If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else. ~ Yogi Berra

When setting out to encourage development of a member of your team, moves to clarify are often an important place to start. Clarity is needed in order to contextualize all your developmental moves and keep the your desired end point in focus.

Four areas could be clarified to better define where you are going: career trajectory, learning goals, quality criteria for the skill being developed, and the elements of the developmental plan. You may not need to clarify all of these areas for every employee, but they all form the big picture.

Clarify career trajectory

Discussions of development goals often intertwine with reflections about career paths and options, so knowing employees’ career aspirations helps to define their learning goals. Whether or not people have a specific next role in mind, it’s also critical to understand that modern career development is framed around more than job advancement.

Beverly Kaye did seminal work in the 1980s by identifying that “up is not the only way” when considering career growth. Her work continues to highlight a number career paths in addition to vertical movement, including job enrichment, lateral movement, realignment (moving down in order to move up a different path), relocation, and exploration (projects, side gigs).

And Julie Winkle Giulioni has recently extended that framework by studying what employees are really asking for when they express a desire for growth. Her study showed that (in order of general desirability) employees want to feel like they can contribute, build competence, gain confidence, make connections, meet challenges, feel contentment, exercise choice, and (last) climb the ladder. (More on this subject in my review of Promotions Are SO Yesterday coming up next in this series.)

The point is, you can’t assume that your employees want to deepen their current expertise or advance in the organization – they may have a different career trajectory in mind. Career desires are often the basis for motivation to learn and develop, so you should explore what each employee wants before setting out to accelerate their development.

Clarify learning goals

Clear learning goals are the heart of development planning. Similar to the work you might do for self-directed learning, goal-setting in this context is a bit looser than you might imagine. (See Everything you know about writing goals is wrong.) Identify the particular knowledge base or skill set that is your developmental aim with your employee, and make a short list of questions or statements about specifics in order to narrow the topic down and focus your energies on exactly what that employee needs.

Note that developing people isn’t something you do to others; “develop” in this context is not an action verb. Development requires the engagement of the learner; it won’t work if decreed from above, or if attempted to be done in stealth. While you need to be clear on what you are trying to promote development-wise, it’s best if those goals are arrived at in a collaborative fashion. You can certainly make suggestions, but the goals should be mutually agreed.

Clarify quality criteria or behavioral anchors

When people are working hard to develop a knowledge base or skill, they need to know what success looks like. What describes the work done well? How will they know they are approaching or achieving their desired level of facility with the topic? You can help illuminate that.

Your profession may have quality criteria for specific roles and your organization may have documented capability maps that lay out varying levels of proficiency. These can be useful guides. But just as important is having a frank conversation about what the employee should be aiming for.

Clarify a development plan

Some of the work you do to develop people is spontaneous – you see opportunities in the environment and take action to turn them to developmental ends. You’re often giving feedback, making work assignments, creating project teams, and engaging in other supervisory tasks that can have developmental benefit and that is all well and good.

But when employees’ desired development sphere is brand new to them, or deep and long term, that calls for a plan.

Development can be promoted by a wide range of actions, or moves. Since you have limited time and energy, invest a little time up front to decide which moves you want to make and when. Your plan should have a variety of different kinds of moves, and some moves are repetitive or cyclical. (Of course, you can make spontaneous moves, too.) Which moves you plan to make depend on the goal, the people involved, the context, and more.

Share your plans with employees so they can see how their needs are being addressed. You can also collaborate with them on the plan so they are ready and willing to put their time and energy into their learning.

The benefits of moves to clarify

I remember a conversation I once had with a senior leader who was asked to take on a leadership role in an L&D organization. Because she was not told the reasoning behind the assignment, she expressed dismay and concern about what her contributions there might be. I’m sure the talent team who made that assignment knew exactly what they hoped that leader would gain from working in that part of the business, but they missed an opportunity to get her excited about the prospect and committed to learning what she could while she was in that role.

Moves to clarify make sure that the learner and the developer are on the same page, working toward the same ends. They help to morph everyday experiences into excellent learning opportunities. If a person is unsure where they stand and unclear about where they are heading, you are likely to get disengagement and routinized work. By clarifying, you release the energy and potential needed for real growth.

This post is part of a series exploring the moves leaders can make to promote development of their teams and employees. Check out the entire developing people series. And please get in touch if I can help you to aquaint your leadership team with these moves; I can offer a workshop and other learning materials on the subject.