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:
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: www.dreamstime.net and by Penubag (Own work in Inkscape) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons