How to Build a Development Library for Your Organization

December 3, 2012

Files OrganizedIn my last post I wrote about Individual Development Plans and how you can use them to develop in a professional setting.  This week I’ll tell you how to build a development library for your organization.

What is a Development Library?

A development library is simply a collection of organizational suggested or sponsored developmental experiences that employees can choose from as they consider their own development plans.  When you go to an actual library, you browse the shelves until you find one (or several) book that meets your reading objective.  It’s the same principle with a development library.  But instead of going to a physical location, a development library is available to employees as a published list or (even better) a searchable online tool.

What is a “Developmental Experience?”

One of the key components of an Individual Development Plan is the section on development activities.  These are the individual “experiences” an employee will engage in to increase development according to his or her objectives.  A developmental experience is any experience significant to growth, whether it takes place within the responsibilities of a job, outside a normal role, or completely extracurricular.  Development experiences generally focus on non-technical professional skills that complement traditional job-specific training initiatives.  Examples could include leading a new project, supporting a project on another team (or a joint team), doing a rotational assignment, attending a seminar, joining a professional association or networking group, completing a new certification, becoming a board member for a non-profit in your industry, or reading a book.  Like I mentioned in the last post, the options for development activities are limited only by an employee’s creativity, resourcefulness, or in some cases, organizational resources.  Creating a development library simply allows organizations to provide a broad and strategic menu of developmental options.

How to Build a Development Library

So how would you go about building a development library for your organization?  Here are some specific steps you can take:

Baseline off your high performers.  If you are starting from scratch, one great place to start is with the high performers in your organization.  Interview them to determine what developmental experiences they’ve had over the course of their careers (or entire lives) that significantly enhanced their performance ability.  From this list, determine which activities you would like the organization to sponsor for all employees and include them in the development library.  (Hint: you may also baseline off high performers from outside your organization).

Consider the organization’s competency model.  Many organizations have some type of competency model for the entire enterprise – or at least for some of the divisions, such as leadership, communication, collaboration, planning, etc.  If your organization has a competency model, include developmental opportunities for each competency or skill.

Utilize existing organizational resources. If your organization already has developmental learning courses or development programs (such as a job share or rotational program), include these in the development library, even if some of them will require special budget or approvals.

Include multiple levels of effort.  There is quite a bit of difference between doing a six month rotational assignment and simply reading a book.  But each can provide a meaningful developmental experience in it’s own right. Don’t discriminate based on effort level.  Include all developmental experiences the organization has to offer regardless of level of effort.

Highlight high-priority opportunities.  If your organization is currently promoting certain development programs or initiatives, make these highly visible in the development library.

Address developmental gaps.  If your organization is weak in any particular areas, make sure to include several developmental experiences that would address those gaps.

Solicit employee input.  Collect employee feedback on the effectiveness of the developmental experiences they engage in.  Ask for their input on how to make them better, as well as what new ones to add.

Organize the list.  Organize all the development activities according to competency, level of effort, or any other criteria that makes the most sense for your organization.  That way employees can easily search for the experiences they are seeking.

Improve continually.  A development library should be a living tool.  Keep adding developmental experiences that appear to be helpful.  If existing ones don’t prove effective, remove them.

What development experiences contributed the most to your present performance ability?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.
  • I love the idea of building a library. But I wonder if perhaps a needed addition would be someone to help you navigate the library. Not everyone would struggle with the same problems or have the same strengths, so choosing the appropriate resources for your unique situation would seem to be a key ingredient.

    • That’s a great point, Loren. I’ve seen this done in a few ways. One is to make supervisors responsible to review IDPs with their employees and interact with them regarding the most appropriate developmental experiences. Another way is to give employees access to career counselors who are outside the chain of command so to speak (usually someone in the company who is at least one career level higher). Then for senior-level management, developmental support usually comes from senior-level folks in the HR function.

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