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Development Plans and Annual Reviews May 25, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: , ,

Earlier today I had a coffee with another long-time manager. One of the topics in our conversation inspired this post about annual performance reviews. Of course managers are expected to comment on the subordinate’s performance over the previous review period, and this typically involves some comparison with objectives and expectations that should have been previously shared. At many companies managers are also expected to lead a discussion about a “development plan” that is intended to guide the subordinate to achieve higher levels of performance.

I don’t remember ever getting much guidance about what makes an effective development plan, but it always seemed to require a combination of career counseling and amateur psychoanalysis. Many of my colleagues used write development plans that were nothing more than a list of upcoming projects or milestones. Other managers would encourage/admonish their subordinates with phrases like “exercise more leadership,” or “collaborate with your peers.” Good intentions, but it’s no surprise that few of these plans actually led to measurable improvement the following year.

A few observations:

Development plans are not effective in changing behaviors. If a subordinate is not a natural leader, or tends to work better alone, that’s unlikely to change just because their manager encourages them to change. I’ve commented on this in earlier posts (see “Looking for the Square Hole” from December 26, 2009). If a manager believes that higher performance in a given job requires different behaviors or innate talents, they should consider re-assigning that job to someone who already possesses those talents

Development plans can be effective in specifying additional training that increases performance through added or enhanced skills. This is especially important for subordinates who are relatively new to their job or assignment and may lack some skills and experiences that can be learned on-the-fly.

Here’s a really revolutionary thought: Development plans can build employee loyalty by demonstrating a commitment to long-term career growth. When I wrote a development plan for the annual performance review, I wanted to know if that person had ambitions for a different job in the future, and I tried to provide training opportunities in the context of their current job. For example, if that person imagined themselves as a people manager at some point, I looked for a project management assignment to practice those skills.

One last comment: development plans mean nothing without a commitment from the subordinate, and therefore requires significant input and ownership from the subordinate. If I felt that I cared more about their future performance or career growth than they did, then I didn’t see any reason to invest in the process. That person may still be a valuable contributor to the business, but they’re unlikely to be good candidates for leadership positions.



1. Sabine - April 26, 2013

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