Employee Development: Outside the Classroom and Outside the Box

Guest post by Halelly Azulay, TalentGrow

All over the world, professionals like you are faced with a challenging task of helping employees grow and develop their knowledge, skills, and competencies in the face of shrinking budgets and timelines and ever-increasing pressures to ‘do more with less.’ Supervisors and employees desperately need alternatives and complements to the usual approach of employee development training or e-learning events, because formal learning is not enough. And so many of us are so overwhelmed with a growing workload that we simply don’t have the time or the requisite knowledge to come up with new, creative ideas for developing skills within the parameters that are presented to us.

Case Study: Toby’s Flexibility

Toby is a star performer on whom you can always rely. He is smart and decisive and has a strong sense of accountability. He has been getting feedback from peers, other stakeholders, and you about needing to respond in a more flexible and nimble way to unexpected information or quick changes in plans. He wants to develop his Flexibility competency and you concur—it will help him move to the next level of leadership readiness. But how?

Here is an example of three of the 11 development methods I’ve outlined in my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, 2012), centered on this one sample competency of Flexibility. I hope that it generates some good ideas on how to develop employees year-round, outside the classroom, outside ‘the box,’ and with a low budget.

Developing Flexibility Outside the Classroom

You need to help Toby develop a SMART (specific, measurable, aligned, results-oriented, and time-bound) goal and plot specific actions that will lead him to achieve this goal. Assuming that a training class or e-learning program on flexibility is either not an option or already covered, here are three ideas for development outside the classroom and ‘on a shoestring.’

Development Goal (SMART):
(Phrased in active, present tense voice)

Toby quickly adapts his behavior and work methods in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles. He adjusts rapidly to new situations warranting attention and resolution.

Development Activity 1: Self-Directed Learning*

Toby will read at least three books on change and flexibility and write a summary of the key lessons he can apply from each book.

1. Resources and Support Needed

a. Identify and purchase first book or loan from library.
b. Repeat for second and third books.
c. [Manager name] will be available to meet with Toby for each report for one hour.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. Obtain first book by Friday of next week.
b. Complete reading first book and write report by the end of the month.
c. Discuss with [manager name] by first Friday of next month. 
d. Repeat for second and third book.
e. Complete all three books by end of second quarter.

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby has read and reported on at least three books about change and flexibility by the end of second quarter.

Development Activity 2: Special Teams**

Toby will join an action-learning taskforce where he will take on a more observant, quiet role during problem solving and project planning meetings to allow and understand multiple views and perspectives for each problem. He will also personally write down three alternative explanations to each idea or judgment that he thinks of before articulating his opinion in meetings.

1. Resources and Support Needed:

a. Journal or record-keeping notebook or electronic document for insights and generating alternatives.
b. Inform team members about this challenge and develop a special hand signal they could give him when Toby becomes active when multiple other views have not yet been expressed.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. Begin immediately and conduct this behavior during every team meeting where a deliberation of a problem and possible solutions occurs.
b. Journal as soon as possible after a meeting to reflect and capture insights and lessons learned.
c. Check in with [manager name] to report progress and insights once every two weeks for the first two months, less frequently after (based on mutual agreement at that time).

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby will have regular journal records of attempts showing increasingly more observant and less active behavior during deliberations.
b. By the end of second quarter, Toby will have 85% success rate of withholding his ideas and comments from deliberations until at least ¾ of those present have actively participated with their ideas, as reported by   him in his reflection journals.

Development Activity 3: Job Rotation Assignment 

Toby will complete a job rotation assignment in a department/location that is known to be under a lot of stress and pressure to gain a new perspective on organizational issues and develop new ways of working, especially in a challenging environment. He will keep a journal of his challenges and insights and debrief his manager afterward to identify what was most challenging or difficult for him and how he could handle those aspects more effectively.

1. Resources and Support Needed:

a. Identify location for job rotation.
b. Correspond with rotation manager and ensure availability of rotation assignment.
c. Determine a succession plan for Toby’s current role for the duration of the rotation.
d. Communicate plan to staff and management and gain their support.

2. Timeline and Deadlines:

a. List 5–8 possible assignment ideas by end of month.
b. Finalize the target assignment location by end of second quarter.
c. Identify succession plan by end of second quarter.
d. Communicate plan to staff and management by mid-July.
e. Begin rotation by end of August.
f. End rotation by the next January.
g. Conduct a debrief discussion within two weeks from return to current role.

3. Measures and Criteria for Success:

a. Toby will have successfully planned for and completed a six-month rotational assignment with a focus on developing flexibility under pressure and new perspectives for organizational issues by year’s end.

Toby should be able to demonstrate a substantial improvement in his ability to respond flexibly to changes and new situations as a result of this plan. Then, you can begin to focus on a new development goal. Maybe Toby will be ready for that promotion you’ve been considering for him?

Employee Development on a Shoestring has lots of additional tools, checklists, self-assessments and other supports to help you implement the various development methods, consider some of the objections you might encounter, and provide ways to overcome them. Catch my presentation at ASTD ICE on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. about this topic to get even more ideas!

What unique employee development methods, which didn’t require any official ‘training’ events or lots of resources, have you tried? Please share your ideas, experiences, and questions in the comments, below!

Source: Employee Development on a Shoestring by Halelly Azulay (ASTD Press, 2012).
* Self-directed learning is covered in Chapter 2 of Employee Development on a Shoestring
** Special Teams are covered in Chapter 7 of Employee Development on a Shoestring
*** Job Rotation is covered in Chapter 6 of Employee Development on a Shoestring

Credit: Photo by Hamed Saber via Flickr Creative Commons


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