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Start off staff’s year by putting the focus on professional growth

A good way to start off a year is with a professional development plan for each staffer.

And call it such, says Richard Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting in New York. It’s not a vehicle for recognizing shortcomings in a staffer’s performance that have to be improved. Instead, it’s a discussion of capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses and how to grow during the coming year. It points the staffer down the road to professional success.

Begin with the performance

The plan itself needs to include both performance goals and developmental goals.

The performance goals are specific things someone has to do such as upgrading the IT system or setting up a document storage system.

The development goals, on the other hand, are the personal skills and behaviors necessary to get those things done such as learning how to use the full capabilities of the IT system or studying the types of document storage systems.

A cascade of progression

Start with the performance goals.

Set them so the firm gets value from them as well as the staffer. To do that, make each person’s goals part of a single picture where everything points back to achieving what the firm wants to see.

It’s a matter of the firm’s goals cascading down to the administrator’s goals cascading down further to each staffer’s goals.

Suppose the firm wants to increase revenues.

For the administrator, that might mean getting the bills out faster and increasing operating profitability.

For a staffer in finance, it might mean getting the clerical work done faster. Or for a secretary, it might mean getting an attorney’s time entered at the end of the day as opposed to the end of the week. Or for an IT person, it could mean training the attorneys in using the financial system more efficiently so it’s easier for them to get the time entered.

Each person’s goal reflects back to what the firm wants to achieve.

Getting the gears moving

From there, go to the development goals.

The focus now is on improving each person’s professional capabilities, Lepsinger says, so the administrator has to get that employee thinking about growth and identifying the areas where development will benefit both staffer and firm.

Ask questions such as Where do you see yourself headed in the next five years? What are your aspirations? What would you like to be doing then that you aren’t doing now?

The answer might be as far-reaching as “I’d like to be the manager of the new office we’re opening next year” or as simple as “I want to learn how to get along better with my co-workers.”

But don’t be surprised to get a response of “I don’t know.” That’s okay. “Some people don’t know. They haven’t ever thought about it.”

Give it time. It may take two or even three conversations to get a staffer to develop specific goals.

Strong here; weak there

Once some clear aspirations are identified, put them in writing and set out a plan of attack with “let’s talk about what you need to do to get there.”

Start by identifying the individual’s strengths that will make success possible. If the goal is to manage the new office, for example, ask “what strengths do you have that will make it possible for you to do that?” Maybe the staffer has experience in drawing up budgets or dealing with vendors or managing a section of the office.

Do the same for the weaknesses. Maybe the staffer doesn’t know much about employment law or doesn’t like to handle conflicts.

It’s with the weaknesses that the development plan should begin. Explain that “these are the things you need to do to achieve what you want.”

For the aspiring manager, they might be to attend a human resources seminar or take a college class in management or read some specific book on employee communication or take over a few of the administrator’s management jobs.

From there, the path is as expected.

Set a due date for achieving each item and along with that, set dates to follow up on the progress.

Do the follow-up at least quarterly, he says. Otherwise, the goals will get pushed aside and maybe or maybe not get done at the very end of the year.

A few final rules

Lepsinger points to a few rules on goal development.

First, keep the aspirations to an achievable level. If the firm has no intention of hiring someone from within to manage the new office, make that clear. Otherwise, the staffer is just being set up for disappointment.

Second, put the goals in writing and limit the number of goals to no more than two or three in a year’s timeframe.

Third, don’t make promises or give any guarantees such as “if you achieve these goals, you’ll get the job at the new office.” Instead, make it clear that there are no guarantees but that achieving the goals will at least put the staffer in the best position for moving up the ladder.

And fourth, be open to changing the goals as the staffer goes forward. Some may prove too difficult; others may be too easy.

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