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By Marty Streim, MA, SPHR

July 2001
Reviewed July 2002

Employee development planning is almost universally recognized as a strategic tool for an

organization's continuing growth, productivity and ability to retain valuable employees.
Unfortunately, managing the development planning process can be cumbersome for the
organization, frustrating for employees and of uncertain value for both if certain elements are
neglected. While the following points will not absolutely ensure a successful program, the
absence of any one of them will almost certainly make the program less effective for the
individual and the organization.

1. Executive Support - Everyone in Human Resources believes that executive support is

critical to the success of just about any human resource program. Let's face it,
executives are busy people and they must lend their support to every part of the
organization. So what does executive support really mean to employee development
planning? Their support starts with a commitment to communicate the need for
development and its importance to the organization from a strategic perspective. If
they don't understand or agree with how development fits into workforce planning, a
succession process or retention program, then you will have real problems putting
together a system that requires a budget, managerial attention and cross-
organizational support. If an executive is committed to the program's purpose and
effectively communicates that purpose to the organization, do you now have what you
need? Almost. The crowning jewel of executive support is their use of the system and
interest in the system's results at all levels. That means when openings occur in an
organization, the executives look first to the system. That doesn't mean that all hires
must occur internally. Executives at each level of the organization should be holding
skill and competency reviews at regular intervals to assess gaps in their collective
knowledge base for their short and long-term business needs.

2. Management Involvement - If executives show support and conduct organizational

development reviews, there is a good chance that managers will pay attention to the
development needs of the organization. The manager's role is to ensure that there is a
connection between strategy and tactical implementation. This is not an easy task for
most managers. The time it takes to integrate development planning into everyday
business is substantial. In fact, it often requires a change in a manager's own style that
may be part of a management development plan. Additionally, a manager or supervisor
needs to believe that development will make a difference to the organization in their
lifetime! To help this process along, its not a bad idea to have cascading reviews at
different levels of organizational responsibility. The best type of review occurs when
each manager presents their organization's development plans, metrics and results to
his/her peers in the presence of their own top executive. When management
commitment is in doubt or suspect, compliance may take the form of measurement
followed by positive or negative sanctions. Remember, "what gets measured gets
done," and what gets done well gets rewarded. Maybe it's not ideal but it is very

3. Relationship to Performance Management - Employee development should be

clarified with respect to its relationship with the performance management system.
Nothing upsets a manager more than putting together development plans, only to be
told that a plan also needs to be written for the performance appraisal (oh, but it's
okay to just cut and paste it). Make sure that employees and managers know how the
process and documents fit together. Short-term plans for projects, long-term plans for
the organization, career development plans for the employee and skill-building for
immediate performance deficiencies should be clearly differentiated and developed
during the appropriate phase of the performance management process. If your
organization focuses only on performance appraisals, it might be a good idea to take a
look at what some other organizations are doing that have built a successful
performance management system. It will help you design a more successful employee
development program.

4. The Employee and the Development Process - Employees often have an intense
interest in their own development. Understanding what the employee values and how
that relates to his or her development needs can greatly affect the type of
development activity, its cost and ultimately its success. If you know what the success
factors are for specific jobs or projects, you can work with the employee to tailor the
development activity and its measurement. Don't assume that a manager or supervisor
knows what's best for an employee. Understanding the employee's needs ultimately
will determine the success of the development effort. We don't all value the same
things and we are certainly not all motivated in the same way. When you involve the
employee in the development process, you can increase the likelihood of a positive

5. Clear Expectations - The development process can be of great benefit to the

organization and the individual employee but may also create a frustrating experience
with wide ranging implications for positive employee relations and employee retention.
What happens when an employee successfully carries out the development plan? What
had he or she been told previously? Too many supervisors and managers suggest that
promotion, job changes, FLSA status, rewards or pay increases will occur at the end of a
development cycle. These scenarios can be avoided by making certain that the reasons
for development planning are well understood and that no promises are made on the
program's front-end. No matter how well reasoned a particular person's plan is, change
often occurs. Employee performance may change, the organization's external
competitive environment shifts, there may be a management re-organization or even a
change to well-established employment practices. The goals of short-term, long-term,
career or even remedially related training cannot be guaranteed. When employee
expectations are unmet through no fault of their own it can result in a well-trained or
educated person leaving the company or believing that he or she has been slighted.
Employee-relations issues that emerge from poor development planning practices can
have wide ranging consequences. One expectation that can and should be made clear
is that all development deserves recognition. That is certainly the one thing a manager
or supervisor can do under any circumstances. Recognition need not be elaborate or
costly; it only needs to be genuine.

6. The Use of Employee Data - Employees who engage themselves in various

development activities often participate in different types of assessments. It is very
important that they understand how the data may be used and who has access to it.
Although 360 feedback may be an excellent vehicle for development, it may not be
useful as part of a performance appraisal document. Personality-type instruments are
excellent for creating greater self-awareness but are certainly questionable if used for
employment decisions. Even a class "grade" can be used inappropriately. The goals and
objectives of the development process will help guide your practices but that won't
make the process immune to unethical use of the information. The best policy is to
establish up front how the data will be used and get feedback from experienced
practitioners and ER professionals before there is any employee communication about
the program.

7. The Budget for Development - Development budgets have a propensity to

evaporate during the fiscal year. Plan for cuts in advance and I don't mean by padding
the budget. Being creative and using internal resources is perhaps your greatest ally.
Talented coaches and mentors working with your training group can put together
challenging assignments that allow employees to grow in their job or career while
supporting the organization's needs. There is a good deal of evidence that supports
learning on the job. Nothing convinces management more about the usefulness of
training than when real business problems are solved through the development
process. Finally, when external training or advanced technologies are really necessary
and included as part of the budget, it is easier to coalesce support for their acquisition.

8. Administrative Support - No matter how small the organization, eventually there will
be a need for administrative support. Making calls to vendors, buying training supplies,
sending out e-mails to workshop participants, making room reservations, inputting
data, supplying passwords and coordinating schedules becomes a full-time job. If
you're a one-person show, start brainstorming a checklist. You'll need it. If your
development initiative is rapidly growing, don't underestimate the importance of
administration. The credibility of your process and program will depend on it.
9. Systems and Technical Support - Whether your organization is large or small, sooner
or later you will have the need for systems and technical support. Today more than
ever, development administration, assessment, program delivery, communication,
feedback and database search capability are being viewed as essential. Typically, HRIS
departments can only handle a part of the load. They most often work with the
organization's database administrators, network specialists and web engineers. While
often helpful, these IS professionals already have their own jobs, so it' s wise not to
spring new projects on them with little lead-time. Get them involved with your
technical needs when you begin the planning process. You may find out that your
technical needs require more headcount, the software you're thinking about
purchasing runs on an incompatible database or your corporate firewall doesn't allow
"applets" running from an externally hosted system. Remember you don't need to be a
huge organization to run into these kinds of issues.

10. Maintaining the "Human" Component in Development - Behavioral science, the

exponential rate of innovation and computer technology have made development in
today's organization a requirement, not an option. The pace can be dizzying. The ability
to learn is important, and it's just as important to do it quickly. But remember to
maintain a hi-touch approach with hi-tech delivery. It's easy to forget that dialogue
with an employee is the basis for development planning, not a menu with "your top
three priorities." On-line assessments and needs analyses have certainly streamlined
arduous processes but they don't take the place of performance or career discussions.
Databases loaded with employee skill proficiency ratings, the last three years'
performance appraisal data and compensation history are wonderful tools; however,
they are no substitute for a keen understanding of the organization's goals or those of
the employee. If you keep the "human" in "development," you will get back far more
than what you put into it, maybe even things like pride, loyalty or even discretionary

Thanks to Marty Streim for contributing this article. It is intended as information only and is not
a substitute for legal or professional advice. Marty Streim is a Consulting Partner with Strategic
Organizational Solutions

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