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Energy and process – two keys to successful staff development

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 16th October 2017. Revised 16th November 2020.

4 min read

training sessionThe idea’s simple enough. Staff are defined in work by their competencies and behaviours. And digging deeper, competencies comprise skills and knowledge. Competencies and behaviours combine with the function of the technology that staff use in everyday tasks. It’s this combination that gives capability. The firm uses that capability to make products and deliver services that meet customer needs.

When the needs of customers change, so too must the capability. Then the technology, competencies and behaviours must change to realise the new capability. New competencies come about from a new balance of skills and knowledge.

Managers generally agree that improved staff competencies and behaviours is a good thing for the firm.

Development as a process

Staff have existing competencies (as skills and knowledge) and behaviours. These can be assessed. The capability that management seeks can be defined and, along with the technology to be used, this gives the necessary future skills and knowledge. The difference between what’s needed and what’s available today is what any development must focus on as the learning gap. It’s that gap that gives development content.

Staff development can be defined as the act of persuading a member of staff to change – to change their skills, knowledge or behaviours – towards that wanted by management. Generally that persuasion comes by way of training, mentoring or coaching.

Some staff will grasp the change eagerly and put in due effort. Typically they’re the ones with high growth needs strength or GNS. Others will not see the point, no matter how it’s put. And some will not make the grade – they won’t be able to acquire the necessary standard of competencies and behaviours. It’s an imperfect process that needs to be managed.

So how’s it all to be done?

Doing development

Development is a mechanistic activity that can be done at an individual level or company-wide.

Assuming that there’s some sort of performance appraisal process in place, gaps in skills, knowledge and behaviours can be identified and discussed during appraisal meetings. Once agreed, the best form of delivery – training, mentoring or coaching – can be agreed and individual plans laid.

Working only at the individual level misses an opportunity. It does not allow management to see the big picture – the competencies and behaviours needed across the firm for the future.

Many managers fail to take this opportunity simply because it requires them to have a view about the future needs of the market. Many are catching up rather than leading and hence development is, for them, reactive.

Development can also be pro-active in support of the capability needed in the future – or better, the capability needed to gain a march on the competition - like Apple, Tesla and Dyson. The list of innovators with focus on skills and knowledge is near endless.

Working at the pan-firm level demands that management builds what’s know in organisational development terms as a ‘competency framework’. Typically the competency framework is part of the firm’s strategic development portfolio and is developed and amended annually.

The competency framework is the definition of the skills, knowledge and behaviours in place today and the definition for what’s needed at some future time. The framework maps skills, knowledge and behaviours to people and identifies who will be developed in what.


So whatever your point of departure – individual or whole-company – development demands analysis and plans. Then comes budget and action. And once outcomes are realised, the whole thing must be re-visited regularly. The delivery methods – training, mentoring or coaching – must be changed to suit the development to be done. Each has its scope of application. Each works in specific environments.

But managers must be aware. Not everyone will make it. The development activity must acknowledge that. Managers must accommodate those who don’t advance in jobs that are less central to the firm’s success. Alternatively their departure from the firm must be managed. Development is not a passive affair. Whilst the benefits are great – like the fundamental of meeting customer needs – the activity takes energy.