Jake Reynolds makes the important point that: ‘Improvement and learning are causally related; obtain the will to improve and the process of learning will follow.’ He also believes that ‘The experience of work always will provide the richest learning laboratory.’
This is where performance management has a key role to play − first by specifically helping people to appreciate the need for improvement and where and how it should take place, and second by ensuring that they learn from experience.
Performance management can also help to identify specific training needs that can be satisfied by formal courses on- or off-the-job.
Performance management provides learning opportunities during its three main stages −
● performance agreement and planning
● managing performance throughout the year
● performance review.
The learning opportunities offered by performance management are based on the initial activities in the performance agreement and planning part of the cycle. This includes a joint analysis of the individual’s role so that a new or updated role profile can be produced, which sets out what results are to be achieved and what competences are needed to deliver those results.
Discussions take place on ways in which the individual’s role could be developed so that it becomes more challenging from the viewpoint not only of new tasks to be accomplished but also the need to acquire or extend knowledge and skills in order to carry out those tasks. The aim is to provide ‘supported autonomy’: freedom for employees to manage their work within certain boundaries (policies and expected behaviors) but with support available as required.
Learning is inseparable from activity, and like performance management it is a continuous process. Every task carried out by someone presents a learning opportunity and it is the duty of managers to help people become aware of this and to support the day-to-day learning that takes place.
Performance reviews, whether conducted formally or informally, can be regarded as learning events. Learning opportunities are provided before, during and after formal meetings. Prior to a review, individuals can be encouraged to think about what they feel they want to learn, new skills they would like to acquire and the direction in which they want to develop.
During the review individuals can present to the reviewer their views about what they have learnt and what they need to learn.
Personal development planning aims to promote learning and to provide people with the knowledge and portfolio of transferable skills that will help to progress their careers. A personal development plan sets out what people need to learn to develop their capabilities, improve their performance and further their career.
Personal development planning is carried out by individuals with guidance, encouragement and help from their managers as necessary.
Personal development plans are based on an understanding of what people do, what they have achieved, what knowledge and skills they have and what knowledge and skills they need. The aims of the planning process are to be specific about what is to be achieved and how it is to be achieved, to ensure that the learning needs and actions are relevant, to indicate the timescale, to identify responsibility and, within reason, to ensure that the learning activities will stretch those concerned.
Training courses may form part of the development plan, but a minor part; other learning activities such as those listed below are more important −
● adopting a role model (mentor)
● observing and analyzing what others do (good practice)
● extending the role (job enrichment)
● project work – special assignments
● involvement in other work areas
● involvement in communities of practice (learning from others carrying out similar work)
● action learning
● guided reading
The action plan sets out what needs to be done and how it will be done under headings such as −
● learning needs;
● outcomes expected (learning objectives);
● learning activities to meet the needs;
● responsibility for learning – what individuals will do and what support they will require from their manager, the HR department or other people;
● timing – when the learning activity is expected to start and be completed.
The plans should be recorded on simple forms with four columns covering −
● Development objectives and outcome expected,
● Action to be taken and when,
● Support required,
● Evidence required showing that the planned learning activity has been undertaken successfully.
The introduction of personal development planning should not be undertaken lightly. It is not just a matter of designing a new back page to the performance review form and telling people to fill it up. Neither is it sufficient just to issue guidance notes and expect people to get on with it. Managers, team leaders and individuals all need to learn about personal development planning.
They should be involved in deciding how the planning process will work and what their roles will be. The benefits to them should be understood and accepted. It has to be recognized that everyone will need time and support to adjust to a culture in which they have to take much more responsibility for their own learning. Importantly, all concerned should be given guidance on how to identify learning needs, on the means of satisfying those needs and on how they should make use of the facilities and opportunities that can be made available to them.