The Conventional Wisdom of Development Plans is All Wrong

The Conventional Wisdom of Development Plans is All Wrong

Many years ago, when I first became a manager, I was responsible for my department’s budget. I had never completed a budget, so my boss sent me to a training course. I didn’t learn much at that course, not because of the trainer or the content, but because of me. Beyond basic math, I’m not very good with numbers. As the years passed, I continued to be responsible for a budget and, every year, I’d have in my development plan, “improve budget preparation.”  Annually, I’d put together my budget and with every iteration, my budget was only marginally better than the year before despite more training and numerous coaching conversations with our CFO and controller.

Nothing much has changed over the last few decades. Like mine, just about every development plan today is littered with this concept – “You’re not good at this, so let’s have you work on it.” This thinking is thanks to the long-held notion that anyone can learn anything if they try hard enough. But here’s the hard truth…that belief is utterly flawed. Not everything can be learned well. Sure, we’ll get somewhat better at many things with great determination, but is that the best use of our time and energy? Possibly, but chances are likely that it really isn’t. Take my budgeting example. Even with consistent training and frequent coaching, my improvement was only slight.

Here’s the main reason for my struggle – I don’t have the innate talent for that type of work. Without talent, gaining skills and knowledge on something will get us to average or slightly above average – not excellent. Talent, which is our natural aptitude in a given area, determines how well we’ll perform in that area. The less talent we have for something, the worse our performance in that area will be. Conversely, the more talent we have in a given area, the greater our performance in that area will become.

The other long-held (but inaccurate) belief as it relates to human development is this – “You’re already good in this area, so just maintain your performance.” Instead, what if “You’re really good in this area so let’s continue that develop so you can become exceptional” was how we thought in the process of creating a development plan? That mindset would lead to a plan which would significantly improve performance. Not to mention, it would be a lot more enjoyable.

The truth is, we’re likely to get exponentially better at the things we’re already good at because that’s where our innate talents reside. When we have talent at something, we perform effortlessly. We problem solve more clearly, we’re more creative and we’re able to learn more easily and quickly. But this flies against another long-held assumption – “No pain, no gain.” There’s this misconception that if we aren’t suffering, we aren’t growing. In this context, that’s nonsense. We still must work hard to develop our talents and strengths, but that kind of sweat equity doesn’t feel tedious and painful. Instead, it’s exciting and joyful. And isn’t that how development should feel, like something we look forward to? Something we want more of? Something we can’t wait to do again? Something where we see considerable growth from the effort? The answer is undeniably yes.

Now you might be thinking, “This all sounds good, but people still have jobs to do whether they have the talent or not.” That’s true, and there will typically be some tasks which we all do that we will only be average at. That said, it’s our job as leaders to develop each person on our team to be as engaged, committed and productive as possible. Forcing someone to learn a task he or she struggles with isn’t conducive to any of those things. We get the most from our team members when we position them to develop and leverage their natural talents. In turn, they give us their best, which means our credit unions will flourish.

Joe Bertotto has more than three decades of experience helping leaders improve their workplace cultures. He is the chief culture officer at Vizo Financial Corporate Credit Union and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. In 2014, Joe was named a Credit Union Rock Star by Credit Union Magazine. He also recently published his book, Pick Up the Gum Wrapper: How To Create a Workplace That Increases Performance While Improving Lives, which credit union leaders have been using as a guide to increase the effectiveness of their leadership skills and overall culture.