Individual development planning (IDP) has been a mainstay in the human resources landscape for as long as most people in the workforce can remember. We all know the IDP, right? It's that creaky event that occurs once or twice each year - an opportunity for the employee to spend some quality time with his or her manager to consider aspirations, possibilities and the action required to drive toward a desirable future with the organization.
But increasingly, the IDP is falling out of favor. And good riddance! IDPs are administratively burdensome and out of step with the needs of a dynamic workplace. No wonder many organizations are rethinking this tradition. Some are reconstituting it with fewer forms and more touch points. Others are boldly including development planning in the same experiment they're conducting related to performance reviews. They're eliminating both with the hope that managers will take it upon themselves to incorporate evaluation, feedback and development conversations into their daily cadence.
A problem and a solution
The problem with this "hope" (and it's a big one!) is that leaders generally fail to organically engage in the kinds of meaningful conversations required to drive growth, motivation and retention. As a result, too frequently, the less-than-effective activities of the past are being replaced with something even worse: nothing.
But another way is brewing - one that addresses the criticism of old-school approaches and moves development planning in the direction of being a powerful, 21st-century tool for growth and change. It involves evolving the definition of this previously exclusive activity, opening the door (and the meeting) to more minds, perspectives and people in the process. To optimize growth and development in today's environment, we must ditch individual development planning (IDP) meetings for collaborative development planning (CDP).
More than a one-letter switch?
Advancing development planning in this way requires more than just switching out the letter I for C. It requires fundamentally rethinking the unspoken and unwritten development contract that's been in place for decades. There's general agreement that today, employees must own their own careers. Yet still, we play out the old script or ritual of the employee sitting down with the manager to plot out the future.
Last time I checked, managers are no better equipped to predict the future than anyone else. The dynamic and disruptive environment seems to have jammed even the best crystal balls. And, given increasing spans of control and distributed workforces, managers may not even have clear line of sight to their employees' talents, opportunities and contributions. And yet, we continue to go through the motions of these limited and limiting one-on-one development dialogues.
Here are some "why not" questions to consider:
- Why not stop the madness and acknowledge that more minds might offer greater perspective?
- Why not draw upon those who know the employee best?
- Why not let managers off the hook a bit by sharing responsibility for development with others?
- Why not begin convening growth gatherings instead of individual development planning meetings?
How crowdsourcing can support development
As we've mentioned above, employee growth is too important and complex to leave to managers and the "individual" development process alone. It's time to leverage the idea of crowdsourcing to render development planning relevant again. More minds, more perspectives and more input are required to ensure the kind of growth that employees expect and organizations need. Shifting from "individual" development planning to a more collaborative approach and introducing the idea of growth gatherings not only offers a contemporary alternative to the IDP process, it has the potential to enhance trust and build strong networks of support among employees.
Here's how CDP (collaborative development planning) could work:
- The employee identifies four to six individuals to be part of his/her collaborative development team. Options include co-workers within the department, employees (if they have direct reports) and/or colleagues from other departments or divisions who know them and their work. External customers, suppliers and consultants/contractors might also be included depending upon the nature of the relationships and the organization.
- Collaborative development team members are invited to attend a 60- to 90-minute meeting. The invitation includes a handful of reflection questions that each member should arrive prepared to discuss. Sample questions include:
- What is this person's unique value proposition... what are some of his/her greatest strengths, talents and contributions?
- What's one skill or competency that could most dramatically enhance this person's ability to contribute optimally and why?
- How are business changes (within and outside the organization) likely to affect this person - either negatively or positively with new opportunities?
- What career advice do you have for this person?
- While the team prepares, so does the employee considering accomplishments, talents, changing interests and needs and what he/she wants to be doing in the future. Rather than anchoring around positions - which come and go - the focus here is on the nature of the work people want to do, the kinds of problems they want to solve and what they want to achieve. This yields a title-free, highly personal definition of career success.
- On the day of the meeting, the employee facilitates the conversation among collaborative development planning team members, asking them to share the results of their pre-work and then sharing his/hers. Together, they gain clarity on the individual's future focus then brainstorm possible actions to move in that direction.
- After the meeting, the employee reflects upon the ideas generated and drafts possible development actions to review with his/her manager for approval, support and resourcing.
Welcome to the village
CDP (collaborative development planning) gives employees the tools - and also the permission - they need to own their development in an actionable way. It off-loads some of the burden from time-starved leaders as each employee expands his or her development support system. Now, people will cultivate their "villages" - others who understand who they are, what's important to them and how they want to grow. And, more individuals will feel invested in the employee's success which might spawn stronger relationships, more and more focused feedback, and a community or culture of growth.
Today's workplace is defined by tools and technologies that facilitate collaboration. Now is a perfect time to infuse greater crowdsourcing and collaboration into the development of an organization's most precious resource: its people.