Setting Personal Development Objectives that Work

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A.I.M. For Development
Setting Personal Development Objectives that Work
by Hugh Murray  Source: Telephone Doctor

The key to self development is motivation. You can make people do a lot of things, but self-development isn’t one of them. People will develop if they want to and they won’t if they don’t. Any approach to encouraging self-development that does not start with this reality will fail.

It is widely agreed today that people should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own development and that managers play a key role in making this happen. But that is really as far as it goes. Most managers are then left to flounder around, trying to help identify personal development plans, in a process that could be described at bureaucratic form-filling.

A.I.M. is a new approach to setting development objectives that actually work – that actually lead to self-development and therefore to an improvement in performance. A.I.M. stands for Aspiration, Interests and Measurement.

The starting point for any discussion of self development – the "A" of A.I.M. – has to be the individual’s aspirations. People will be motivated to develop themselves if they want to achieve something that requires development. If someone wants to be a doctor badly enough they will undertake the necessary training and hard work. If they don’t, they won’t.

Any manager seeking to help an individual to develop must start with a discussion of the individual’s aspirations – what does he or she want to achieve? Only when this is clear will it be possible to identify areas for development that the individual will want to address. The problem is that most people don’t have a clear idea about what they want to achieve.

The manager’s role in this situation is to help people think about their aspirations – about what they want to achieve. And questions are the most powerful tools you have to help people to think. Statements invite challenge. Questions invite thought.

The most obvious question to ask, but one that rarely works, is: "Tell me what you want to achieve in this job?" Occasionally, this will produce a useful answer but most of us simply don’t think like this and you’re likely to meet either stunned silence or the overly simple: "Money!" A more fruitful approach is likely to start with: "What aspects of your current job do you particularly enjoy?" Most people can answer this and the reply may give you a clue to their longer-term aspirations. Alternatively, you can try the opposite approach: "What aspects of your current job cause you problems?" You can guide people into a discussion of their aspirations by asking them how they might do more of what they like, or less of what they don’t. However you do it, you need to help people get clear in their own minds just what it is that they want to achieve. Only then can you move forward to identify self-development that they will want to do.

The "I" of A.I.M. stands for interests. Development must be in the interests of the organization and compatible with your corporate goals. If there is no motivation, there will be no development, but if the organization does not benefit, there will be no point. So why not start by identifying development that is in the organization’s interests and then look for ways of motivating someone to develop in that way? The answer is because it does not work. People feel that they are being manipulated if you try to fit their aspirations into the organization’s aims. You end up selling them on a particular development and they will see through this.

People respond better if you focus on them – on what they want to achieve – and then look for advantages to the organization later. You will end up with a much more motivated individual if you begin with him or her. Motivation is more important than any other single aspect of development. So start with what motivates the individual and then apply the organization’s interests to select which developments to support.

Finally, the "M" of A.I.M. stands for measurement. A development objective is not likely to work unless the outcome is measured. Development is about improving performance so measure development by measuring performance. You measure performance by observing the effect of that performance. For example, measure leadership by observing the effect of the leadership on the team. If leadership has improved the team, performance will improve.

For a self-development objective to be effective the measurement of success must be clear and unambiguous. There can be no room for argument about whether the objective has been achieved or not. Choose an observable effect of the improved performance and then agree a clear measure of that effect.

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