Agreeing Development Objectives


What is development?


Development is improving your performance. It is different from learning. Learning is either knowing something new or acquiring a new skill. Development is behaving differently and better. You can learn without developing although you can't develop without learning. Learning is about improving your capacity whereas development is about improving your performance.


No development without motivation


People cannot be developed - they must develop themselves. They need to be motivated to do this. There will be no development without motivation. There are many things that you can force yourself to do without being motivated to do them, but development is not one of them. People will only develop themselves if they really want to.


Motivation comes from aspiration



People will be motivated to develop themselves if they want to achieve something that the development will enable them to achieve. If someone wants to be a doctor badly enough they will undertake the necessary training and hard work. If they don't, they won't. Motivation to develop comes from what a person wants to achieve - their aspirations. The foundation of any development is motivation and the basis of motivation is aspiration.


The organisation's interests


The organisation must benefit from a person's development, too. If there is no motivation, there will be no development. But if the organisation does not gain, there will be no point. You might wonder why we don't start with the organisation's interests. Why not start by identifying development that is in the organisation's interests and then look for ways of motivating someone to develop in that way? The answer is because that does not work. People feel that they are being manipulated if you try to fit their aspirations into the organisation's aims. You end up selling them on a particular development and they will see through this.


People respond better if you focus on them - on what they want to achieve - and then look for advantages to the organisation later. You will end up with a much more motivated individual if you begin with him or her and motivation is more important than any other single aspect of development. It is much better to have someone strongly motivated to develop in a way that is somewhat helpful to the organisation than to have someone not really motivated to develop in a way that is very helpful to the organisation. Half of something is always better than all of nothing.


Start with the individual and look for things that motivate him or her. Then apply the organisation’s interests to select which of those things to support.


Getting objectives to work



You are half way there if the person is motivated. The other half comes from clarifying the objective so that the individual knows exactly what they have to do. This clarification comes from answering the question: how will you know when the development has been achieved? If you can answer this question, you will have a viable developmental objective.


Measuring success



Development is about improving performance. You therefore measure development by measuring performance. Performance is usually measured by observing the effect of that performance. For example, you would measure leadership by observing the effect of the leadership on the team. If leadership has improved the team performance will improve.


You therefore need to identify an effect of the development that you can observe and measure.


For an objective to be clear, the measurement of success must be clear and unambiguous. There can be no room for argument about whether the objective has been achieved or not. Choose an observable effect of the improved performance and then agree a clear measure of that effect.


Why S.M.A.R.T is not smart for development



You sometimes hear about S.M.A.R.T objectives. Different sources give different explanations for S.M.A.R.T but all are agreed that T stands for Time-bounded. One typical expansion of S.M.A.R.T is



Attainable / Agreed


Time Bound



S.M.A.R.T.E.R comes from performance management, it arises from setting and measuring performance.


Objectives, not developmental objectives. It does not address the issue of motivation at all, which is fundamental to development, and it imposes time restrictions. In setting a developmental objective, you have no idea how long it might take. This is a fundamental difference between a development objective and a performance objective. In setting performance objectives you assume that you know how to achieve the objective. You can therefore set a time frame. In discussing development, you don't know this.


Time comes in later, when you discuss the development plan. When you discuss how an objective is to be achieved you discuss methods and approaches and you can set time frames for these. Don't discuss time at the point at which you are clarifying the development objective itself. You don't have the information to set a realistic time frame.


Development objectives are agreed using A.I.M.


Aspirational, in our

 Interests, and



Your role in agreeing development objectives



Your role is to help people think. Development is the personal responsibility of the individual concerned. You can help them embrace this responsibility by helping them to think.


The most powerful tool you have to help people to think is asking questions. Making statements invites challenge. Asking questions invites thought. All questions are good but some are particularly powerful. Open questions are very effective in helping people to think. Open questions are questions that invite the person to talk about a subject rather than to give a specific piece of information. Examples are: Why do you feel that way?


How would you go about it? Tell me what happened? There is nothing wrong with closed questions: How many people work for you? Do you like report writing? When was that? Closed questions can uncover really useful information but they are less effective at causing people to think. The other person usually knows the answer to a closed question. But they have to think to answer an open one.


Questions to ask



Start with questions about aspirations. Take your time over this and work with the individual until both you and he or you and she are clear about what they want to achieve.


A good place to start is to ask: What do you want to achieve in this job?


This may result in a cogent stream of thought about a person's aspirations in life and at work and if it does you are well on your way to agreeing developmental objectives. If it fails you will need to try a different approach. Two approaches that usually work are:


Ask about problem areas at work, and

Ask about areas that are satisfying at work.


It is best to select one or other of these to start with, depending on your assessment of which is likely to work better with a particular person.


The reason these questions are effective is that they tend to uncover hidden aspirations. If a person has a particular problem at work, he or she is likely to become motivated to solve it once it becomes clear that this might be possible. Similarly, if there is an area of work that they particularly enjoy, they are likely to be motivated to develop in this area.


Gauging the organisation's interests



You may need to take a broad view of the organisation's interests. It is likely that you will have a clear statement of goals, objectives or priorities in your mind and it is also likely that the individual's aspirations will not fit these exactly. If they do, you are home and dry!


What you must not do is try to steer the individual round to agreeing to an objective that fits your organisational preoccupations. The individual will see this coming and lose interest in the process. You need to stay with the individual's aspirations and then select the ones that best fit your organisational aims. Sometimes, you will be disappointed and find that nothing the individual wants to achieve really helps you very much. This may tell you something about the individual's suitability for the role that they are in, but that is a subject for another time. The idea to hold on to now is that any development is better than no development.


There are two reasons why any development is better than no development. The first is that human beings like to develop. They may need a bit of help to get going, but once they start, they usually enjoy it. People who are developing are likely to be more motivated and more alive. So in one sense, all development is in the organisation's interest, regardless of what it is.


The second reason is that people get into the habit of development and into the habit of thinking about development as a possible solution to problems. Even though a particular piece of development may not directly help the organisation today, other than in the general motivational sense, it may set the scene for more useful development in the future.


So if you cannot agree a development area that is useful to the organisation, agree one that is not rather than give up. Ultimately, all development is useful.

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