Challenges in Managing Development in the Digital Age

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The great change over to another era entirely overhauls the belief system, the relationship with work, and the attributes people value. Yet there is at least one paradox: while people increasingly value the possibility of learning, being challenged and having new opportunities, the perception of development management in companies is very poor.

Moreover, while the company says it is concerned about developing their employees, they also say that their “development experience” is very poor and insufficient[1]. A recent study by Deloitte[2] states that in more than 50% of cases, companies indicate that their employees find a new job faster in the market than an internal mobility opportunity. The same study added that the main reason people leave their jobs is because of a lack of learning and growth opportunities.

Obviously, everyone (company and employee) talks about development, but what they understand by this is different. This present-day phenomenon forces us to rethink the meaning of the development experience, starting from a genuine inquiry focused on digital natives. An example of this: companies think that working on development is about making people plan ahead for the next 5 years, while today digital natives focus on the present, on short periods and on the quality of learning.

The ecosystem                                                                                             

But the poor employee experience in development management depends not only on this mismatch between meanings, but also on the malfunctioning of what I call the development ecosystem. For the development experience to generate positive emotions and the desired outcomes, much more than a policy or a practice is needed… What is required is an ecosystem in which different factors are related and strengthened: a growing business, development managers, tolerance to error, well-managed sporadic interventions, data analysis, development culture, opportunities managed transparently, opportunity brokers, integrated compensation management, personalized benefits, visibility… Within this ecosystem, the role of development managers is central.

The developer leader

If developer leaders are as important as marketers and distributors of development experiences, it is necessary to understand what their skills are in order to replicate them throughout the organization as well as include them in leadership models and in development devices.

In a series of workshops that we lead called HR Conversations, as a workgroup we developed the profile of the Developer Leader using agile methodologies. This was the result:

The developer leader:

  1. Engages with the collaborator
  2. Listens (enquires about interests, encourages self-knowledge, converses about interests and motivations)
  3. Supports (accepts to take risks, gives public endorsement when needed, tolerates mistakes and accompanies rectification, regards an error as a source of learning, enables innovation, challenges others to give their best)
  4. Increases visibility (exposes his team, promotes conversations with other areas, creates spaces to make collaborators visible)
  5. Empowers (opens opportunities, generates projects, promotes cross-projects and learning situations)
  6. Advises

What are dysfunctional behaviours? What does the anti-leader developer do? He only focuses only on achieving objectives; he is afraid his collaborators are better than him; he does not share knowledge; he does not allow people to be “taken out” because “I trained him”; he is not calm, and he micromanages.

The new age development plan

We all know that existing development plans (when they exist) are of very low quality, uncreative and poorly managed. Often, they are made to fulfil a mandate but with little real purpose. Clearly this was a tool created in another era, under another paradigm operating on the basis of a vertical structure focused on hierarchical growth and not on learning. In contrast, today we must focus on learning: the learning process itself is more important than where it leads me to.

One of our proposals is to change the terminology and talk about a learning plan. The employee value proposition becomes more and more personalized and individual, and the emphasis on the employee experience as a product of the learning process becomes a true differentiator.

The different approaches

A good development experience requires innovative and effective approaches. People value other forms of learning, that are more agile, more innovative, and adopt multiple approaches: a job shadowing program to quickly develop the skills of new business unit managers, open learning days for all so that roles and organizational levels can be crossed, development weeks to generate rewards and conversations, digital devices that can be used in free time, a reverse mentoring program to develop managers in the digital world, a peer mentoring device that recognizes the best and makes optimal use of existing knowledge among leaders, among others… In short, such new and innovative proposals generate very positive and enriching development experiences.

Redefining development management is obviously a huge challenge and at the same time a great opportunity.

[1] Source: Whalecom Research “Tu trabajo ideal “, 2016.

[2] Source: Deloitte – 2019 Global Human Capital Trends

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