Developing everybody

It is possible to develop everybody in an organisation. Many organisations spend lots of time and energy trying to identify which of their people have “potential”. Then they develop these chosen “critical few” and the “critical many” don’t get much at all.

There are major problems with this. One is the Pygmalion Effect which shows that if you expect people to perform well, they will. This means that everyone has more ability than they use. Another is that anyone’s performance can improve with training, support, challenge and attention. So, if you want to do well, you can’t leave anyone out. So, how can you develop everybody?

The problem about developing everybody

Developing everybody sounds nice but totally impractical because of the time and resources required to do it properly. It is impossible to use external professionals like me to develop everybody, even in small groups. There just aren’t enough of “us” around and we are far too expensive to use like this.   So, we have to find imaginative ways to increase the gearing from the limited professional resources we do have so that every intervention counts.

Some solutions

Developing top managers

There is a huge of amount of interest in coaching top managers because the behaviour of these people has such an impact on the attitudes, learning and behaviour of other people in the organisation. The coach provides listening, support, challenging questions and new ideas in safe and confidential environment. Modern working life is so demanding that top people really need a quiet place where they can think and even rest a while. When they realise how valuable it is to be developed, they are more inclined to develop their staff.

Diffusing developmental skills

Bring together naturals

I would love to see developmental skills much more widely spread in organisations. Some of the basic skills like listening, supporting, showing appreciation and asking good questions are not technically difficult and are very rewarding to practice. They are also very rewarding to receive. In all organisations there are people who are naturally very good at these things, even if they have not been professionally trained.

So, we could identify those people that others talk to naturally. Then we could bring them together to practice and develop their skills with each other, perhaps using the coconsulting model I discussed in July.

This process could legitimise their role as informal “counsellors” and increase the amount of listening and support in the organisation. We used this method in ICI at two locations to set up internal counselling services and it worked well. To learn more, click Counselling Service

A different way to use groups

Any good facilitator can help a small group of people help each other develop. There is good guidance on how to do it in Action Learning by McGill and Beaty. However, if you have many people you probably won’t want to use a professional facilitator in each group.

You could try starting a few groups, working in enough depth that each person gains the skills required to facilitate a group as well as be an effective member and then having the groups split after a while to form new groups and repeat the process.

This “cells” approach can rapidly reach large numbers of people in a very effective way. It also transfers facilitating skills very rapidly to the organisation.   If you would like to see more detail of how this might work in practice, please click cells

Teach the basic developmental skills to everyone

I am going on again about listening. This is the basic developmental skill and once people are in the habit of listening, they will learn many other skills quite naturally. People get excited about listening by giving and receiving it.

The secret is to have people take turns. I mean this quite literally. Run a session where people take turns listening to each other for say 15 minutes each way. The listener can ask questions to help the talker explore but must not interrupt, distract or talk about their own views.

These introductory sessions are easy to run, very popular and excellent for building cooperation across the organisation. There is a design for an introductory session here.   The design is for an introduction to sixteen people. In a workshop format, you can cover large groups of people at a time.

Use appreciative enquiry

Appreciative enquiry is a new approach to generating positive change that starts by noticing that is rather wonderful that things work! So start by finding out what people in your organisation are already doing that is helping them develop and then build on that. Appreciative methods exist for working in very large groups that will then release lots of energy and enthusiasm for development and learning.

Before I knew about this, I did some appreciative work with a retailer about the successful development of Branch Managers. We discovered that if a new employee had a manager that developed her or him, then the person would become a developmental manager themselves. This is confirmed independently in the Pygmalion article at the beginning of this newsletter.

If you would like to see more results of my researches, please click branch managers There are no confidentiality issues.

Run meetings developmentally

There is a lot more on this on the web site, just click, developmental meetings . One key idea is to review the process of the meeting by exploring what works well and how it can be improved. Don’t leave out the first part, we can learn more from looking at what is working, which we know works, than by speculating about what might work better!

You can also try having the people there create the agenda of issues that they want to discuss live at the meeting. This can completely transform boring routine meetings.

Be appreciative!

Most people get far more criticism, that reduces energy and confidence, than appreciation that builds both. We can  increase the amount of appreciation of good work or good ideas by doing it, talking about it, using appreciative exercises in workshops and courses. 

Giving and receiving appreciation is very rewarding so it can spread organically without having to be driven. When the climate in an organisation is appreciative, people will grow and perform naturally.

The closest I have seen to this ideal is described in Nuts! an enthralling description of South West Airlines. It is the only management book I have read in bed and been unable to put down.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick