Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Developing Direct Reports

Development Suggestions

1. You have to invest some time. For most managers, time is what they have the least of to give. For the purposes of developing others beyond today’s job, you need to allocate about eight hours per year per direct report. If you have a normal span of seven direct reports, that’s 7 of 220 working days or 3% of your annual time. Two of the eight hours are for an annual in-depth appraisal of the person in terms of current strengths and weaknesses and of the competencies he/she needs to develop to move on to the next step. Two of the eight hours are for an in-depth career discussion with each person. What does he/she want? What will he/she sacrifice to get there? What is his/her own appraisal of his/her skills? Two of the eight hours are for creating a three to five year development plan and sharing it with the person. The last two hours are to present your findings and recommendations to the organization, usually in a succession planning process, and arranging for developmental events for each person.

2. Appraisal. You can’t help anyone develop if you can’t or aren’t willing to fairly and accurately appraise people. Sound appraisal starts with the best picture of current strengths and weaknesses. Then you need to know what competencies are going to be necessary going forward. You can find this out by looking at a success profile for the next possible job or two of the person. If there are no formal success profiles, you can ask the Human Resources group for assistance or ask someone you know and trust currently in that next job what he/she use to be successful.

3. Feedback. People need continuous feedback from you and others to grow. Some tips about feedback:

  • Arrange for them to get feedback from multiple people, including yourself, on what matters for success in their future jobs; arrange for your direct reports to get 360º feedback about every two years.
  • Give them progressively stretching tasks that are first-time and different for them so that they can give themselves feedback as they go.
  • If they have direct reports and peers, another technique to recommend is to ask their associates for comments on what they should stop doing, start doing, and keep doing to be more successful.
  • You have to be willing to be straight with your people and give them accurate but balanced feedback. They need to know the negatives as soon as possible. More help? –
  • Set up a buddy system so people can get continuing feedback

4. Development planning. You need to put together a development plan that, if followed, actually would work. At least 70% of reported skill development comes from having challenging, uncomfortable tasks/assignments. Development means that you do the new skill or fail at something important to you. Tasks that develop anything are those in which not doing it is not a viable option. Another 20% comes from studying and working with others to see useful behavior and get feedback. This can take the form of studying a role model, working with a developmental partner, keeping a written summary of what’s working and not working or preferably a formal assessment, like a 360° process. Without this continuous feedback, even the best developmental plans fail. About 10% of development comes from thinking differently or having new ways to think about things. Typically these come from coursework, books or mentors; the lion’s share is learning from tough tasks, and the learning from other people that comes from feedback. A good plan would have 70% job and task content; 20% people to study, listen to, and work with; and 10% courses and readings.

5. Equal Opportunity. If some of your people have limited or disadvantaged backgrounds, it is unrealistic to expect the same developmental procedures will work for them. According to research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (see The New Leaders by Ann Morrison), people from diverse backgrounds usually need additional support in the form of mentoring, information on how things work around here, greater access to formal organizational information, a critical mass of support from top management, and accountability/enforcement to make developing diversity a reality rather than a statistic. You may also be able to intern/apprentice those with limited backgrounds to begin to provide appropriate job experiences or provide necessary training.

6. Delegate for development. You can use parts of your own job to develop others. Take three tasks that are no longer developmental for you, but would be for others, and delegate them. Trade tasks and assignments between two direct reports; have them do each other’s work. Make a list of the 20 tasks that need to be done but no one has gotten around to and assign them to the people who would be challenged by them. Think of varied assignments – more of the same isn’t developmental.

7. Remember, meaningful development is not the stress reduction business. It is not cozy or safe; it comes from varied, stressful, even adverse tasks that require we learn to do something new or different or fail. Real development involves real work the person largely hasn’t done before. Real development is rewarding but scary.

8. Help them learn. Have a learning dialogue with your people. Ask them what they have learned to increase their skills and understanding, making them better managers or professionals. Ask them what they can do now that they couldn’t do a year ago. Reinforce this and encourage more of it. Developing is learning in as many ways as possible.

9. Selling development. Part of developing others is convincing people that tough, new, challenging and different assignments are good for them. In follow-up studies of successful executives, more than 90% report that a boss in their past nearly forced them to take a scary job assignment they wanted to turn down. That assignment turned out to be the most developmental for them. The peculiar thing about long-term development is that even ambitious people turn down the very assignments they need to grow. They do not have the perspective to understand that. Your job is to help convince people on the way up to get out of their comfort zone and accept jobs they don’t initially see as useful or leading anywhere.

10. Build perspective. Give the people under you who have the potential for bigger and better things assignments that take them outside your function, unit or business. Help them expand their perspectives. Volunteer them for cross-boundary task forces. Have them attend meetings that include people from other areas. Open up the world for them so that they can better judge for themselves what’s out there and what part of it they want.

WSU Training 

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