The Nonsense of Yearly Personal Development Plans

blog, management30

I hear a co-worker talking to himself. I can’t exactly hear what he is saying, but it doesn’t sound like he is giving compliments. He looks a bit agitated. Four minutes later, he is starting to curse…softly, but I can hear his words… “Damn software.” “Are you doing alright, can I help,” I ask? It turns out he is trying to fill in his personal development goals for 2020, and for some reason, the HR tool is down. Maybe because all employees are entering their goals on the last day before the deadline?

What is going wrong in organizations? Why do they force people to struggle with IT Systems and enter their development plans before the end of January? Those development plans need to be approved by their manager, team lead, chapter lead, or whatever they are called. Ask around, ask your colleagues who are happy with this approach? Everyone keeps it as vague as possible, just to pass the check of managers and HR. In the more than 20 years of my professional career, I never heard anyone say: “Yes, I am so happy I can enter this date again! It is really helping me to become a better professional!”

Last year, 2019, I attended two training: SAFe en LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, I read 11 business books and attended at least four conferences. I participated in a SAFe training because I wanted to extend my knowledge about scaling agile, and also have a good understanding of what SAFe is about. I attended the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® training because I believe it will make me a more all-round facilitator. I read books about teams, Open Space technology, how our brains work, and etc. I attended the conferences to share my ideas, and get feedback, and to listen to other people. No one forced me to make a plan; no one forced me to enter this plan into a system, and still, I did all those things!

OK, my opinion about this system is clear. What is my solution? Maybe a more modern approach? Why are we using more and more agile way of thinking in our product development, but stick to a waterfall approach in personal development? Why not get the conversation going with your peers, with yourself, with your managers? Why not make just plans for the next three months? Why not just trust people and make themselves accountable for their development? 

I can hear some people already thinking and saying one or more of the following arguments:

  • We need personal development plans for our financial budget! Nonsense, the budget was already decided in October last year. Just tell people what your budget is and make it transparent how much is left. They can themselves decide what is possible and reasonable regarding the available budget.
  • If we don’t ask people to make a plan, nothing will happen! Excuse me? This sounds like fighting symptoms. I am really curious, why do those people do nothing? How do you know they won’t develop themselves? And by the way, if the organization keeps pushing more and more work to people, when do you expect them to develop themselves?
  • How else can we check if they developed themselves? Serious? Do you need to check on them? See my previous bullet point. Besides that, it sounds like you punish people if they don’t develop themselves? Is that really a motivator?
  • We need to have a process! Blink blink with my eyes. Yes, you are right, but please, please use something else. 
  • You have your own company, you need to keep developing yourself! Er, how is this different for people who don’t have their own company? If people are employed you just assume people don’t want to develop themselves?

A friend of mine is the manager of some developers. He just tells them: “Guys, you need to be able to set up a CI/CD street to be able to release your software within five minutes to AWS or Azure.” That is is, how you get there, totally up to the developers. 

Professionals will keep developing themselves! I have no doubts about that! I hear some people thinking, “But our people don’t develop themselves!”. OK, did you ask them why? Instead of spend time on tooling and process, start talking with those people. Find out why they don’t develop themselves and start creating a system where they can develop themselves!

But please… stop this approach to personal development!


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