The one where you don’t get what you want

For those of you who know me, you may well know that I do a weekly show on a hospital radio station near to my home. It’s every Sunday night and I have the privilege of doing it with a couple of friends so it’s generally a great laugh and a fabulous way to end the weekend. The show has a dedicated Facebook group which allows people listening on line to take part in and comment on the show. The tone is light hearted and a fair amount of ummmm Michael is extracted often at my expense. It’s great!

A few of our loyal listeners are more than happy to express their opinions about the music played and in turn request something more to their taste and on occasion we relent and play near enough what they ask for. In the early part of the show last night such an occasion arose and I said, on air “Well you can please some of the people, some of the time but not all of the people all of the time” (nods to Abe Lincoln) but added “but in our case often none of the people, none of the time” or words to that effect. The comment was off the cuff and we quickly moved on…but it got me to thinking….

In the course of my Masters degree and in my job the training cycle comes up. You know? The classic cycle – Establish Need, Design, Deliver, Evaluate. Yes, that one.

And if you read the books on establishing needs in training you’ll often see the phrase “training needs analysis” coupled with suggestions around collecting training needs through personal development planning process. It is often suggested this is coupled with appraisal so short falls in objective attainment are tackled through personal development plan. Robert’s your father’s brother – job done. Or is it?

The low hanging fruit (20 points at lingo bingo) of the problem with this approach is that apart from the administrative burden of such a process or the technology investment to make it easy, what you end up with is a disparate list of randomly decided “development needs” which, and let’s be honest here, have usually been talked through for 7 minutes at the end of an appraisal. Trying to then develop a coherent development programme that tackles all of them in a corporate setting with numerous conflicting priorities becomes an exercise in futility. So what ends up happening is those with most overlap get tackled and a smorgasbord of random workshops gets cobbled together…

The bigger problem (hard to reach fruit?!) of the problem with this approach is that what you are collating (because there’s little or no verification in this process) is a list of wants… Not needs!

In the few instances I have been either a participant or managed this process the gap between what people want and what potentially they could need is at best wide at worst gulf like and what seems to happen is a list filled with those classic “performance game changers” (coughs loudly) like ‘Finance for Non-Finance Managers’, ‘Time Management’, ‘Presentation Skills’ and ‘Project Management’ appears. That’s not to say those are not important topics. Indeed our finance team would attest to my need to attend at least two of them BUT are they the things that are actually going to shift organisational performance?

So where is this going? I am NOT saying that if you are part of or responsible for this type of process that you should NOT ask for or provide the things you/they want. Not saying that. What I am saying is that whatever your role in understanding the development needs of an organisation, take a step back and ask yourself a question…something along the lines of “what knowledge, skills & behaviours are going to significantly change our business performance?”, maybe ask around, talk to some people at different levels and perspectives in the organisation and then sense check it with what has come before and the challenges that lie ahead. I imagine that your answers to that question will be as informative if not more so than a drawn out information collection process. I also imagine that the answer to the question won’t be finance for non-finance managers!

And writing this has given me an idea of a track to play next week – The Rolling Stones “You can’t always get what you want” 😉



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3 responses to “The one where you don’t get what you want

  1. Thanks Rob – enjoyed this and almost felt motivated to find your radio show (almost..!). It struck me that what the individual ‘wants’ inevitably sits in the context of what the organisation ‘needs’, yet the individuals ability to ‘see’ this will be limited by their own reflective capacity. Often people do not know what they want, and rarely know what they need!! My sense is that organisations need to get better at facilitating a meaningful dialogue when engaging individuals in development planning. For a start let’s separate the ‘development’ discussion from the ‘performance’ discussion so that individuals can start to be curious about what would really make a difference to them in their work outside of the often narrow and distorted reality that is ‘performance appraisal’!!
    My hypothesis being that what will really make a difference to business in the long term is its ability to get the very best out of its people – radical I know!!

  2. “…maybe ask around, talk to some people…”

    Steady on, that sounds awfully like a recommendation for MBWA (management by walking about). That’s dangerous stuff that is – it often gets folks nearer to the truth and heaven forbid, maybe even a sense fo purpose 😉

  3. Going to geek out for a moment. Have heard it in many places before that we should talk about ‘business needs analysis’. Not just as a piece of PR around making this part of what we do sound more relevant to the business, but because this should actually be the focus anyway. There is something there around is it the individual we’re meant to be helping or the business, and I think the answer is we should be trying to do both.

    A business needs analysis should highlight the answers to your question “what knowledge, skills & behaviours are going to significantly change our business performance?”. Individual development plans should then link into that a la > ” Hey Bob, you’re good at working with suppliers to get good deals, why don’t we make you part of the Negotiation team?”.

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