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Individual Development Plans, a really smart investment

Every start-up business requires an initial investment and a comprehensive business plan. That is if the goal is to reach a good return on that initial investment and make a handsome profit.

This works not only for growing a business but also for growing employees. Growth from within is paramount to the development of any organization who wants to endure and be successful. It also enables said organization to have real leaders to manage change and drive your employee retention rates up.

Assess opportunities and set SMART goals

However, employee development doesn’t just occur upon a wish. It takes the joint effort of the management to invest and of the learning and development professionals to draw a road map for each employee in terms of where he can and wants to go within the business and what skills and competencies they will have to get in order to reach that point.

This process usually starts once a performance review is completed and the employee receives feedback in a one on one meeting with his hierarchic superior. It is important that the appraisal system itself is transparent and the employee can easily understand the ratings he receives.

The conclusion of such an overview meeting should be an Individual Development Plan containing the goals to be sought after until the next review. It’s best if these goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) and agreed upon with the employee. Just setting them on paper (or typing them in the online appraisal application) does not ensure they will actually be reached at some point.

Learning takes many forms

A trap that many supervisors fall into is that when setting goals they most often than not focus on areas of weakness. This turns the one on one meetings into not very pleasant encounters and employees almost feel like children being scolded by benevolent parents for their shortcomings.

Correcting issues is obviously necessary but it’s always easier to build on strengths so at least one goal should be based on developing and improving a strong suit of the employee. It gives deserved recognition and will ensure employee happiness and retention.

Of course, reaching the set goals will not only take some effort on the part of the employee but also an investment of resources on the part of the organization. After establishing what the objectives are and how they will be measured by the next review, the learning path has to be mapped as well. There may be need of specific training, mentoring or even a period of internship in a different department.

The possibility of that particular employee being unproductive or in need of assistance for the duration of learning also has to be taken into account. Learning often means trial and error but once it is complete the results make up for the lost time and resources.

Individual plans ensure a personalized experience

While plans can be developed for specific groups of people during the early stages of their employment (for example all Customer Service Agents need to learn about the company’s products and policies), plans need to be tailored quickly to the individual. Some agents will need problem solving skills, others positive communication and conflict resolution competencies.

Keep in mind that all employees — including senior management and the leadership team — should have specific development plans. Learning is a continuous process and hiring talent does not suffice – it has to be nurtured and appreciated.

Once set in motion, the Individual Development Plan should be reviewed at least twice a year to ensure that there is continual progress toward the established goals. The review gives the supervisor a great opportunity to support and show appreciation for the efforts of the employee.

Although agreed upon verbally in an open conversation, the plan needs to be in writing so that all involved can go back to it and stay on track. This also lowers the risk of misunderstandings about what the goals are and how progress is being measured. Even though goals should not change in between reviews, the methods of achieving those goals may be subject to adjustment.

Development means more than training for one job

As a Harvard Business Review research shows “dissatisfaction with some employee-development efforts appears to fuel many early exits. We asked young managers what their employers do to help them grow in their jobs and what they’d like their employers to do, and found some large gaps. Workers reported that companies generally satisfy their needs for on-the-job development and that they value these opportunities, which include high-visibility positions and significant increases in responsibility. But they’re not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring, and coaching—things they also value highly.”

Of course, training is costly but as the same article concludes: ”Companies won’t train workers because they might leave, and workers leave because they don’t get training. By offering a more balanced menu of development opportunities, employers might boost their inclination to stick around.”

Organizations that manage to hire talented people and help them grow are the most likely to succeed in the long run. It takes skill to balance both new and existing human capital and make sure that when a key position is vacated, there is the possibility to fill it internally.

As employees grow, so does the success of the organization because the most valuable assets are those who walk into the office or log on remotely each day.

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