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How Can I Use the Job Itself as a Developmental Experience?

The tasks, assignments, and activities that a person performs on the job can also serve as developmental experiences. In Performance Execution, we discussed ways of enriching the developmental nature of a job by deliberately building in challenge and autonomy.

By assigning specific projects to her subordinates, a manager can provide a developmental experience to a subordinate while the person is also meeting his core job responsibilities.

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The Center for Creative Leadership’s research indicates that a particular assignment will serve as a developmental opportunity if it has most of these characteristics:

  • Ensures that both success and failure are possible and visible.
  • Requires aggressive, ‘‘take charge’’ leadership.
  • Involves working with new people.
  • Requires influencing people, activities, and factors over which the individual has no direct control.
  • Involves high task variety. Is closely watched by people whose opinions count.

Here are some examples of special assignments that have a high probability of causing real development:

  • Planning an offsite meeting or conference
  • Going to a college campus as a recruiter
  • Running a company meeting or department picnic
  • Doing a project with another function
  • Managing the visit of a VIP
  • Summarizing a new trend, process, or technique and presenting it to others
  • Teaching someone how to do something you’re skilled at

Too often, we overlook excellent opportunities for development because we simply aren’t looking for them. Consider this special assignment and see if it seems to be a genuine development opportunity:

You will head up a project team made up of people from throughout the organization. Your team will be given a highly measurable and challenging financial goal to achieve, but in the past, every team that has been assigned a similar project has made the goal. You will not have formal authority over anyone on the team but must guide them by means of persuasion and your personal credibility and influence. You will be able to work closely with a large number of people both inside and outside the organization. As project manager, you will interact with the senior leadership team of both your company and other organizations. You will meet a large number of the community’s leaders in the social service, government, and educational domains in both business and social settings. The project and your personal performance will be watched closely by large numbers of influential people. There will be significant rewards for success and penalties for failure. You will work very hard but will be very likely to succeed, since everyone before who has accepted this assignment has succeeded at it. At the end of the project—assuming you also succeed—there will be a major celebration.

Does this not sound like a perfect developmental opportunity? It arises annually in virtually every organization. It’s called ‘‘United Way Coordinator.’’