Personnel Development, a Cornerstone of Your Management Legacy

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin, (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Personnel Development 2014-07-15

Have you (or someone you’ve known), felt trapped in a role because you were too valuable? Ironically, being really good in one’s role can become a barrier to advancement. Many managers do not want to lose staff who are particularly skilled at critical functions. They end up overlooking the long-term benefit of growing the skills of key employees, to the detriment of both the staff and the organization. I, too, was once pigeon-holed in a role that was both one-of-a-kind and essential for the organization. In time, I used that as a teachable moment on staff development. Let me share my story and what you can garner to help you leave a legacy of utilizing your staff members’ full capabilities.

Early in my career, I received performance appraisals focused entirely on what I had done in the past year. Feedback revolved around the successes in executing my work and what steps I could take to further improve within my specific role. Over time, I wondered why there was no goal setting or even a dialogue for career growth or personal development.

As for promotions within the organization, I noted several were well-founded, others haphazard, and a few were real ‘head-scratchers’. Some managers were known to only hire and promote people in “their own image”, as they sought the perceived safety of people with very similar personalities and backgrounds. A number of my peers were passed over based on impressions rather than on their actual accomplishments.

A key aspect as to why so little coordinated people-development occurred became apparent a few years later when I became a manager. I noted that appraisal documentation given to me had no mention of “staff development”. Consequently, managers faced with burgeoning workloads had little motivation to think about long range staff development, especially as they were never measured on it. Personnel development largely boiled down to course recommendations from Human Resources.

Fast forward a couple more years to when I was able to break free from a limited-scope Engineering Design role by convincing the Program Management organization to give me a chance at one of their broad-based, customer-facing roles. I validated their confidence, and in a relatively short time I advanced several grade levels. One day, the V.P. of my prior division expressed that he was impressed with “what I showed myself capable of doing”, and wanted to interest me about a potential return to his division. I suppressed the urge to inform him those capabilities he just noticed were always there back when I worked in the constricted role on his team. I was resolute not to commit the same error in judgment with my own capable staff members.

Here are the practices to support personnel development that I adopted and advocated for others in leadership positions. You’ll see that none require much effort, time or cost.

Your Staff and You:

  • Via “one on ones” or similar meetings, reassure your staff members that you encourage them to explore long range career plans.
  • Stretch your staff members to lead meetings you normally do yourself, rather than have them just be participants. Even coach them to present to Executive Management.

Your Staff and the Organization:

  • Give your staff members exposure to other partnering organizations and higher levels of management so they see first-hand how other leaders and organizations function.
  • Challenge them to think about opportunities across the full organization. Help staff see how their skills potentially translate to roles in the broader organization.
  • Assign, and as appropriate, assist staff to set up at least one informational interview a year to explore a potential career step.

Your Staff and Their Career:

  • If your performance appraisal system allows for setting of personal goals, add one for “People Development”. Include quantifiable measures.
  • Formalize Capability Development Planswith staff members. Make sure to review progress with each staff member on a regular basis or the plans will not be effective.
  • Create “Succession Plans” with each of your staff members, but also make sure those plans are balanced with a Development Plan so they see you have their interests as well as your organization’s at heart.
  • Consider pairing your staff members with managers from other departments (as part of mentoring). Ideally, the pairings will be based on stated goals of the employees.

Fellow managers, the choice is yours. You can succumb to the pressure of focusing 100% of your staff’s efforts on “today’s” problems. Or you can create time to help them with their long term careers.  Let’s lead our people and the longer range goals of the organization.

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Brian D Strayer

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