day… the limits of their time, skills, and resources. Development is a strategy to push those limits out, increase capacity, and enable expanded impact and results. It’s precisely when people are over-burdened and under-resourced that they need development most.

And the second half of the statement… well, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about what development is and how it works.  For too long, development has been tucked away in a corner, brought out at annual reviews, and addressed through workshops and classes. But for development to fit the cadence of today’s workplace, it must be brought out of the corner and into the workflow. It must be woven into and around genuine contributions to the business. Real-time. No spare moments required.

This demands leaders who are willing to entertain an expanded or updated definition of development… one that includes experiences that build skills and abilities. And, guess what? These experiences can actually focus on real work that needs to get done… creating the ultimate ‘two-fer’ for organizations.

  • Do you have some budgeting, forecasting, or analysis work that must be accomplished?  Find an employee who wants and needs to expand her financial acumen… and turn real work into development.
  • Surely there are projects that you’d like to move forward on. Find an employee who’s expressed an interest in supervision or leadership and assign them to lead a team… and turn real work into development.
  • Are you burdened by too many cross-functional meetings? Find an employee who wants to broaden his exposure to the organization as a whole and invite him to be your designee… and turn real work into development.

Powerful and relevant development is like a marriage made (not in heaven, but) in the workplace.

A note of caution: This is not about off-loading distasteful tasks to others. This embedded, integrated approach to development demands truly understanding the employee and his/her goals and finding an appropriate match in terms of genuine work that must be accomplished to drive organizational results!

The very work that is over-burdening you and your employees is the fodder required for in-role development. Simply looking at these tasks, assignments, and responsibilities in a different light can offer rich opportunities for everyone to transform while they perform.

Images: and by Penubag (Own work in Inkscape) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Julie – I enjoy every one of your blogs, and particularly this one! I believe you are spot-on with your response to a very common argument. I have some Executive coaching clients who use the same “excuse” for not focusing on their own development … I will point them to your blog and remind them to “perfectly practice” their new skills as they work to accomplish their daily job! Thanks!

    • So great to hear from you, Rachel! And thanks for your kind words. It all comes down to reframing our thinking…. something you are so good at! Let’s catch up soon… lots to share!

      • Dear Julie
        thanks for the blog. I am experiencing the same where students need to be exposed and gain experience in mastering skills to become professional nurses. The managers don’t allow them to take charge of a shift and don’t want to coach end mentor them. I often hear that students are the responsibility of the school. These managers don’t know how much they are missing when not engaging with the shaping of the budding professionals

        • Thanks for expanding the context of this discussion, Erika. You’re right… the same dynamic applies to professional education/development. So much can be learned by doing… and when the doing serves a fundamental business need, all the better. It does take some willingness on the part of managers though… and some skill. I really appreciate your input here!

  2. Great post, Julie. There are two statements in particular that really stood out for me: “For development to fit the cadence of today’s workplace, it must be brought out of the corner and into the workflow. It must be woven into and around genuine contributions to the business.” These two sentences, if acted upon, can have a huge impact in people development and organizational success. Your examples of development as part of the current work load are also very good.

    When people are “maxed out”, I think it is important for leaders to keep in mind that when employees take on addition or higher level tasks, they may not have the capacity to keep all of their current responsibilities. If that is the case, progressive leaders should look at delegation to develop others in the chain or consider outsourcing where a full time employee is not required. Without offloading as employees graduate to more valuable work, you run the risk of burnout.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it!

    • Your point is very well taken, Stephen. We can’t keep adding infinitely without taking something away. And I love your imagery of delegation offering development down the chain.

      Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts here. It’s fun to connect in another setting! See you around Twitter! Julie


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