Development activities: a guide for individuals and their managers

Coaching and mentoring, Corporate Universities, HR Management, Talent Management, Workshops & Training | 0 comments

I shouldn’t still be surprised, I know, but the number of line managers I continue to meet in different companies and different countries, who still only think about formal training courses for the development of their staff, (or even the individuals themselves who suggest they should follow a training course, usually in a nice location), remains almost as high as thirty years ago.

And yet there are so many more (and perhaps more appropriate) learning & developmental opportunities.

So here is the list I use to broaden the thinking and stimulate alternate choices.

Divided into external options (to the company), which often incur out-of-pocket costs, and internal options, which might take some more arranging but often incur no extra (financial) costs.


External options (often incurring out-of-pocket costs)

  • Training courses / Formal classroom training

The classic choice but they still have a role to play, despite my opening comments! External (or perhaps internal in the company training centre or Corporate University). A group learning experience and focussed on various technical or non-technical subjects, requiring attendance at a certain location and requiring the person to take time away from their job. Depending on the subject matter and the approach of the trainer, could be very static (listen and learn, classic classroom) or with more two-way involvement.

  • Workshops / Seminars

Similar events, again either external or internal, maybe with a smaller number of people than training courses (although they can also be larger), They tend to last a shorter period of time than courses (perhaps less than a day) and are normally more interactive, many having a higher ‘doing’ percentage. The participants may even already have some skills or knowledge that is then shared with others.

  • Conference / Lecture attendance

Usually external, these are typically one- or two-day events (although some may last a week) of speeches or presentations by experts/specialists within one (broad) area of subject matter and so are potentially even less interactive in the official sessions than training courses, although the time outside of the formal presentations allows attendees to build and maintain their professional network and exchange learning informally. Again requires attendance at a location usually away from work and therefore coordination with other work requirements.

  • Distance learning

Traditionally – many years ago now! – this was a Correspondence Course, so-called because the student corresponded by post with the college. (Yes real post, not e-mail).The learners are not always physically present at the place of learning. This of course has now all moved online. Courses are available on various subjects including language skills, the largest part of which can be completed at any time and from any location at the choice of the learner and so can easily be combined with work. Sometimes some physical presence may be required from time-to-time and there may be a mix of offline and online learning.

  • E-Learning

Simply the delivery of a learning, training or education programme by electronic means. E-learning online courses are available on various subjects, which can be completed at any time and from any location via an internet connection, computer or mobile device. Obviously they are easier to coordinate with other work requirements and are typically completed by the trainee alone. There are many courses available for free, but there are also many with a charge. They could be available internally to the company (if it has its own e-learning system or available courses) or external from a provider. E-learning tends to have more in common with training courses and less with education per se.

  • Webinars

Webinars (shorthand for web seminars) are essentially online lectures or training available on various subjects, which take place at a certain scheduled time and last normally for not longer than an hour. They may be accessed from any location via an internet connection and they are typically attended by a group of unconnected people even from different countries. They can also have some interactive elements (such as web chat, online questions & answers, comments or something similar).

  • Blended learning

Blended learning is a term increasingly used to describe the way e-learning (distance learning, webinars etc.) is combined with traditional classroom methods and independent study to create a new, hybrid teaching methodology. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student for at least part of the time, whereas other elements have student control over time, place, path, or pace. Although it has become a bit of a hype (with some HR Managers claiming that everything should now be blended) it can be a very powerful developmental experience.

  • External Coaching

Coaching is the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge & opportunities they need in order to develop themselves and become more effective. It is especially useful for senior executives for whom training courses or group learning & development sessions are less efficient. An external professional coach can offer both a safe environment and wide experience of other executives and companies, whilst supporting the coachee in both their professional and behavioural development.

  • Professional qualifications/Certification/MBA……..

Education yielding externally recognized qualifications that are transferable from company to company. May be done in one’s own time or indeed (partly) in the company time. Could have the spinoff of building a network of professional counterparts, broadening knowledge and hearing about new ideas and trends within a certain subject matter area. Are often partly funded by the company and partly by the employee.

  • Professional association membership / Networking

Membership of professional organisations ensures continual development through networking with professional peers and the commitment to lifelong learning (by attending events such as meetings and workshops) thereby broadening knowledge and staying abreast of new ideas and trends. May require formal certification (see above) to become a member.

  • Extracurricular activities (e.g. board membership, volunteering)

Can be used to deepen or acquire both professional (hard) and soft skills depending on the type of tasks involved and can offer developmental opportunities not yet available to the learner at work. Can cover very different topics from financial, strategic, leadership and teamwork/building to running organisations, influencing, motivation/engagement and advocacy/inquiry. Typically happens outside of regular work so obviously requires personal time and commitment.


Internal options (usually little or no cost involved, although sometimes internal cost arrangements may be required)

  • On-the-Job Training / Feedback by line manager

Hands-on training in the normal work setting is classic learning-by-doing, and should include regular feedback by the line manager, functional managers or other experts, thereby improving knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and job content. This development option is undervalued and often underestimated! It is after all the 70% in the 70:20:10 training meme (see my earlier blog In my experience line managers (and their staff) spend too little attention structuring such learning experiences and reviewing the effectiveness, as one would (or should) with other training and development interventions, with line managers assuming learning just happens without special attention.

  • Special assignments / Project work / Cross-division projects

A temporary assignment outside of the normal scope of activity to broaden a person’s experience and knowledge. This could be a single task that the learner does alone or a series of activities, or a project together with other people, with a pre-defined purpose and deliverable. This can be in addition to the normal job or full-time for the life of the project

  • Delegation of authority / Enlargement of scope of authority

Here a line manager delegates part of her or his authority to someone who works for them to aid the learner’s development (and so is also a form of on-the-job training). Obviously the line manager remains accountable but this enlargement of scope of authority implies an inherent measure of responsibility allowing development. Clearly the extent of delegation must be clearly defined up front and can be either a temporary or permanent development action.

  • Mentoring

Mentoring is the process of giving advice & recommendations on professional issues based on the mentor’s personal experience. A personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced, more knowledgeable professional guides the mentee. This is more often technical, professional support (also required with some forms of technical certification for example), although it can also be the informal transmission of knowledge and social skills, through regular meetings and communication for a sustained period of time

  • Internal coaching

Coaching (the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge & opportunities they need in order to develop themselves and become more effective) can be provided internally in a company, both in an individual or even a group setting. Internal coaches are normally more senior people in the company, and although they may not have the deeper professional background or wider knowledge of external coaches (see above), they will understand the organization well and will be able to help the coachee understand the ‘unwritten rules’ of being successful in the company, for example. In some cases the coaching may become a mix with mentoring, as the coach shares their own experience. In general senior executives would normally opt for external coaching, whereas internal coaches may be better suited to middle management and younger people.

  • Functional leadership exercises

Various possibilities including temporary delegation of non-formal leadership, especially in technical areas, typically for the duration of a project, as a first introduction to management by influence across hierarchical organizational boundaries. Companies with a more formal functional skill management job family system or communities of excellence, also have the opportunity to delegate (partial) organization or coordination of such cross-organisation functional groups, for developmental purposes.

  • Secondment

Secondment is the temporary assignment of a member of one organization/unit to another organization/unit. The employee typically retains their salary and other employment rights from their primary organisation but they work closely within the other part of the company to broaden their experience and gain new learnings, as well as building up a wider professional network in the company.

  • Job rotation

The structured movement of people between two or more jobs within the same organization, which could be within the same function or a cross-functional rotation, intended to expose learners to different experiences. It is especially used for new recruits (for example in Young Specialists’/Professional’s programmes), so as to develop a wider variety of skills, giving the employee a broader understanding of the business, and the company a more flexible and knowledgeable workforce. Rotation is also known to enhance job satisfaction and motivation. Job rotation principles can also be applied for more senior staff as part of strategic talent management development, to enable potential top leaders to experience different roles and geographies, which also allows the employer to assess their high-potentials in different challenges.

  • Work shadowing (Job shadowing)

Work shadowing is a popular on-the-job learning, career development and leadership development approach. It involves accompanying another employee in a different job, someone who is an expert professional or senior leader, as they go about their daily routine. Work shadowing can be applied to: new job training (someone who will take up the new role shadows the current incumbent); career development (giving the person a better sense of options available and the competences required); developing expertise (knowledge is transmitted from the worker to the shadow); and leadership development (potential leaders can shadow current senior leaders and learn from them).

  • Teaching / Giving lectures

One of the best methods to deepen one’s understanding in a particular subject or area is to teach this to someone else. In addition to the expertise gained, teaching can also help such competences as presentation, communication and coaching/mentoring skills.

  • Formal presentations / Giving talks

Similar to Teaching / Giving lectures, the opportunity to give formal presentations or talks, internally (or externally such as at conferences or meetings), both ensures the deepening of one’s own knowledge but more importantly can provide visibility to the higher leadership levels within the organization or access to a network of (internal or external) experts.

  • Participation in focus groups

A focus group is a small sample group discussion with professional leadership. Focus groups are used to gather opinions and responses in a particular subject or area and are often applied to check the implementation of new processes or pilot schemes. Taking part can extend the person’s knowledge, especially to the broader organizational picture, and can also offer exposure to a wider group of people in the company, than they would normally work with.

  • Self-directed learning

In self-directed learning (SDL), the person takes their own initiative and the responsibility for what occurs. Individuals select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, which can be pursued at any time, in any place, through any means, with or without the help of others. SDL can include: reading books, surfing the web for articles, self-reflection and even researching and writing articles or reports. Indeed publication (even in a medium like LinkedIn) may result in new access to external (or internal) specialists or experts.

  • Involvement in local company activities

Many companies have opportunities outside of work that are sometimes neglected as developmental possibilities. For example organisations in many companies have some sort of staff association or staff representation, where insight can be gained into the company as a whole and skills such as communication, consultation & negotiation can be developed whilst contributing towards discussions and decisions affecting the whole organization. Even working on company social activities can help organization and communication skills, as well as teamwork, to develop.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *