How to support learning and growth. Strategy #12 (of 31) – Plan for and support development

We have previously published a series of practical leadership actions around the themes of people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose. 

We are now going to explore the actionable steps that you can take to enable the suggested strategies and actions.  This is one in a series of 31 posts providing specific descriptions of the actions in practice. 

So, this post is focusing on the theme of supporting learning and growth.  In a previous post we have talked through 5 overarching strategies to support the learning and growth of your team:

  1. Plan for and support development.

  2. Provide new challenges and responsibilities.

  3. Provide opportunities to learn from/teach others.

  4. Champion experimentation and improvement.

  5. Provide coaching and developmental feedback.  

In this post we take a deep dive into the specific strategy of:

Plan for and support development.

Taking a strategic and planned approach to development of capabilities, both at the team and individual level, ensures that priority is given to development activities and signals the value of investing in people. So, here are some of the actions that can be taken to put this leadership strategy into practice:

1)   Identify the critical capabilities required for your team to be successful and use as the basis for team and individual development planning. In the first instance it is important to explore some critical business questions: What does success look like for this team in 3 years?; What do we need to excel at to be successful?; Are there some emerging trends in our operating environment? In the context of responses to these questions you might seek to identify (through team workshops, surveys, interviews) the most critical skills we need, areas of knowledge, and personal qualities/mindset.  Reference to a capability dictionary may also be helpful in identifying the most critical capabilities that will drive team success.  

2)   Work collaboratively with team members to build tailored development plans for individuals. Development plans should be more than ‘what training course am I going to do this year?’.  Hold an in-depth development-specific conversation with your direct reports to explore a range of development options relevant to the individual’s development needs and aspirations.  Use the 70/20/10 framework, where 70% of development comes from learning on the job (e.g., special projects, secondments, site visits); 20% of development comes from learning with and through others (e.g., mentoring, communities of practice, shadowing); and 10% development comes from more formal education (e.g., training courses, reading, further studies).  Identify and document a small number of specific development activities.  

3)    Take the time to find out what motivates each individual and work with them to align some of their tasks and objectives to these drivers.  Significant development happens ‘on the job’, particularly when individuals are working on challenges that give them energy.  As part of your regular one-on-one catch ups explore questions such as: When are you most energised at work? What sparks joy in your work? What challenges would grow your capabilities? What longer term career aspirations do you have? You are then in a good position to help them explore how they might be able to evolve their role and activities to fast track their growth and development. 

4)   Encourage at least one major ‘learning’ experience per annum for each team member.  Set a goal of each team member having one significant learning experience per year that it both important for their development and signals their value to the organisation.  It could be attending a conference, undertaking a training program, having a coach, or going on a secondment.  As part of the arrangement ask them to keep a learning journal and report back on their learnings to you and/or the broader team. 

5)    Work with individuals to identify specific development goals for formal development activities, such as training programs, courses, conferences, and further studies. When investing in more formal development activities, it is appropriate prior to those activities to identify 3 – 4 specific learning goals to sharpen their attentiveness to particular aspects of such activities and encourage personal accountability for learning.  Encourage the individuals to come up with these goals and engage in a discussion with them about those goals.  It will also demonstrate your care and interest in their development.  Hold a debriefing session with the individual subsequent to the development activity and explore how the learning can be further leveraged or deepened. 

6)     Provide opportunities after formal development activities to put new skills and knowledge into practice and provide mentoring or coaching support. It is often the case that managers feel that they have ‘done their job’ in supporting development by sending someone on a training course or development program.  Learning is fundamentally a change in behaviour as a result of experience, so it is critical that post/during program direct support is provided that enables an individual to put skills/knowledge into practice.  This can include giving them a project or activity to practice their learning, engaging with them regularly to reflect on their learning in practice, enabling a job rotation, or arranging for a senior buddy/mentor.   

7)   Allocate time in business plans for learning and development activities.  Annual business plans or work programs often only include time allocation for delivery activities only, with no capacity built in for development activities (or unanticipated additional work).  If you are serious about investing in the growth and development of teams and individuals business/work plans should specifically ‘call-out’ development activities as ‘real work’ that must be allowed and planned for.  It is also more likely to happen if it has its own line-item in such plans.  

Having read this list, some questions you may want to ask yourself might be:

  •   Are there one or two ideas emerging for me that I might want to put into practice?

  • What is the smallest thing I could do that might have a positive impact?

  • How will I hold myself accountable for following through on my actions?

 Good luck!