Your 3 Most Important “Developmental Areas”

The author says that employees and supervisors both likely hate conversations about an employee’s “developmental areas,” but says that there is a more useful way to define and use them.

Here it comes again.  Your annual Career Development Conversation.  It goes by different names in different organizations…Personal Development Plan, Intentional Development Plan, etc., but I’m sure you know what I mean.  It looks like a conversation between an employee and his or her supervisor in which the two discuss longer term career objectives.  In most cases the employee is supposed to come to the meeting having identified three areas of strength and three “Developmental Areas” to work on in the coming year.

When we use the term “Developmental Area” in a bureaucratic setting, it usually means, “This is something about you that needs to be fixed.” It’s something you’re not doing right, or you’re just plain bad at.  The implication is that if you don’t fix this area, you won’t be eligible for promotion, or you won’t be given the good assignments because some part of your work behavior is substandard.

So of course the employee walks into the session knowing that no matter how wonderful their strengths are, and no matter how dedicated they’ve been to their work, at some point there will be a discussion about how they fall short.  And if the employee has not identified three Developmental Areas, the supervisor will identify them for him.

This is a No-Win situation all around.  The only thing more disempowering than looking at yourself and identifying the things that are wrong with you is having your supervisor do it for you.  And we wonder why employees and supervisors alike HATE these conversations.

There is a more useful way to define Developmental Areas…a way to turn the Career Development Conversation into something that brings out the best in both the employee and supervisor.  And, sets both up for success in the coming year.  Wasn’t that what we wanted anyway?

Next time you need to identify your three Developmental Areas, try using the below framework.  Choose one “knowledge, skill, ability, or experience” for each of the below categories:

Category 1. The Experimental Area

What is something that you have never done before but it sounds interesting, even fun, to you?  This is the Experimental area.  Consider the child who was meant to grow up and be a Wimbledon champion: if he never picks up a tennis racket, he will never know he could have been a tennis star.  The same is true for you.  Experiment.

If you try it and you don’t like it, no big deal!  Don’t do it again.  It was just an experiment, after all.  But if you try it and it does work out, you’ve discovered a hidden talent.  Now you are an employee who is having fun and expanding your skill set.  And your supervisor gets credit for supporting an employee to gain new skills.

What hidden talents do you have in your back pocket?

Category 2.  The Fine-Tuning Area 

Next, what knowledge, skill or ability would you like to hone?  Maybe it’s an area that was previously on the Experimental list and hasn’t quite been mastered yet.  AND it’s interesting and fun to you.  You would like to get better at it.   (Note:  Key words here are INTERESTING and FUN.  If it doesn’t meet those two criteria, throw it out.)

Examine which aspects of the new knowledge, skill or ability fire you up, and look for additional aspects that you didn’t previously realize were necessary or related. This gives you a chance to get really good at last year’s successful experiment.

Category 3. The Expansion Area

This is the big one! This is the area where you really get to take a look at yourself and ask, “What am I best at? What do I know I’m good at, that I love doing?” This belongs on the re-defined Developmental Areas list because it’s the Gift that you choose to take to the next level.

Who doesn’t want an office full of superstars that are focusing on getting even better at the things they’re already very good at? Wouldn’t you rather work in an office that functioned like that?

Here’s the best part about using this framework for Developmental Areas.  When you focus your attention on the things that bring you closer to your natural Gifts, those aspects of yourself that do not serve you naturally fall away on their own.  You organically attract the assignments, even the promotions, that are ideal for you.

So, what’s on your “Developmental Area” list this year?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.