We have been working with many organizations and individuals on growing their behaviors and mindset to enable them to better take lead of their lives. As such, we have been privy to many conversations about the challenges faced by leaders, managers, and individual employees alike when it comes to development that helps drive the business and personal outcomes that matter to people. While there are several reasons that we came across, we wanted to share the top 3 most commonly found to be hindering the value that development efforts delivered.
1: The development does not tackle the behaviors and mindsets for the outcome to be achieved nor bring the new habits into real life context.
Our mindset, thoughts, and how we process information all impact how we act and what we choose to do. Many times when we receive our performance reviews or think about development, we think in terms of what we want to be able to do, or should be able to do. We focus on the outcomes. For example, “you need to be more assertive,” or, “I wish I could speak better in public.” While it is great to have objectives and be focused on the outcomes, we also need to pay attention to what aspects of our mindset, environment, and behaviors will enable those outcomes to be achieved. For example, if you need to be more assertive then you may need to think through how you are processing information in the moment, the behaviors that you need to demonstrate and start engaging, and what you need access to in your environment to help you be this way? Some examples would be: starting to be more assertive with people you are comfortable with, learning the right language that allows you to be assertive while remaining comfortable, or setting a goal like speaking up in your friendship group when you have a preference in situations where you usually would just remain quiet.
While we have become really good at knowing what we may want to achieve as a person, as a team, or as a business, there are challenges in cultivating the mindset and underlying behaviors that are needed to drive the outcomes. There is a need for personalized and collective growth journeys that encompass the cognitive and behavioral growth needed to develop the systems and habits to achieve the goal.
“The mismatch between leadership development as it exists and what leaders actually need is enormous and widening”
– Harvard Business Review
Another challenge was that training initiatives tended to not bring engaging the new behavior into real life context. While learning about what you need to do is a great first step, real change and impact needs the action to be taken into real life – in those everyday moments where you need to implement a new way of thinking or a different way of responding. Only by practicing the change in real life contexts will the behavior have a chance of sticking. For example, if you want a customer representative to be less reactive and more responsive (more conscious and purposeful in their communications) then yes, practicing this at work while handling customers is great. However, practicing it as a behavior in life and consistently applying the learning – with friends, family, or in any conversational moment – will amplify how quickly that behavior becomes the norm.
2: Reports are great and insightful, but lead to little sustainable change.
The majority of organizations use some form of assessment (if not multiple) to assess their leadership team, and even their whole employee base. Many of these assessments provide extensive knowledge into what type of person someone is, what they are good at or struggle with, or what category they are in. They also provide insights into how to utilize this information – for example, what to do, what to stay away from, and how to handle interacting with others – given this information.
While these reports provide extensive information and are a great step into gaining insight into oneself, team, or organization, the challenge we often heard about was that unless the use of the information was brought forward and utilized, these beautiful reports tended to get left behind as the crunch of daily life took over. “In my career I must have about 20 of these reports that tell me who I am and my strengths that I should use – they were great, so insightful and interesting, however, now they are all sitting on the shelf collecting dust, as now what, what do I do now?” Says one SVP we spoke to. People need something more than information on “who they are and how to handle it.” The clear and tactical actions that lead to forward progress and a narrowing of the gap between where one is and where one wants to get to, need to be addressed.
Different types of assessments are clearly good for different reasons. Just like any data gathering initiatives, it is a good idea to start by looking at the purpose for the activity, what do you want to learn and how do you want to tactically use it towards the desired objective?
For example, when taking an assessment to identify your strengths, you need to think how the insight is going to be applied to achieve something tangible. In this case, it could be to see to what extent you are using your strengths currently and then driving more utilization into your everyday life; with the goal being increased engagement or happiness. There will be various actions to take, perhaps talking to your manager about how you can participate in other projects that will allow you to use your strengths more, or, spending some time each week on a hobby that allows you utilize them. Without applying the insight to drive a positive change through clear actions, the information, while useful and interesting, can have limited impact.
3: Development days are great for morale and inspiration, but can lack momentum and accountability afterwards.
“Our development day was good, one or two sessions were perfect for me and others were not that valuable. I had great inspiration and intended to apply a lot of what I learned, but then work got busy and I haven’t done half of what I said I would,” said one VP we spoke to recently.
Several company development day’s and events, when done well, can address the action and inspiration side of the equation in that moment. However, it is clear that if we do not support development beyond the event itself, that brings lasting positive impacts to oneself, those they interact with, and their company, then the pace of change can be glacial.
The problem is that if actions are not clear and easy to take after that moment in time, then progress is not seen and people will abandon the course of change. Similarly to trying to lose weight…if you give it your all (you cut out sugar, you start exercising etc.) but you do not see some positive impact soon, it’s very easy to think: ‘what’s the point?’
To maximize the value of investment into development days it is a good idea to end with a clear action plan that drives accountability, reflection, and continuous improvement. Take the momentum of the day and use it as a positive force to start immediately engaging new behaviors. Ensure that attendees understand how to break down their big goals, commit to the one action they need to take to apply their learnings, and then make sure there is follow up for continuous improvement.
While there are several challenges, 3 things you can do next time you are thinking about employee development are:
- Focus on the behaviors, mindset, and environment needed to achieve the desired outcome or goal.
- Ensure there are clear action plans that take new behaviors one at a time and allow people to apply them consistently and in context.
- Drive ongoing action, reflection, and accountability after development events or workshops to help drive sustained positive change.