In a yet-to-be-published piece of research, learners have reported that one of their top motivators for learning is to be able to do their job better and faster. But we don’t always then see the supporting levels of learning activity, nor do we always feel that the learning that is being undertaken is truly aligned to the needs of the business. Other surveys then suggest that employees aren’t actually that aware of their organisation’s goals, which only compounds the matter.
As L&D professionals we need to do more to “join up the dots” and I believe that personal development planning is the glue that binds performance management to learning. If we can give learners clear signposts as to what they should be doing, what learning can support them in that and clear feedback on how they are doing, then this would transform learning at work.
No end of studies are showing that performance management is changing, moving away from a single annual event to a process of continuous feedback and the flexing of goals to reflect the precise needs of the business and individuals at that time.
A coherent L&D strategy needs to be tightly meshed together with a performance management approach that supports individuals to create a meaningful set of personal goals that they can link back to what the organisation is trying to achieve and that have clearly mapped learning and non-learning activity interventions to help maximise their chances of successfully realising them.
The ideal performance management approach would not have a fixed start and end point, but be an ongoing and continuous rolling process of examining what the business wants, looking at what the individual needs to do to contribute to this and establishing some clear and measurable objectives. In order to allow senior stakeholders to see the pattern of objectives being set and to be able to reassure themselves that their people are aligned to the corporate strategy, I’m also keen on having objectives tagged to reflect the business goal they support.
The discussion would then move on to what support the individual will need to be able to perform those tasks successfully. Taking a step back, in our ideal world each role in the organisation would already have an online skills and competency matrix with which the individual and their line manager could interact. I do realise that those take time to determine, let alone construct, so pragmatically, we would be looking for the two of them to discuss what skills will be needed and whether they feel there exists the appropriate level of competence and expertise.
Looking therefore more generically, our digital platforms should ideally offer learning and suggested workplace activities that are categorised by skill area. The individual should be able to access these, possibly take a self-assessment to measure their gaps and receive learning recommendations. The most complete diagnostics system would know what level of competency was felt necessary for the job holder operating at that level and – either through testing or maybe through self or manager/peer rating – would invite the individual to confirm their current level.
Depending on the size of the gap, e.g. novice to expert, or competent to proficient, the learning management system (LMS) would have been tapped for relevant courses to close whatever sized gap was identified.
Alongside learning recommendations, there should also be suggestions for workplace activities that would allow the learner to build expertise. These might be deliberately designed to be undertaken as part of the everyday work of the individual, or they may be created in order to offer additional stretch. And under the old adage of “what gets measured gets done”, in our perfectly integrated world, the performance management system would be provided with details of the duly chosen learning and activity plans.
As the learning is undertaken, the LMS and performance management system would be updated to reflect the progress being made, nudging the level of attainment along to show the closing of the identified skills and competence gaps. On-the-job activity milestones would be recorded too as they are reached, so providing a complete picture of the associated development actions contributing towards the achievement of the individual’s objectives.
It will also be important to open up channels for real-time feedback gathering and reporting. As we are seeing, performance management should be happening all the time and individuals need to get into the habit of soliciting feedback from those with whom they interact and colleagues need quick ways to submit both solicited and unsolicited feedback to the individual. Both those seeking and providing feedback also need some way to organise these comments, otherwise the data might soon become too broad. If feedback could be tagged to match the categorisation of the individual’s objectives, that would provide much more impactful supporting data and make progress reporting and attainment all the more easier. If we could also integrate the provision of observational feedback after completing a piece of learning, that would provide a richer level of evidence that the learning had had the desired result.
So now we’ve almost come full circle. All that’s left to do now is for the individual to review their progress with their line manager. Perhaps they can sign off some smaller scale objectives and look for the next challenge, or mark off another notch along the way to achieving a larger scale goal. Quite possibly new business challenges have arisen in the meantime and a change of direction is needed. Existing goals might be revised, new objectives will be set, a fresh analysis of any skills and competence gaps will be made and the process of learning will resume for another cycle.
As we continue to place the learner more firmly at the centre of our digital performance and learning ecosystems, this process will become easier and easier. For now, we might have to use some workarounds, but we mustn’t lose sight of the power of a systematic approach to personal development planning to leverage the most appropriate learning and development interventions to support the achievement of individual and organisational goals.