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Change, develop and improve


If you see or hear the words “developing people” – you probably don’t react well. If you’re a manager, it probably feels like a duty or, at worst, a pointless exercise. Ticking a box in an appraisal process.

But here’s where you’re wrong. Because I’ve worked with all kinds of people who, at some point, find their feet, grow into a role (sometimes unexpectedly) and thrive. You’ve probably worked with them too but didn’t know that 10 years ago they were less sure, maybe less focused and definitely less experienced.

People change. At work anyway. Some people take a while, but I worked in 3 very different jobs before I found out what I really wanted to do (I’m including the incredibly low level admin job I did after finishing education, although that was just to pay the rent). Now I genuinely love my job.

Some people get by and then have a burst of ambition in their 30s, 40s, 50s or later when they work out what they’re really good at or their lives change – maybe when their kids leave home. Some people hit the ground running when they leave education, but frankly they’re pretty rare. Some people just gel when they end up in working in ways they enjoy, however they got there and whatever they tried before.

People develop in all kinds of ways, whether it’s planned or because they’ve been thrown in the deep end when someone leaves and they have to take on new responsibilities.

So here are 5 tips on getting people to develop:

1 Why bother?

Well you’ll probably be happy if people improve the way they work and it might fill a few skills gaps, reduce your own workload and generally benefit your company. Besides, it might also keep them around – bored people who feel stuck in a rut tend to jump ship.

2 Ask them

Don’t make assumptions and plan people’s lives for them. You may think you know what would be great for them, but you should always check first. If they’re interested, that’s fantastic – but if they aren’t then any thinking, discussing and planning you do is a waste of your time.

3 Work it out

So many development plans, so few completed actions. Pin down exactly what’s going to happen – not just a general “get more experience in X” but how and when. Don’t spoon-feed people: if they want to develop, they should be able to come up with their own ideas about how to do it including checking out options for any training.

4 Get on with it

Whatever you’re planning, make it realistic and make sure it happens. Helping them get even a bit more experience is better than months passing because you’re planning something big and tricky to arrange. A 10% improvement is better than zero. If you need to then set yourself a booking to make or review progress every month, to make sure you don’t let time slip by with nothing happening. Offering to develop people and failing to deliver just backfires, because the risk it that people won’t believe you when you talk about developing them in the future.

5 Did it work?

Everyone develops in their own way. A training course doesn’t suit everyone and there are plenty of other options, including working on projects with people in different work areas and secondments. Whatever you try, look back and ask if it worked: did the person pick up any new skills or improve in other ways? If it made less difference than you hoped – don’t give up. Just discuss it with the employee, see if you can build on whatever’s there and try something different.


By Brian


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