It should have been two years ago, when DFC launched its updated Engagement Strategy guidelines, that I understood how engagement and career development planning could help me. But, unfortunately, those presentations, group discussions and documents, like so many things before it, did not quite make it through.
It was only recently, 11 years into having a career worth professionally developing, that I realised career development planning can be a bit of a game changer – for me at least.
This post is based on an email I sent to the DFC team on a Thursday afternoon, appropriately entitled “Thursday Ramblings.”
The definition of insanity…
I am used to some version of the same thing – an appraisal, annual review, personal development review, performance review – the name changes every year.
I’m used to hearing some feedback from a third party that I can’t identify but would have liked to have discussed the feedback with.
I’m used to setting five SMART objectives and being judged 12 months later whether I’ve fulfilled them all to the letter (spoiler alert: I had never done them all!).
Well, I’m a decade into fire engineering now and have a wealth of experience that this approach just does not work for me.
The DFC Engagement Strategy is a bit different from those.
Have no fear, for I have a cunning plan…
Funnily enough, the DFC Engagement Strategy includes a review every year, around the anniversary of joining. This is done with a more senior member of staff; in my case it is with a Director. Our process focuses on career development plans, or CDPs.
Mine was coming up this year, so I decided to read the Engagement Strategy and really take it in. Our Engagement Strategy gives some rules for best practice, some guidance on what to do and some example forms to fill in. I’m not very imaginative so up to this point, I’ve always filled in the example forms, but whilst rereading it, one sentence kept coming back to me:
“This is your career, so use whatever approach will benefit you the most.”
That’s easy to say, but not always easy to do. Nonetheless, I decided to take it at its word. I forgot all templates or example forms, discarded all previous year’s forms, closed this year’s draft, and picked up a blank piece of paper. After much scribbling, I came up with something that was bespoke to me. It considered what I wanted or liked about the process and got rid of the things I didn’t.
It was clear to me that this was the first appraisal, annual review, whatever, that I’ve truly engaged with. And I’ve come to the conclusion that is because it’s the first one I really felt ownership of, so I took responsibility for it.
It made me realise that the whole process, even the concept of having a process in the first place, really isn’t for your employer, it’s for you. It is to allow the employer to support you doing something that is mutually beneficial.
Same same but different…
I don’t want everyone to have the same plan as me, I want everyone to have the same ownership of their plan, as I do of mine.
In case you’re interested, my bespoke CDP process looks like this:
- Focus on destination not route: I want to have end goals listed – but not routes and plans laying out exactly how to get there. I’m going to focus on what role I want to have in a few years’ time and only worry about the next step, not the next five, or even the next two.
- Take smaller, more frequent steps: I’ve done the ‘five smart objectives over 12 months approach’ for over a decade now and it just isn’t for me. I want to take more frequent, smaller steps towards achieving the goals. I’m setting one objective, sometimes two, with a three month timescale, and we are going to check in regularly to keep me on track.
- Prioritise: I want to identify when a specific goal is getting in the way of other things and blitz it quickly until it’s done, so I can stop being blinded by it and start working on other things I really want to do (you guessed it, in this example the blinding goal is chartership).
- Simplicity: I want to record it on paper, but in an as simple and comprehensible format as possible. A single side of A4, key information only.
- Be open: My colleagues are great and want me to succeed. If they know my goals, they will help and support me in achieving them.
- Feedback: And finally, I really, really, really don’t want to solicit all staff general feedback ever again.
Turns out different types of feedback are different…
That last point is one I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. At DFC we’re trying hard to move towards the ‘360’ feedback culture. It’s a pretty buzzwordy name, but the concept is sound. Get used to giving and receiving feedback continuously – including positive, negative and constructive – and get used to it coming frequently and from all directions. Once we’ve gotten over the various barriers to doing this (cultural, behavioural, psychological, social, and other) I think we will all see a benefit.
In contrast, to date, I’m used to thinking of feedback as something you have to ask for before your appraisal, CDP or whatever it’s called. It’s sometimes sought by you and sometimes not. It’s sometimes shared in full and sometimes filtered by your reviewer. It’s sometimes relevant to what you want to work on, and sometimes not.
I think we’ve gotten too used to this approach, and we need to define the difference between feedback for the CDP process and 360 feedback – and more importantly separate the two from one another.
For my CDP process, I’ve decided I will only ever seek feedback from a select group of staff (depending on the objective) if I’ve been working on an objective where feedback from others has been identified, between me and my reviewer, as the best way to judge success or failure – e.g. “3 months ago I said I’d do more XX, do you think I’ve done more XX? If not, what do I need to change?”
For me, any other feedback isn’t welcome as part of my career development plan.
That’s not to say you can’t ask for general feedback as part of yours, after all you need to “use whatever approach will benefit you the most.” But I’ve asked the team here if we can consider the following ‘Watch It’s’ when asking for or giving feedback:
- Before you send a request for feedback, make sure you want the feedback. If you don’t, tell the person doing your review.
- Similarly, don’t feel obliged to seek it. It’s up to you if it forms part of your career development.
- Consider requesting feedback about the specifics rather than the generic.
- If you received feedback that isn’t relevant to your chosen CDP process, then remove it from the process and deal with it separately.
- If someone sends a request for feedback, and you have something to feedback to them that is constructive, could be construed as negative or critical, or could be a difficult conversation, their career development plan probably isn’t the forum for it. Remove it from that and share it with them directly.
I still want your feedback…
With all of that said, I still want all the other feedback you have for me, but just not as part of my CDP. My CDP is mine now – for me to determine, plan and execute, with some direction from the directors and a lot of help from colleagues.
Our soft skills training recently has taught me a number of best practise rules for giving and receiving feedback, and one thing that’s stayed with me is that feedback should always be sought. Well, that’s difficult in a 360 degree feedback culture, so I thought I’d get ahead of the curve.
Immediately after my CDP meeting, I emailed the team and told them that, until further notice, they should assume that I’m seeking their continual, constructive, positive, negative, useful and/or interesting feedback on anything they’ve got.
If there’s anything they’ve been thinking “I must raise that before his review” I want them to share it with me.
If the email I sent (and this blog) has reminded them of that thing I did that time that was annoying/unhelpful/difficult I want them to share it with me.
After all, I’m trying to professionally develop my career, and frankly, my colleagues are the people who know my career the best. They’re the people who have the best experience and perspective to judge it, and they’re the people whose opinions on this subject I value the most – so why wouldn’t I want their feedback?
- Posted by Nick Swailes
- On 16th June 2021