How We Nurture Talent – Feeding the Wolf with Personal Development Plans

Legs Feed the Wolf. That’s one of our values at Yieldr. For those unfamiliar with this phrase, I’ll give you the short story. A wolf does not eat simply by being a fierce predator just as talent alone will not propel us to greatness. We must put in the leg work and habitually improve ourselves in order to succeed.

Some of you might be thinking this means long hours in the office and endless nights burning the midnight oil. For us, this takes on a bit of a deeper significance. It’s not just about effort but also about education. That’s why we feed our wolf with personal development plans. I promise you, this won’t be a braggadocious promotional piece. I will however present what we’ve done, offer up some ideas and let you decide if a similar approach is right for your organization.

What are Personal Development Plans?

For those of you who don’t know, a personal development plan (PDP) fosters long-term talent growth of team members by providing the right resources within an environment that supports growth.

More precisely, a special budget is set aside for every team member to read books, take courses and/or attend conferences among other activities in an effort to improve his/her professional abilities.

As for how we do it at Yieldr, every employee sits down with his/her support (what we call managers) and comes up with a development plan broken into quarterly objectives. Ideally we aim for each team member to achieve at least one goal per quarter. In order to help derive personal development plans, we used the One-Page Personal Plan template from Vern Harnish’s Scaling Up. We found this to be a great exercise to identify areas in which we’d like to improve.

Above is an example of how we fill out personal development plans. We clearly lay out what the goal is, how it relates back to Yieldr, precisely what skills are being developed, what the activity is, how much it’ll cost and when the goal will be reached.

Using this same philosophy, we then track everyone’s progress by using Betterworks and break each goal into objectives and key results (OKR). We first set top company objectives which are focused on reaching our strategic priorities, taking care that everyone at Yieldr is fully aware. From there, individual teams set their OKRs to align with the top company OKRs. Then we implement personal development OKRs, which are aligned with the core competences and core purpose of Yieldr.

How Can I Afford This?

Depending on your company size and resources, this is (and logically so) probably your first question when considering implementing such an initiative. Maybe you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but I’m a small company with limited resources. Maybe we can think about this after we grow a bit more.” This should never be your line of thinking.

The truth is a PDP strategy can be implemented at any stage of growth and within any organization. Even if you only have budget to buy a few books or go to some local industry meetups, it can be successful.

What’s crucial is building a culture around growth and education. This is far more important than possibly throwing tens of thousands of dollars on extravagant classes and overpriced conferences.

This has been less in part by implementing corporate initiatives, and more because we’ve made growth a part of who we are. We’ve baked learning directly into our core values and purpose. Along with Legs Feed the Wolf, another one of our core values is Lead by Serving. We believe our number one priority as leaders is to put our team members in the best position to succeed, and personal development plans are a testament to that.

As a matter of fact, the idea of personal development plans was birthed from our employee satisfaction surveys which we conduct every quarter in order to understand areas where we can improve. From the results, it was clear we needed to consciously do more to nurture the talent of our team.

Here’s Patrick, Michael and Auguste attending an Angular conference in Amsterdam in order to learn some new front-end development tricks.

Rather than asking yourself, “do I have enough money for this?”, instead you should ask, “Do I have the right culture for this?” If your answer is no, you’ll need to make some organizational changes before even considering rolling out a PDP strategy.

What Happens If People Leave?

This is typically the next question asked after discussing cost. There still seems to be this stigma surrounding talent development that if you “make your team members too good,” they’ll end up leaving. Chances are, you’ve seen some version of this making it’s rounds on LinkedIn.

Quite honestly, such a debate seems ludicrous. It’s imperative to invest in your talent — not doing so is like refusing to water your crops. As an employer, you should be happy to develop your team. The benefits you’ll exude far outweighs any potential problems you might endure.

First and foremost, your team’s growth will positively affect your business. Maybe someone brings a unique solution to the table after gaining a new perspective or maybe a team is now working more efficiently after learning about shortcuts and productivity hacks.

Aside from your bottom line, you will also position yourself as a better employer brand. By improving your marketability, you’ll attract both more and better talent and retain your existing team members longer.

Some of the other benefits you can reap from rolling out personal development plans include:

  • Increases in efficiency
  • A boost in team morale
  • Better human relations
  • Reduced supervision
  • Increased organisational viability and flexibility

And in the end, if people leave? It’s okay. Your organization should always be supportive of someone’s growth, even if that growth needs to take place somewhere else. Having the ability to grow talent to pursue other opportunities will only make you a more desirable destination for talent.

We’re still ironing out the kinks and optimizing our process, but we’re very happy with the results so far and so too are our team members. When we first started conducting employee satisfaction surveys in Q2 2016 our Net Promoter Score was -11%. After taking the feedback and rolling out PDPs, our NPS now sits at +25% (for those unfamiliar with the NPS, here’s a nice primer. Beyond the numbers, we’ve also been getting positive feedback directly from our team. This was left on our Glassdoor page:

“Yieldr is a great place to work if you want to learn and grow. The teams are filled with young, hungry and smart people, all willing to make a difference.”

By making learning and education not just a part of your processes, but ingraining it into your company’s culture, you can grow your talent, retain that talent and make yourself a more marketable employer brand, among a host of other benefits.

Joseph Vito DeLuca

Joseph Vito DeLuca

Chief Marketing Officer at Yieldr