Development or Development


I talk a lot about development. The problem I’ve discovered is that when I talk about development with business organizations, there is a difference between what business leaders think of development and what I’m talking to them about.

So, we can think of development as having two sides: Employee Development (or Professional Development) and Adult Development.

What is employee development?

Employee development is defined as a process where the employee with the support of his/her employer undergoes various training programs to enhance his/her skills and acquire new knowledge and skills. We can think of employee development as a technical challenge which needs to be addressed with a technical solution. The challenge is that an update or increase in skills is needed. The technical solution is training, which can be accomplished through organizational training, outside seminars, or other education. This is relatively simple.

But what happens when there are performance issues that training doesn’t solve? It’s likely that the employee is motivated, ambitious, conscientious, and engaged. Yet there seems to be an inability to rise to performance standards, even after additional training is provided. What is the problem here?

To understand the issue, we need first to understand that most jobs today are complex. They involve a level of autonomy, and more than a routine, simple task. Jobs are complex, and in order to perform well in a complex job a certain level of mental and emotional complexity is required. Unfortunately, almost 60% of all people do not possess the level of mental complexity needed to master a complex job.

Mental complexity cannot be increased with traditional training because it is not a technical challenge, it is an affective challenge. This is where adult development comes in. Adult development involves a sophisticated and affective approach to addressing an affective challenge.

Adult development involves the emotions, viewpoints, perceptions, and meaning-making systems of the individual. It encompasses the overall development of an individual. More importantly, employee development, and even leadership development, are only small parts of overall adult development. This means that increasing the levels of adult development and mental complexity can also assist in how well employees take to professional development efforts.

Adult development, or, to use its technical name, constructive developmental theory, is used to help people reach their fullest potential. Whether that is in the context of an employee, mother, father, brother, sister, friend, or executive leader. It is a means to help people become their very best; to evolve into their best self.

And that is why every organization needs to invest in adult development.

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