Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Write a Great Individual Development Plan (IDP)

An individual development plan (IDP) is a tool that helps facilitate employee development. It’s a two-way commitment between an employee and their manager on what they are going to do to grow.

IDPs are often used as a way to drive leadership development. Organizations like them because they are visible, tangible evidence that leadership development is taking place. They can be monitored and tracked as a measure of progress, used as a way to drive accountability for development, and most importantly, if they are well written and taken seriously, they really do work.

I’ve written about the importance of written individual development plans (IDPs) for leadership development, and how to develop your leadership skills, but not how to actually write one.

I’ll draw on my experience from having helped hundreds of leaders write IDPs, using them for my own employees, as well as my personal experience with my own IDPs (rule number 1: if you’re going to help someone else write an IDP, you’d better have current one yourself).

How to Write a Great Individual Development Plan (IDP)

1. Start with a goal; have a reason to develop.
There needs to be some kind of reason to develop. If there’s no reason to improve – or no motivation, then there’s no reason to have an IDP.

Here are the most typical reasons for an IDP:
· You’re new in a job, and want to get up to speed as fast as possible
· You’re struggling in your job, and want to improve
· You’d like to move to a new role, and want to prepare yourself for that new role
· You’re good at what you do, and have no immediate aspirations to move, but just want to get even better

2. Identify what you want to learn, or get better at.
Identify the three most important competencies (skills, knowledge, attributes) that you want to work on in order to achieve your goal. If you’re new in a role, these will most likely be the unfamiliar functional areas that you’ve had little prior experience with. Or it may be getting to know your new organization or team. If you’re struggling in a role, these things may have been identified in your performance appraisal, a 360 leadership assessment, or feedback from your manager or a coach. In order to prepare for a new role, you’ll need to identify the required competencies for that new role that you don’t yet have.

For leadership development, having access to a leadership competency model can help you identify the leadership competencies your company has identified as critical for any leader. You can either assess yourself, ask your manager for feedback, or ask for a 360 assessment.

When I work with a leader, I’ll ask questions to get at the what and why. That helps me identify the competency, the reason, and the relative importance. People sometimes struggle to put a “label” on the need, so having that competency model helps us do that (“OK, so it sounds like you want to work on your leadership presence, or strategic thinking, or you need to improve your financial acumen – is that right?”).

You might also want to identify your strengths. Strengths can often be enhanced and also be leveraged in order to address development needs.

3. Identify “development actions” to address the needs
Here are the most common development actions, listed in order of developmental impact:
1. Move to a new job
2. Take on a challenging assignment within your current job
3. Learn from someone else (your manager, a coach, a subject matter expert or role model)
4. Get educated on the topic: take a course, read up on the topic

Sometimes, if you aspire to a larger role, the most important step in your development plan is to identify the role or roles to take in order to get you ready, often a lateral move. However, given that job changes are significant and don’t happen all that often, a challenging assignment is usually the best way to develop a competency or competencies. It’s those “stretch assignments” that force us to perform, learn, and have the most impact. The other advantage of a developmental assignment is that they combine real work with development. Otherwise, an IDP can become an “extra” thing to do when you have time, and of course, never gets done.

Then, once that project is identified, identify people that can help you learn the new skills required to be successful with that project (the same skills identified in step 2). For example, if that new project is going to require you to lead change, find 2-3 people that are really good at leading change and go talk to them. An internal or external coach may be able to help with tough to learn attributes, like relationship building. A mentor can often help you develop political acumen, or organizational agility.

Finally, identify any courses, books, or websites on the topics you want to learn from.

4. Assign dates, costs, and who’s responsible for what. 
The date helps you get specific and keep your commitment. Any costs need to be approved by your manager. While you’ll be responsible for most of your plan, your manager may have s few things he/she commits to doing to support you.

5. Discuss your plan with your manager.
Although it’s possible to have your own plan and not involve your manager, it usually helps to get your manager’s feedback, involvement, and support. If for some reason you’d prefer not to do this (say, you work for a jerk, for instance), find a trusted coach or peer to talk it over with. By both of you signing the plan, it’s kind of a symbolic two-way commitment.

6. Implement the plan, follow-up often, and reflect on what you’ve learned.
Keep your plan in front of you at all times. Check off those items you complete, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Think about what you did, what you read, what you learned. What were the lessons? What should you incorporate as a permanent part of your repertoire? What should you reject? What did you learn about yourself? It’s often helpful to have a manager, trusted coach or mentor to help you uncover those “V8 moments”.

What’s your experience been with IDPs? Would doing it this way be an improvement? Do you have any other tips to share?

If you’d like to assess the quality of your IDP, see my checklist for a great IDP.

Need some help becoming a great leader or developing your organization’s leaders? Contact me to discuss leadership assessment, coaching consulting or training. 

I no longer send out free templates. With the growth of my blog, the volume of requests got to be unmanageable. However, I’ve published an e-book, The GreatLeadership Development and Succession Planning Kit, which contains an IDP template and lots more. You can download it as a PDF from the above link for only $7.99, or purchase it as an eBook on Amazon, ITunes, and other outlets for the same price.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leading Through Chaos; Does a Manager Need a Psychology Degree?

So I’m sitting at my computer on a rainy Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee, pondering what to write. I’ve been thinking about how challenging it is in these uncertain economic times to be a leader. What does it take to keep yourself and your people energized and motivated, while at the same time, keeping them realistically informed about the state of your business?

We spent some time brainstorming about this topic at work last Friday. Our managers, like most managers today, are faced with some tough challenges. This is not the time to be pushing anything their way that’s not directly relevant to improving sales, lowering expenses, or improving client service. At the same time, while focusing on the bottom line, they need to keep their teams productive and sane.

How can we support our managers? What tools or advice can we give them? How can we help them support their employees?

After a second cup of coffee, I came across a column in our local business section by Mimi Bacilek, a local executive coach and president of SuccessBuilders LLC . I’ve known Mimi for a while, and have always had a lot of respect for her and the work she does.

Here’s the introduction:

Change is assaulting leaders from all angles, driven externally and internally. The environment is uncertain. Budgets are being slashed, orders put on hold, positions placed in jeopardy. While your competitors are circling the wagons and slashing their way to greatness, you can ready your organization for the predictable turnaround.

Now is the time to invest in your business by deeply engaging your people to create the future. The cost to the leader is time and energy; the benefit is tapping into the amazing talents people bring to the workplace.

Mimi talks about six things a leader should do in tough times:
1. Focus on the future
2. Set the vision
3. Rally the troops
4. Empower teams
5. Monitor progress
6. Rewards success

I like the approach – it’s not overly complicated and seems like it would be effective in many cases.

However, simple doesn’t always mean easy, especially when it comes to great leadership. A leader needs to have the drive and passion to want to succeed under any conditions, and have a genuine desire to want their employees and company to succeed. Taking the time and effort to plan and implement these six steps, and other leadership best practices, is what sets a great leader apart from an average manager.

After pondering Mimi’s advice for a bit, I then opened up my email and read the following question from a reader (presumably from the other side of the world, because who other than deranged bloggers are at their computers at 5:30 in the morning?):

While I was reading yours and other Leadership blogs, another question appeared.

Quite a few friends of mine decided to take additional degree in psychology after graduating, claiming it would help being a manager. However, after reading articles online and also some other books on leadership, I came to conclusion, that experience and personality are more important for leader and manager than psychology degree, though some psychology knowledge helps, but it can be acquired outside of formal education.

I would like to hear your opinion on this matter.

I love the question! Sometimes, as a leader, it often feels like a degree in psychology is what it takes to be effective. After all, a large part of what it takes to be an effective leader is an understanding of people – what makes them tick and how to motivate them.

Managers are also overwhelmed with all kinds of leadership advice that to me just comes across as overly complicated, touchy- feely, psycho-babble, and probably written by pseudo-experts with little actually leadership experience.

Yes, being a great leader requires a good amount of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, collaboration skills, and knowing how to inspire and motivate.

But is getting an advanced degree in psychology the best way to obtain these skills and knowledge? I don’t think so.

In fact, I’d be afraid that a manager armed with a toolkit full of Freudian and Jungian theory would end up just annoying people.

Certainly obtaining a college degree is a good way to start any career, and there’s merit to continuing on for an MBA or some other advanced degree. It’s even better if students can pick up some real work and leadership experience along the way, through internships, co-ops and plain old summer jobs.

The reader is right, in that, most of what’s written in this blog, as well as other research on what has made great leaders successful, is all about learning and development through experience.

When I talk to executive coaches, the ones that impress me the most are the ones who have had executive experience, much more so than the ones with professional coaching certification or psychology degrees. Often times, the ones who come at with too much of a psychosocial approach scare me a little.

So I’d say yes, go ahead and go for that advanced degree, but if your desired career path is management, I’d recommend a few years of work and then an MBA over staying in school to pursue an advanced degree in psychology.

And for you experienced managers, no, it’s not as complicated as we make it seem sometimes. Try following Mimi’s advice – invest your time and energy in leading your teams and we’ll all come out of this in a better place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Research on Causes of Executive Failure

I’ve written before on the topic of executive “derailers”, citing research from the Center for Creative Leadership. In order to be a great leader, I think it’s just as important to understand why leaders fail as it is to understand why they are successful.

That’s why I was very interested in a new research report sent to me by Scott Eblin, an executive coach and occasional commenter on this blog. Scot’s the author of the book “The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success”, one of my favorite books on executive transition. Scott also writes a pretty nice leadership blog that you should add to your list of regular reads.

Here’s a summary of the research (information on how to order the full report follows):

The typical diagnoses of reasons for executive failure include general causes such as communications skills, relationship building and the always popular “poor fit with the job.” What is missing is insight into the specific behaviors that can trigger new executive failure.

The typical profile of a person who gets promoted to a senior management or executive position is the “go to person.” Understandably, they believe that the behaviors that led to their success at lower levels will serve them well at the next level. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Since late 2005, The Eblin Group has worked with over 300 high potential directors and vice presidents at companies representing the defense, financial services, computer services, media, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries in a group coaching program known as Next Level
Leadership™. As part of that program, they have conducted 360 degree assessments for participants on behaviors related to executive leadership presence.

Ranked in ascending order from the lowest scored item, here are the “bottom five” behaviors for the high potential leaders in The Eblin Group program:

1. Paces himself/herself by building in regular breaks from work.

2. Spends less time using his/her functional skills and more time encouraging team members to use theirs.

3. Manages workload so that he/she has time for unexpected problems or issues.

4. Focuses less on day to day issues and more on taking advantage of strategic opportunities.

5. Regularly takes time to step back and define or redefine what needs to be done.

The Eblin Group’s research shows that high potentials moving to or arriving at the executive level generally grapple with the same types of development opportunities as they make the transition upwards. The group coaching approach creates an opportunity for them to learn from each other and gain confidence from that process.

Go here to request a full copy of the research report.

So working harder does not always translate into executive success; in fact, it could end up contributing to failure. I feel a lot better about that day off I took Monday.

And if you’re reading this blog or Scott’s on company time, that’s good thing – it’ll address all five of the “bottom five” behaviors!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reader Question: Nine Box Performance and Potential Matrix Best Practices

A question from a reader around using the “nine box” (performance and potential matrix) to assess talent:

Emailing with a question I have been asked by my leadership team, that I hope you can help me answer.

We have been using the nine box for several years, and are now getting some push back from senior leadership about the percentage of our teams that are in the upper right corners in our "Hi Po" and "Future Star" boxes.

The team is concerned about not being able to grow these boxes (as some of them believe it's the key to growing their business). The team is also concerned about the reality that while you may be a Hi Po in 2008, you may not be in 2009, and how do we break this news to employees, and from that stems a want to widen the percentages we normally prefer for these boxes.

The team has requested that we research what a "best company" or "best practice" distribution across all the nine box is for a company that has been using the nine box to chart performance vs. potential for several years. Is there any research or information you could lead me to that would help satisfy their concerns? Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!

I’ve been using the performance and potential matrix to assess talent for over ten years, for two different companies and a wide variety of teams. While I’m not sure if this qualifies as “best practice” material, I’ve picked up a few practical do’s and don’ts over the years.

I’ll break your question into two parts: distribution and notification.

1. Distribution
We’re getting some push back from the senior team about the percentage of our teams in the upper right corners (hi-po and future stars).

I usually define that “hi-po” group as the upper right hand quadrants 1A, 1B, and 2A. A good rule of thumb for any population is that about 20% of the team would fall into that category. I’m not sure if the “push back” you’re getting is about too many or not enough. The only kind of push back I’ve ever received, usually from the senior leader of the organization, is that there are too many names in those upper right hand quadrants. It’s the old performance appraisal “everybody’s a star” syndrome. The reality is, they probably aren’t, and even if they were, in an absolute way, there are usually not enough resources and opportunities for high potential development to address that many candidates.

There are a couple ways to address the “too many” issue. First, a good facilitator can encourage a candid dialog to compare employees, calibrate expectations and definitions, and redistribute a few names. Secondly, you could require a forced distribution – no more that 20% are allowed in the top 3 boxes, and 10% must be in the lower left hand box (3C). While that often will get you push back from those having to rate their teams, it forces a more realistic assessment and “spirited” dialog.

If you’re getting push back that there aren’t enough, I suppose that’s a good thing. Either your raters are setting the bar unreasonably high, or you really do have a talent shortage. I find it’s usually the later, and it should be a wake-up call to get moving on development. You’ll need to take a look at those in nearby quadrants and start doing some serious development, and start upgrading your talent though external hiring.

Perhaps the more important question is “what are the future needs of the organization and do we have enough talent in the pipeline to fill those needs?” For example, if an organization is projecting a need for 20 new sales managers per year in order to expand into a new market, then ideally you’d want 2-3 candidates to choose from for each open position. That would mean that in any year, you’re actively developing 40-60 candidates to get them ready for these opportunities.

However, if you have an organization with limited growth, low turnover (maybe even shrinking), with stable performance, then there’s really not much of a need to identify and develop hi-pos for larger roles. A better alternative would be to facilitate movement of those hi-pos to other areas of the company, and focus your development on getting better in current roles.

2. Notification
The team is also concerned about the reality that while you may be a Hi Po in 2008, you may not be in 2009, and how do we break this news to employees, and from that stems a want to widen the percentages we normally prefer for these boxes.

The notification process is always a tricky issue. I published an article, “High Potential Notification Tips”, on that topic a while back that gives some guidelines on notification.

It covers the pros and cons of telling and not telling, and some word tracks to use for these conversations.

I’ve always advocated not telling someone that they are a “1A”, or a “3C”, or even using labels like “hi-po”. I do think it’s important that every employee gets performance feedback and a candid assessment of their potential on an ongoing basis. Every employee deserves development; it’s just that that the development is different depending on where the employee is at the moment.

See “Nine Development Strategies for a Performance and Potential Matrix”, for specific development tips for each box.

I know that many of the readers of Great Leadership have experience using the nine-box, so I’d invite them to please add their thoughts as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reader question: How to Identify Critical Positions and Talent Pools

An email from a reader:

I don’t know if you can help me.
But I have a question. It’s about the planning in human resources.
I’m studying psychology and I need to investigate some strategies that companies uses for identifying critical positions and identifying talent pools.
I was thinking that these two topics can help a company to confront the financial crisis.
I hope that you can help me.

Thank you!!!!

Thanks for your questions. I’m pretty sure I can answer both, although I’m not sure I’m going to help resolve the global financial crisis.

I’ll start with what I consider to be the easier of your two questions:

How to Identify Critical Positions for Talent Management or Succession Planning

The answer to this is: it depends. It's all about company strategy. For a company that is banking on product innovation, critical positions for them might be its scientists or engineers. For another company, it might be their first level supervisors. For some, it might be marketing positions. For expansion into a new geography, it could be regional or country management.

The question to ask is: In order to successfully execute our strategy, which positions do we need to pay extra attention to? Where do we need to focus our sourcing, selection, development, and retention efforts?

For succession planning, a good question to ask is: which positions, if needed to be replaced, would the Board of Directors care about? Or, if the person were to leave the company, would leaving it vacant or not filling it with the right person have an adverse impact on the stock price?

While it’s important for any manager to pay attention to succession planning to some extent, the reality is, there are only a few positions that if left vacant, would have a serious impact on the company’s performance. Those critical few positions tend to be the “C” level positions - CEO and the CFO, maybe the CTO or CMO, and perhaps a handful of other senior level officer positions.

For the most part, the rest of us can win the lottery and quit and our company will manage just fine without us until we’re replaced.

So I’d recommend using a position based succession planning approach for only these critical few positions. All other positions can be addressed by establishing and focusing on “pools” of talent.

For example, you might have a senior management talent pool, or a marketing talent pool, or a middle management talent pool. Anyone in one of these pools could be developed to step into any of a number of larger roles.

Now on to the harder question:

How to Identify Talent Pools
I have a number of posts on this blog on how to identify high potentials, including:

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll improve your ability to identify high potentials for talent pools. However, assessing potential is about as accurate as drafting college or minor league athletes to compete in the pros. It’s part art and part science, with more busts than sure-fire picks. That’s why it’s important to develop your employees – so you can expand your pools and increase their chances of success.

Assessment centers are another more formal, and also more expensive, way to evaluate and test candidates for benchmarked positions. Because they’re so expensive, they are usually used for critical positions. For larger pools, companies sometimes establish internal assessment centers. These centers are sometimes staffed by psychologists, so perhaps you’ll end up working at one some day!

You’ve asked some big questions, and I’m sure I missed some key points. A lot of talent management professionals read this blog, so I’ll invite them to fill in the missing pieces.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Practical Guide for Developing Leaders

Here's a practical guide for developing leaders, adapted from June Delano, a colleague and mentor, now with Monitor Executive Development.

While the guide does not include everything a leader needs to learn, it does offer ideas for developing people before and during new leadership assignments. And of course, every company is different, so you'd need to adapt the list to fit your company's organizational structure.

Before selection as a supervisor, people should have development and some experience in:
· Team and project leadership
· Basic budgeting and accounting
· Communicating to individuals and small groups
· Training, peer coaching

As first-level supervisors, people should have development in basic supervisory skills:
· Coaching and giving feedback
· Managing performance
· Leading groups
· Developing people

Before selection as a manager, people should have development and some experience in:
· Leading multi-functional or cross-organizational teams
· Handling diverse and multiple tasks
· Influence and relationship-building (personal style and impact)
· Understanding the business system

As managers, people should have development in:
· Basic finance, marketing and commercialization
· Doing business globally and cross-culturally
· Communicating to large groups
· Recruiting and retaining talent
· Leading change and culture
· Developing and implementing strategy

Before selection as an executive, people should have development and some experience in:
· General management (including P&L management)
· Managing multiple functions and geographies
· Understanding your company’s business environment and industry trends
· Building external networks
· Working with senior executives
· Organizational leadership (personal style and impact)
· Line and staff assignments

As an executive, people should have development in:
· Handling media and government relations
· Managing organizations at different stages of maturity
· Recruiting and nurturing high-potential talent
· Developing and implementing growth strategies
· Working with alliances, mergers, JV’s and acquisitions
· Serving on external boards, projects and/or ventures

As an officer, people should have development in:
· Global trends affecting the business
· National and global politics
· Managing a global workforce
· Handling investor relations
· Working with the Board
· Board of Director assignments