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3 Outside-the-Box Strategies to Keep Your Talent Development Plan Relevant

Putting people in a room doesn't make them a team, and calling one the manager doesn't make them the single accepted leader.

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When I was going through selection and training for my last SEAL team, one of the first things the instructors did was replace senior officers with mid-level enlisted members. One of the reasons why they did this was to illustrate that when you limit your thinking to inside the box, you’re confined to the box. In other words, don’t be afraid to create your own box, think and be different. If we had followed the typical military hierarchy, we never would’ve discovered (1) the latent talent that resided within the team or (2) who was capable and who wasn’t.

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As a leadership and team advisor, I see inside-the-box thinking stifle talent and development plans in companies—if such plans exist at all. Without a “people plan," there's no telling how your company will survive. What normally happens is the urgency of today presides over the importance of tomorrow, and anything “soft” gets a budget cut. However, without (the right) people in your company, there will be no company. Here are three considerations to keep your company’s talent development plan relevant:

Related: Focus on Your Top Talent for Maximum Staff Development ROI

1. Question the current trajectory.

Sometimes people are promoted to manager because they were exceptional individual contributors. The assumption is that he or she will be just as good at managing people, too. However, the truth is that many challenges I see in teams stem from individual contributors turned team leaders, managers or members who don’t know how to play nice with others. Just because Joe was a rock star individual performer doesn’t mean he can lead or manage a team. Be sure to assess whether the next career step for that person is the right step for them and for the company.

Related: 5 Questions You Must Ask to Keep Your Best and Brightest Talent

2. Give them a guide.

Continuing with the Joe example, it’s not safe to assume that if Joe is promoted to a manager that he’ll somehow get his team aligned and rowing in the same direction. This is perhaps the second biggest problem I see in teams today: the expectation that if people are thrown together that they’ll spontaneously become a team. The fact is, teams don’t just happen. It takes a lot of work to go from working as a group to working as a well-oiled machine.

Additionally, don't assume a team is led by a single individual. Leadership isn’t reserved for a single person. Instead, leadership in teams rotates to the person closest to the problem because that person is the one who has the greatest context to solve that problem. Give your people a guide they can loosely follow. I say guide rather than roadmap because a guide connotes an openness to experimentation whereas a roadmap is more prescriptive (and no two teams are the same).

Related: How Small Companies Can Cultivate Homegrown Senior Development Talent

3. Share decision criteria.

In companies where political knife-fighting is the preferred method of engagement, conversations tend to circle around who’s right rather than what’s right. This is perhaps the fastest way to destroy trust -- by pointing fingers, making accusations and avoiding personal responsibility. Remember that without information, people tend to create their own realities and come to their own conclusions which may or may not (mostly not) be accurate.

One way to mitigate this is to share the decision criteria upon which a promotion is based. When people understand the rationale that went into making such a decision, they naturally reflect on themselves and how they compare, which is a great conversational opportunity.

A talent development plan shouldn’t be etched in stone. It should change based on the internal and external environments of the company in order to keep people -- and business -- thriving.

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