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February - 2008 - issue > People Manager
Formulating a development plan for people
C Mahalingam (Mali)
Friday, February 1, 2008
People development is a key deliverable from those who manage people. It is clearly evidenced from research that the maximum learning and development happen for people on the job and under a good manager that serves as a mentor. Most organizations have also defined the appraisal review time as the annual window for determining a somewhat focused development plan for their employees since it provides a unique opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses and identify the areas for development.

Chess and checkers
Good people managers understand the difference between playing the board games chess and checkers. Marcus Buckingham of Gallup fame clearly suggests that managing people is very similar in terms of the rules of the game. In chess, each piece on the board is differently-abled and so treated differently. In checkers, all the pieces on the board are treated the same. This analogy has tremendous implications on managing people, particularly when it comes to determining their development needs.

It will help people managers to understand that in creating development plans for their people, it is important to understand that there are three different types of plans that will become the focus.

Advancement plan
Top talent in any team or organization will need an ‘advancement plan’, and not another training plan, for their development. This would basically consist of discussions about their next role or job, what specific higher level competencies are required to be built, what are the potential derailers that need to be addressed in order to ensure that the top talent does not fail, what kind of mentoring help is needed, and the like.

Enhancement plan
Those employees who are solid or stable good performers need an ‘enhancement plan’, again not just another training plan. Enhancement plan will look at the areas where skills need to be further honed, the competencies that are currently at acceptable levels but not world class, and lateral moves that will bring about well-formed performance capability. The job rotation here is not so much about moving to a ‘breeding ground’ job that an advancement plan may provide to the top talent, but moving into a job which will test your current skills better or fill some gaps in it before these gaps widen.

Improvement plan
Improvement plans are meant for those that fall short of the performance requirements. These are also called ‘performance improvement plans’ or PIPs in short. By definition, these plans would mention about performance gaps, competency deficiencies, attitudinal improvements required, and the like. But more importantly, the PIPs for underperformers or marginal performers would also focus on the need for these employees to show marked improvement and the necessity to sustain such improvement over time. Many times, these PIPs also clearly indicate the consequence of not living up to the expected improvement standards that may lead to the employee concerned being brought under probation and later moving out of the job.

Role of the manager
While the development plans of any of the three types listed above (‘advancement plan’ for top talent, ‘enhancement plan’ for the solid performers, and ‘improvement plan’ for marginal performers) are made for the employees under different talent categories, the onus of executing these plans lies largely with the managers of these people. It is not uncommon to come across situations where such plans are prepared and handed down to the employees without clearly agreeing on the nature and type of support that the manager should provide to realize them.

Remove training calendar from circulation
Quarterly review of the development plans by the managers is a minimum requirement; and development plans are not just training plans. It can be often noticed in many companies that the appraisal process requires either as part of the appraisal document or form or as a perforated annexure to the form details of training needs. What happens in several such cases is really scary! Often managers reach out to the training calendar released by the HR or Training Organization and pick out a few trainings listed there for recommendations. My recommendation is to make sure that training calendars actually are completely withdrawn from circulation during the appraisal time as such calendars cannot determine the training needs for employees. On the contrary, the development needs identified during the performance review discussions should drive the training needs and translate into training programs and calendars.

Beyond training, it is about development
Needs of employee development often go beyond standard training programs. Often, the identified developmental needs will require many-faceted interventions such as some class-room training, some external training, some coaching and special mentoring help, some reading and reflection, and last but not the least, some certification studies. Over simplifying a development need into training and expecting the training organization to evolve training programs to meet this is not only unrealistic, but also unfair to the employee concerned.

Employee development is a key job of every manager and the employee. But knowing that it is a game of chess (different plans for different folks) rather than a game of checkers will go a along way in making this work for the benefit of all concerned.

The Author is Senior VP and Chief People officer with Symphony Services. He can be reached at mahalingam.c@symphonysv.com
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