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The problem with development plans is that all too often they just do not work. Or at least not work very well. The issues with them are well documented. Plans may not be taken seriously. They may contain too many goals or insufficiently specific ones. Or they may not be behavioral enough and over-rely on training programs or coaching as solutions.

But there are two growing trends that may hold some hope of making development plans more reliably effective.

The first is a move towards coaches and managers becoming more involved in the writing of development plans. The background here is the strong and pervasive belief that people need to ‘own’ their plans. That they should not feel that development actions have been imposed upon them. And there is much sense in this, too, because if people feel that they have no choice in development actions then they are far less likely to complete them.

However, this often results in individuals being left to write their development plans on their own, or at least to put the first draft together on their own. And the all too often result of that is poor quality development plans.

But I have recently been involved in a project in which coaches have played a far more active part in writing development plans. We sit with leaders over a laptop and literally brainstorm and write the plan together. And not with the coaches constantly saying ‘what do you think?’ to the leader; but with the coaches playing a very active role in making suggestions about potential development actions the individual could try. The result has been far better quality development plans and with no noticeable fall in leaders’ sense of ownership for their plans.

The second trend is a move to shorter timeframes for development plans. The standard at present is for annual plans, with perhaps quarterly or half-yearly reviews of progress. But if a leader hasn’t acted on their plan in the first three months, they usually aren’t going to. So why not focus plans on things that people can do more or less immediately and give them a time frame of 3-6 months. There may be some actions (such as attending certain courses) that cannot be completed in that time, but these can just be carried over to the next plan. And that is the real bonus of shorter timeframes for development plans – that they put a greater emphasis on continual development.