Thursday, 15 November 2012

Performance development - moving away from the garage refit model

Some of my work includes programmes for managers in which I introduce them to the 70:20:10 model and its implications for how to think about development.  What interests me is that whilst managers have no difficulty in accepting the premise of the model - in fact there is almost a sense in which I might be stating something rather obvious - when I dig deeper their practices are somewhat wide of the mark.

I'm blogging about this because it feels really important to me to challenge what's being taken-for-granted.  To be straightforward, based on what I hear people talk about, development planning feels half-hearted, an after-thought, individualistic, transactional, about formal interventions, for self-starters or the career-minded only, and, rather crucially, separate from performance. 

If it is true that most of what we know, or can do, derives from 'learning by doing'  it follows that most development activities, which are linked to performance, should be about the work and done in the workplace setting.

Why is this not so?  Here are some of the things that I notice when I talk to managers:

Performance Development Plan = appraisal, not development. 

Notwithstanding the efforts by HR departments to emphasise the dual purpose of the PDP process to both review and rate historical performance and to plan development, I notice that managers see this process as being solely about  giving the performance rating.  The machinations of the rating process, with its levelling discussions and forced distributions, tip the balance towards appraisal and away from development.

Development = formal development

Discussions about development usually mean discussions about course nominations.  This taken-for-granted is deeply embedded and hard to shift.  The analogy of development being like a garage workshop fits well with how many managers talk about this topic – “remove a group of managers/team members from the workplace, repair or fit higher performance parts as instructed, lubricate if necessary and return to service.”

Development  = for special occasions only

Not only is development seen as a formal activity, it's also for special occasions only, related to a change in responsibilities, or the implementation of a new system or legislation.  If this is right, then I suspect that part of the issue is that workplace development just happens naturally within the normal course of everyday work.  As such, it's not being noted as development activity and therefore it's existence and purpose is being glossed over in the workflow.   

Development = '95% pull'

I notice that the narrative about development in organisations is that managers should 'pull' not 'push'.  I think this comes from the notion that development is an individualistic endeavour.  Clearly, individuals do have a responsibility here, especially when it comes to following their learning interests, but managers are responsible for driving performance and this must include setting development plans linked to the work itself. 

'They aren't career minded so there's very little that we can plan for' 

Many managers talk about only being able to have conversations about development with those who are self-starters or career minded.  They talk quite disparagingly about members of their teams, often younger or older workers, who just want to do the job, don't want to progress and who show little interest in being developed.  This distinction isn't helpful either for the organisation or the individual.  


I am finding that talking to managers about how we learn and stimulating their thinking about the practical things that can be done to plan work-based development is helping to change perspectives.

However, my reflection is that the taken-for-granteds are deeply embedded, especially by the ways in which the performance development process works in practice. 

Much more work needs to be done to help managers shift their thinking and their practice.  If there is an answer, it lies somewhere in making the connection to the work itself.  And as I have written about before - see observing practice - the root of this in learning to observe the work and to place it centre-stage.    


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