Employee Development and Running a Marathon

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

With organizations undergoing constant pressure from competition, it is essential that employees perform at the highest level possible. A previous article discussed the impact of an individual's readiness for change on training effectiveness. This article will expand on that idea to talk about the need for a comprehensive model for employee development.

Employee development efforts are fairly consistent from one organization to another. Typically, development takes primarily a training approach with classroom education as the central activity. Other factors are rarely considered during the employee development effort.

Development is a Game of Chance
Human development is a complex process that takes time and involves many different variables. We need to view employee development as the gamble it is. And, gambling is an exercise in probability. Smart gamblers know how to "play the odds" and increase their probability of winning. In employee development we also need to learn how to play the odds and control as many variables as possible. In this way we can maximize our probability of success.

Running the Marathon
Suppose the CEO of an organization decides every employee should be more athletic. He has read some recent research that shows that healthy employees are more productive employees. He thinks "why go half way" and decides that each employee in the company should train to compete in a marathon. The CEO consults with several fitness experts. The company buys each employee a videotape on running techniques, running clothes, and a good pair of running shoes. Employees are given work time to watch the video tape to learn the proper techniques. They all attend a half-day class on exercise and running techniques. For one week the company employs a team of exercise consultants to observe employees and give advice on running techniques. After that, employees are encouraged to practice running on their own time. They are also informed of the date of the marathon in which they will all participate. The company has spent thousands of dollars on videos, running equipment, and consultants. The CEO feels confident that he has done everything he can to improve the health and productivity of his employees. And, he can point to the money spent to prove it. Now all he has to do is wait for the improved productivity.

You are probably thinking "those actions aren't going to ensure healthier, more productive employees." Well, you are right. But this is exactly how most organizations deal with employee development. They send people through a one-day training program and wait for productivity to improve. When nothing happens, leaders in the organization are surprised. But should they be?

What is wrong with this approach? First, it expects people to change immediately. Life-long behavior cannot be changed quickly. Second, it uses a "one size fits all" approach to employee development. Organizations are made up of many individuals with unique needs. Third, it does not account for the readiness or openness to change of the workforce. Unless the proper steps have been taken to prepare the workforce for change, success will be limited. Fourth, it does not allow for the many other variables within the organization that influence behavior change.

So, we need to do as many things as possible to maximize the probability that our employees are ready to run the marathon. I have described here the typical approach taken to employee development. Now I will try to provide a model for employee development that goes beyond the typical.

FRAMES
We need to have a framework to guide us in the design of our employee development efforts. Think of employee development as a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle has little meaning by itself. But together they make a complete picture. The FRAMES model represents a puzzle composed of six pieces. They are:

Feedback. People need to know their current level of performance on the job. Feedback that is specific and tailored to the individual will increase the person's readiness for change and focus development efforts. Feedback can come in the form of formal performance reviews, coaching sessions, or 360- degree feedback.

Responsibility. Each employee must understand that it is his/her responsibility to take the necessary developmental actions. If employees are going to make changes that are permanent the responsibility for the changes must come from the employee him/herself.

Advice. Employees must receive clear recommendations about areas for change. This will occur if the feedback method is valid, designed to measure essential skills, and specific in its recommendations. Often employees receive feedback that may be specific, but there are no recommendations for change.

Multiple Approaches. A menu of possible intervention strategies must be available to help the person change. These include training, mentoring, individual development, readings, video courses, etc. The list of possibilities should be company specific.

Empowerment. The organization empowers the individual to carry out the development effort. The organization must have confidence in its people to change. Employees must be given the organizational resources necessary and time to carry out their development efforts.

Support. The organization, and the employee's manager and peers provide a supportive environment for the person's change efforts. Too often employees return to the workplace to practice new behaviors only to be stifled by management in their efforts.

Each of these elements functions on a continuum from low to high. Maximizing each element improves the fit of that piece of the puzzle. With a better fit we have a clearer, more complete picture.

If any of the six elements is weak, your development picture is incomplete and your probability of success is low. Now let's again examine our marathon example and apply the FRAMES model:

Feedback. All employees should have been assessed on their physical capabilities before designing the development program. It was assumed that training for a marathon was best for everyone. Each person was given the same tape and equipment, whatever his/her physical condition. Since individual feedback was not given, there is a high probability of resistance from some employees. I will rate feedback as low in this case.

Responsibility. The conditioning program is the responsibility of each employee, but it is not tied in any way to job expectations, performance reviews, or rewards so there will be low motivation to continue. I will rate individual responsibility as low.

Advice. Employees did receive individualized advice from the exercise consultant about their running techniques. I will rate initial advice as moderate to good.

Multiple Approaches. Each employee was given the same tape, equipment, and one week of practice. There was no accommodation made for readiness, current level of conditioning, body make-up, interest in running, etc. I will rate multiple approaches as low.

Empowerment. The CEO made a public commitment to the development effort, including some money, and employee work time. A commitment was not made to continuing development, though. It was more of a one-shot approach. I will rate this as moderate.

Support. Accommodations were not made to support the development of the employees back on the job and throughout the workday. Employees were expected to continue practicing on their own. I will rate this as low.

Making Development Efforts Effective
The model described above gives insight into the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of employee development efforts. It can help us understand why the best-designed training efforts can easily fail. In our example four of the six FRAMES elements are low. We can predict a low probability of success in improving the athletic ability of employees, much less their ability to run a marathon.

Development must be a joint effort of the individual and the organization. Remember:

Employee development is a game of chance. Smart organizations know how to play the game by implementing the FRAMES model in all their development efforts to maximize their probability of success.

Let's quit pretending that training programs are enough. We must take a comprehensive approach to our employee development efforts. Put another way, we cannot expect employees to run a marathon if all we do is give them new shoes and a video tape. We must design development efforts that maximize the probability of success.

Please send any comments, questions or topics to Dr. Pfaff at [email protected].

Back to List of Articles