The Development Dialogue

This is a correspondence between a student and me. It is about development of people in organisations. Just thought it may be of interest to others to read.

Dear Sir,

I remember you always said in class that an individual’s development is his/her own responsibility. What you said makes a lot of sense. However, will it not become too cumbersome for companies if employees start saying that I want XYZ development inputs? It might not be always feasible to give them training/ assignments that they need.

Again when companies have Individual Development Plans for employees, it is always approved from managers. One thought that comes to my mind is that why should the development needs be approved. But on second thoughts, it also occurs to me that, employees might start demanding things that might not be necessary for business.

As an HR manager, how do we ensure such a balance in employees’ development?


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Hello B,

The questions raised by you are very important and let me try to answer those seriatim:

You said [I have rephrased it partially] “It may become cumbersome to provide the demanded inputs to employees and it is not a feasible proposition.”

No organisation can provide all inputs required [demanded] by every employee. This is so because an organisation looks at competencies of an employee on current job and sometimes for the next higher job and decides what inputs should be provided. So it is focused from [a] what competencies need to be honed, and [b] what resources are available, which obviously includes prioritisation too. It is focused from developing ‘Mission Critical skills’ and those behavioural competencies that are required of him.

An employee [usually] desires inputs that are exclusively aimed at reaching higher position. I have often felt that the word ‘development’ is perhaps the wrong word we use, it generates this behaviour. It somehow connotes, wrongly though, that the end of development is promotion, and that development is the organisation’s responsibility. Organisations help employees create development plan [which is a good thing] and then monitor them [which is ridiculous!]! This is something I experienced as a child – my mother used to set the study time-table for me, review it at the end of the day, and I used to hate it from the bottom of my heart, I know this is the same experience with all, and I just do not know why people [read HR Mangers] cannot relate to their experiences. Monitoring action on development plan is to treat your employees like a child and not like an adult who decides what is right for him. That is where things go wrong because the organisation gives the message that it is responsible for employees’ development, and then when employees start asking for more inputs it does not know what to do.

I have always felt that we should stop using the word ‘development’ and start using the word ‘adaptation’. [Darwin would readily support me if not HR managers]. That will encompass many things beyond the promotion oriented learning. Adapting is a word that strongly puts the focus [and onus] of development on the employee.

So the answer is that an organisation must show commitment to provide inputs, clearly informing that there will be some prioritisation. In that they will focus on imparting technical/ functional skills first, followed by providing external training. Managerial skills are best learnt on the job, so providing ‘experiential inputs’ is the best solution but it cannot be afforded to all. What employees do not realise often is that there are two very quiet ways of learning managerial skills – by role modelling and by reflection. Both are completely in the hands of an employee, nobody can take them away, and both are very effective learning tools.

You said, “Again when companies have Individual Development Plans for employees, it is always approved from managers. One thought that comes to my mind is that why should the development needs be approved.”

Now you know why they are approved by Managers. But there can be a good side to it. My experience is that most of the employees cannot articulate their own development needs. You require a coach or a mentor who helps you with that work. It requires a dialogue.

Organisations place that responsibility on the boss since he is responsible for the result too. He is supposed to look at his junior’s performance in objective manner and help him realise the areas of development. In reality this discussion is held in a very judgemental way [in most organisations] and that defeats the purpose. It also helps the organisation clarify what can be done and what cannot be done towards an employee’s development. The approved plans are usually picked up by HR function to devise Training Calendar and get Budget sanctioned, so as a process it is okay. Whether it gets implemented in spirit is another matter.

The more we talk, the more you will realise the importance of having good and meaningful dialogue. That is the soul of almost all HR processes. It is the single most important managerial skill; incidentally it is a skill that helps you in all walks of life!

But nobody teaches it [Invite me to teach and see: I can do a good job, but don’t tell my wife, she will laugh her heart out!!]

You have talked of striking a balance. Firstly, we must get our role right and secondly, employees are not unreasonable people, I can say that from thirty-six years of experience as an employee and also as an HR Manager. It is possible to talk it over.

Thanks again,

Best wishes,