Personal development plans – Branson style!

All employees have work-related and personal needs. Do your best to meet these, and your business will benefit a hundredfold.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

“When you boil it right down, a company is simply the people who work for it, nothing more, nothing less. If you hire brilliant people, you have a far better chance of building a brilliant business.”

So says Richard Branson. And whatever you might think about the British business tycoon’s well-reported and often irreverent behaviour and views, he has one outstanding characteristic: deep empathy for his employees.

He understands that they are not mere cogs in the wheels of his businesses. Unless they are happy and fulfilled at home and work, they will not perform to their full potential.

Branson’s phenomenal rags-to-riches success would never have been possible if he had not nurtured the people working in his Virgin organisation. And this has meant taking an interest in all their needs: the basic human need for respect and dignity; their personal and family health needs; job training and mentoring; and help with administration in their jobs and even in their personal lives.

Branson can teach us much about being better managers.

Keep it simple
I hope you’ve been thinking about setting up a personal development plan (PDP) for each of your employees. In a previous article, I suggested a number of steps to get the process going. However you decide to go about it, I strongly suggest you do it the Branson way, understanding that it’s not only what happens at work that affects people’s job performance.

Preparing a PDP is not complicated. Keep it simple by asking two questions, one of the person concerned, and one of the company:

  • What needs does the employee have in his or her personal or business life with which the company could help?
  • As far as the company is concerned, how can the employee be assisted to do a good job and advance?

Many options are available to help deal with an identified development need. Here are a few ideas:

  • The employee may have a personal problem that the company cannot resolve, and which may require specialist counselling. Family problems such as marital discord or delinquent children, for example, can severely affect work performance, and it is in the company’s interest to help solve them.
  • Personality clashes at work are a common demotivator. Identify the source and set up a process to resolve them. This can be as simple as sitting the parties down and getting them to communicate.
  • If there is a performance problem with an employee, identify the reason. It may be easily resolved with some training, either on the job, or separately. If the person is simply demotivated, which is often the case when someone has been in the same job for very long, a move to another section or appointment to a special project can work wonders. Try to inject some challenge into the job.
  • If formal training is required, be sure to set this up as soon as possible. South Africa provides a myriad opportunities for all levels of training. Apart from our well-known public training institutions, every major agriculture sector provides training, with organisations such as the Milk Producers’ Organisation, South African Sugar Association, Citrus Growers’ Association and South African Poultry Association having established fully operational training academies.

Build experience and confidence
Finally, if possible, arrange for the employee to visit appropriate centres of excellence, locally or internationally. This can broaden his or her horizons and be an extremely effective way of developing personal potential.

Your employee will not only be exposed to other techniques and technology, but gain perspective and confidence.