Why your staff development strategy isn’t working

Before talking about work again, I’d like to ask you to participate in a small thought experiment to set the stage. Pick a scenario you can identify with:

  • Imagine going on holiday – you’re going to a place you’ve researched and looked forward to visiting for quite some time. You know what you want to see or do there, you have planned activities and leisure time and packed according to your preferences.
  • Imagine going to a new restaurant that you’ve read about. You know their specialties you want to try and maybe have an idea where you’d like to be seated – inside or outside, table or booth, window or no window …
  • Imagine you’ve just finished downloading that game that your friends are crazy about. You’ve heard so much about it and they’ve really hyped it for you: Character development, strategy, free world exploring – fun awaits.

Got it? Okay, now let’s say you’re good to go, pumped for this new experience and along comes this guy who tells you: “Okay, I realise there might be a lot of possibilities here, but there’s really only one best way to go about this – trust me, I have a lot of experience with this and I’ll make sure you have the best experience, too; but you have to do things the way I tell you to.”

You might want to point out that you possibly have different preferences, or that your desired approach is based on more recent, validated information, or that you simply don’t care what that other guy thinks is good for you – but I’m fairly sure you would not simply be okay with having new life experiences dictated, especially when they concern things you’re passionate about.

However, this is often exactly what happens when you take on a new job or a different role in an organisation – and it’s one large obstacle that keeps workers from achieving self-actualisation in their jobs (I’m sure you can remember a fourth scenario to that effect).
It’s also one of the main reasons kids hate school, by the way: The experience is designed in a way that only appeals to a minor fraction of those exposed to it (people who want to be told how to go about everything without playing an active part in their development) and completely ignores individuals’ strengths and needs.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but it is unclear if he really said that – whoever said it, we agree: The energy you bring to a new venture can be killed in a matter of days by enforcement of “standardised processes” that are just not right for you (or anyone, really).
The fact that such processes are so commonplace anyway partially stems from the failure of traditional MBA-style management to distinguish between long-term effectiveness and short-term efficiency and the resulting application of principles such as Six Sigma to tasks that demand creativity and outside-the-box-thinking.

So if you’re hiring different personalities and not clones of yourself, you need to be aware that you’re making a decision, actively or passively: Will you enforce a prescribed personal and organisational development that inevitably fails to bring out the best in most of your people? Or will you empower your workers to co-evolve the organisation in such a manner that individuals’ strengths become a means to success and their weaknesses irrelevant?

There are few untapped market potentials currently accessible that compare to the energy of a person who is able to work in alignment with their personality. More and more organisations are discovering how to unlock value this way and I’d advise every manager to do the same – just keep in mind that it’s not enough to simply allow people to do things differently: It’s the job of management to create an environment that makes this possible for them. This is where Jurgen Appelo, creator of Management 3.0 is right: We need to spend less time managing people and more time managing the system. Let’s get to work – your way!

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