Part I of High-Impact 360 Feedback and Coaching focused on the development discussion. We also published a job aid that can be used as a guide for these discussions. Part II of our series on High-Impact 360 Feedback and Coaching focuses on how to create a robust action plan. The ideas that follow are useful whether or not a person has participated in a 360-feedback process. A 360-feedback process does, however, provide invaluable information for creating the strongest action plans. The following practices provide guidelines to follow for strong action plans:
The Action Plan Template
The template or format you use for action planning should be simple, flexible, and readily accessible. So many individuals trying to create action plans and organizations trying to easily access them get stuck due to challenges with the action plan formats and accessibility. Today there are action plan templates that reside somewhere in the organization’s systems, perhaps in the system of record, such as Workday, or perhaps as part of the learning management system or succession system. The problem with many of these formats is that they do not allow people to capture development plans the way that they think about them. Most people think in terms of the overarching skills, competencies, or capabilities that they want to improve. For example, “I need to improve my coaching and development skills with my team members.” Then, they consider what high-leverage action steps they can take to do this, who to involve and the timing for implementing. Templates that allow people to document their ideas this way tend to be more understandable and useful. If your organization uses a format that becomes a bottleneck to people documenting plans and others, such as managers, readily accessing them, determine how you can change or improve this. If you don’t, people who are serious about working on plans and managers who support them will find and use their own solutions. People who aren’t serious about working on plans and managers who think the same will use the bottleneck created by a poorly designed or inaccessible template as an excuse for not working on or documenting the plan.
Overarching Objectives to Focus On
In previous posts, we discussed how to determine what to focus on in a development action plan. Consider the future in terms of where the individual wants to be and where the organization needs them to be, developmentally. Then consider the current state situation. What are the biggest gaps to fill in terms of competencies, capabilities, or skills? What are the strengths that could be leveraged even more toward preparing for the desired future? The overarching objectives that an individual chooses to work on should be those that have the most power to close the gaps between current state and desired future state or to further highlight strengths that are distinctive related to desired future state. The thinking process is almost the same as working on strategies for a company that has defined its vision, knows the gaps that need to addressed to make the vision viable, and the strengths that can truly be differentiators given they are leveraged the right way. If a person has any potential derailers, working on these should be included in the action plan. The potential derailers will continue to detract from anything else a person might do if they are not addressed.
If you have 360 data to assist with identifying overarching objectives, generally, these feedback reports will clearly show the competencies with the strongest and weakest results. They will also map these to the competencies that are considered most important for success by a person’s leader. This is invaluable information to have to ensure that an action plan focuses on the most important areas.
Action Steps to Include
For each of the overarching objectives identified in an action plan, consider what will be the most effective steps to take to improve a development need or better leverage a strength. The 70-20-10 rule is a research-based and time-tested guideline for the kinds of actions lead to the most effective development for a person. According to the 70-20-10 rule, three types of experience are needed to learn and grow as a leader, in the following ratio:
- 70% challenging experiences and assignments
- 20% developmental relationships
- 10% coursework and training
Most of the action steps identified in the plan should really be on-the-job experiences and assignments. These would include actions such as:
- Leading a task force on a special project
- Taking an expat assignment
- Assuming P&L oversight responsibility for your leader
- Building a marketing plan
- Leading a function that you haven’t led before
- Leading a turnaround
- Taking on increases in job scope
- Making a horizontal move
- Being involved or leading a new company initiative
Twenty percent of development action steps should ideally involve learning from others. This includes a person’s own manager but should ideally extend beyond that to include things like:
- Being a part of a professional organization where you can share ideas and learn from peers and mentors
- Identifying and working with a mentor from another part of the organization when the mentor possesses the types of capabilities and skills desired for development
- Identifying and working with a mentor from another organization or even in another industry when the mentor possesses the types of capabilities and skills desired for development
- Working with a coach
- Completing a special project that allows for working with your manager’s manager
- Having a peer assist you with your ongoing development by providing real-time feedback and ideas for improvement
- Completing a 360 feedback process to gather feedback from others, but also interacting with them regarding the themes from the feedback and how you intend to use it; ask others to let you know ongoing how you are doing and how you might continue to improve
Finally, look to build in action steps related to coursework and training (about ten percent). Make sure to target the coursework and training that will provide the greatest strategic advantage and amplify the other work you are doing to improve development needs or further leverage strengths.
There are many good resources available that outline possible development action steps to take related to different competencies, capabilities, and skills. For example, many 360 feedback reports have development suggestions incorporated in the report. Use these resources for ideas, but make the action plan your own by being very specific to your environment.
Having 360 feedback data helps a great deal in identifying the specific action steps that should be taken. For example, the 360-feedback report often provides the lowest rated behaviors overall or related to specific competencies. If you know the exact behavior that needs improvement, then it is much easier to identify action steps to target that improvement. The 360-feedback report will also often have suggestions for development, which a person can pick and choose from in finalizing their own action plan.
Make It Challenging
An action plan is meant to push and challenge a person. If you are not feeling some discomfort in implementing a plan, then you are not pushing yourself as much as you should. It is similar to thinking about if you have a goal do become fit and healthy again after you have spent too much time not attending to your fitness. You really have to put in the time, work, and dedication. If you are a leader who aspires to improve their leadership, then it requires similar time, work, dedication. It also requires a good bit of self-reflection and self-awareness. Do not kid yourself in thinking that people around you are not aware of the areas you need to improve and whether or not you also see this and are working on it. A leader’s development needs are not a secret to most people in the organization.
Development Action Plans Should Not Exist in a Vacuum
Putting the words on paper is not enough. Of course, discuss the action plan with your manager, and incorporate their feedback and input to create a better plan. Be as specific as possible in asking them for what you need from them. For example, ask them for immediate feedback regarding the areas in the plan. Or, say you need a more-depth meeting monthly to discuss progress. You own the plan and your success in working on it, so set up your environment to for success. In addition, many leaders do not find it easy to be open with their teams or their peers about what they are working on. However, doing so and enlisting their support will result in greater success. It also provides a model for others to follow.
Stay Engaged in Ongoing Development Discussions
One discussion with a manager about a development action plan is not enough. Make the discussion ongoing. Set up regular meetings as you need them. Again, be specific in requests of what you need from others. Also consider implementing a “Time 2” 360 assessment of progress made after a 6-month or so interval. This will also be invaluable in helping you reassess where you are in your ongoing growth and development. It will also let people know that you are continuing to actively work on your growth and serve as a model for others.