Self-empowered development is a great way for organizations to engage employees in their own development — in a sense, it’s about employee-driven development. In an earlier blog post, I argued that employees need the right environment and tools in order for self-empowered development to work.

Five practices are key to success with self-empowered development:

  1. Distinguish between development and performance management
  2. Encourage people to establish their own development goals
  3. Clarify and articulate what’s most important
  4. Establish distinct roles (employee and manager)
  5. Provide easy access to tools and support

I detailed the first two practices in my earlier blog post — and the remaining three are explored below.

Clarify and Articulate What’s Most Important

While an employee’s goals should come from within, we would not deny that the context of a person’s current job — or a job he or she aspires to — is critical to setting high impact development goals. Key questions for employees to explore: What are the highest priority capabilities that will fuel success in your current job? Which will best prepare you for the job you want down the road? And what does that mean for your development goals?

There is a common rule in business (and other areas) that you may know called the 80-20 Rule, which states that, for many things, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This rule applies well to development. There are many capabilities that fuel what people do every day in their jobs, but 80% of their impact will come from 20% of those capabilities.

Which capabilities are in the top 20% — and thus will have the greatest impact on development — given all the unique factors that apply to any one individual? We know that people are most successful when their development plans focus on two to three goals or capabilities, so identifying what’s in that 20% is essential to a high impact development plan.

Employees are often unclear about organizational expectations and may simply not know which of their capabilities will drive the greatest success. They may have received mixed messages about what’s important or what has led others in the organization to achieve similar career goals, or they may not fully understand how their role contributes to the business. On the other hand, managers often don’t know where to start with employee development. They may not have the tools they need to help guide an employee to effective goals, and they often don’t know how an employee’s capabilities relate to other roles in the company.

Here, what we call “role profiles” provide a practical methodology to determine the critical elements of a role and convey that information clearly and pragmatically to the people who actually execute on strategy.

Role profiles are concise, one-page documents that describe:

  • Responsibilities and tasks that are most important to company strategy
  • Challenges that must be overcome to achieve outstanding results
  • Performance outcomes that provide a blueprint for success given the strategy and challenges
  • Technical and functional skills that are emerging in importance given changes in customer, market, or technology requirements
  • Behavioral competencies that are not just “soft skills” but definitional of high performers in the new or redefined role

With tools like role profiles, employees don’t have to try to identify their development goals from a completely blank page. With full transparency on what leads to high performance in various job roles and leadership levels, employees can direct their attention to the capabilities they know will lead to business results and/or advance their career prospects. And they will feel more secure in their choices, knowing that the priorities they have selected for themselves are directly related to successful outcomes. Role profiles also provide common ground for discussion between employee and manager, and encourage the manager’s support — managers often face the same lack of awareness as employees of what is most important to focus on from a universe of possibilities.

Learn more about how role profiles are used to align employees to organizational strategy in this white paper from Cambria’s John Hendrickson.

Establish Distinct Roles (Employee and Manager)

Just because we want to encourage employees to take control of their own development does not mean they should just be left to their own devices! Self-empowered development doesn’t let managers off the hook — in fact, they play an essential role. It just may not be the role they are accustomed to or naturally comfortable with. Managers must help inform and guide employees through the goal-setting process without just telling them what to do. Organizations can help support self-empowered development by holding both the employee and the manager to certain expectations, including:

The Employee

  • Recognize that you “own” your own development
  • Gain clarity about your role and the roles you may desire in the future (using role profiles and other available data)
  • Assess your competencies (formally or informally) to identify developmental gaps
  • Talk with your manager, coach or trusted colleague to identify strategies for your development
  • Avoid thinking exclusively about your “next job” and instead focus on increasing your value and versatility
  • Create an individual development plan (IDP) to document strategies and close gaps
  • Ensure that your IDP is robust and includes components from the “3 E’s” (education, experience and exposure)
  • Maintain continuous attention to your IDP and professional development — don’t wait for good things to happen

The Manager

  • Recognize that you are a partner and coach in your employee’s development
  • Identify links between your business objectives and talent management needs
  • Coach your employees to think about their development and careers in a strategic
    (i.e., long term) way
  • Ensure that they get perspective on their skills and competencies through informal/formal assessment
  • Encourage them to document and maintain an IDP
  • Maintain continuity in your conversations with employees about professional and career development
  • Do not think that the mark of your coaching success lies exclusively in getting promotions for your people

Provide Easy Access to Tools and Support

Probably the #1 answer I’ve heard as to why people don’t spend enough time on their own development is that they “have too much actual work to do” — or some version of that. That can be particularly challenging in the office, with all the demands and distractions that come with it. But what about on the train home from work, or a day you are working remotely, or even a quiet night at home?

Put the tools needed to support consistent attention to development goals at people’s fingertips, and make sure they’re easily accessible and readily available whenever an individual is feeling reflective or inspired…or has enough head space to step back from day-to-day concerns and think about broader, longer term goals.

Helpful tools include online development plans, learning management systems, peer discussion boards, and just-in-time coaching and mentoring resources. Putting these tools online — and making them easy to use in mobile formats — will take advantage of the time people are already spending on their smartphones and tablets, particularly away from the office. They can also connect employees with managers even when getting face time is difficult.