Practice Makes Proficient: Selecting Development Activities


By Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP January 23, 2020
man facing arrows on chalkboard

​Starbucks says it offers more than 80,000 drink combinations—no wonder I get tired standing in line to order my basic coffee with milk! Having too many choices makes decision-making difficult. It's the same when it comes to employee development and growth. How do you, as a manager or employee, select the most-effective development activities in a world of so many choices? Engaging in the right activities is essential for successful development.

It is important to consider a variety of developmental activities, depending on the organizational resources available, individual learning styles and the HR competencies to be developed:

Resources. Some activities, such as attending a training session or joining a professional organization, may involve both time and money; others, such as delivering a presentation or facilitating a focus group session, may involve fewer resources but be just as effective. On-the-job activities often represent a direct return on investment of time and money.

Learning style. Some people learn by hearing or reading, others by retaining the information they see, and still others by practicing or doing things. Learning style and preference have a big impact on individual development, so keep that in mind as you pick activities. You may decide to try a variety of methods initially to see what works best. Keys to discovering your employees' learning styles include direct discussions and reviewing your past observations of them.

Competencies. Knowledge is a part of any SHRM competency, but getting information through just classes and webinars is not sufficient for most people to develop that competency. Competency development requires opportunities to use one's knowledge, skills and experience in real-world situations—that is where judgment is developed.

Consider the subcompetencies as you select developmental activities for your employees or yourself. They break down each competency so you can target specific needs. A good example involves Communication, of which Listening is a subcompetency. You might learn the technique of active listening and practice it, but you are not fully competent in that skill unless you know when and how to use it in a business situation. Here's another example: An employee with solid writing and speaking abilities lacks presentation skills. To be at a high level in the Communication competency, all three skills are needed.

Selecting the right activities for developing your competencies is not easy, but if you spend a bit of time on it, you are more likely to get what you need to become more proficient in 2020.

On the Job

These are activities done as a part of your regular job or within the organization. They include work across functions or on special projects. They can be self-initiated or might need others' agreement or cooperation. When seeking agreement or cooperation, pay attention to people's nonverbal cues; try to determine what emotions they are communicating, and check your understanding by asking before making assumptions.

Example: Participate in a cross-functional group that reviews your organization's policies and practices related to diversity and inclusiveness.

Educational Activities

  • Workshops, classes and conferences. These can be in-person or online courses, fee-based or free, that focus on a specific competency. Developing competencies is always action-oriented, so select courses that include exercises or follow-up enabling you to apply what you've learned.
    • Enroll in a formal certification program.
    • Attend a SHRM conference session.
  • College or university courses or degree programs. Choose those that offer opportunities to put learning into practice, such as job-shadowing, internships, and doing research or working on a project at your job.
  • Self-directed. As with other activities, it is important to apply the concepts that you learn on your own to actual work or in volunteer situations.
    • Read relevant books and articles.
    • Identify someone in your organization who delegates responsibility well, and meet with or shadow that person for a day.
    • Take a short course in innovation management.
    • Play games that increase problem-solving skills, such as bridge, bid whist, spades or Risk.

Mentoring and Coaching

These activities include coaching others or being coached.
    • Ask someone occupying a position you one day aspire to be in to coach or mentor you. Ask him or her to help you develop in the areas you need to reach that goal.
    • Establish a personal "advisory board" of individuals whose leadership traits you aspire to have. Meet with them regularly to share information about your activities, and ask for their thoughts and feedback.
    • Find a sponsor—a senior-level champion who believes in your potential and is willing to advocate for you as you pursue the next level.

Professional and Community Activities

These activities are external to your job, involving professional organizations or volunteer work in the target competency.

    • Join SHRM, the Association for Talent Development or other organizations, and participate in delivering programs, offering expertise and networking with HR professionals.
    • Volunteer to assist nonprofit organizations with training or employee development to practice skills outside the workplace.
    • Get involved with local schools that offer HR programs. Teach or coach faculty, in-school business advisory groups or students about HR in the workplace.

Phyllis Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).

For more information on SHRM certification, and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

Already SHRM-certified? Be sure to maintain your credential by recertifying. Learn more about recertification activities here.

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