As I was running on the treadmill at the gym today, I noticed a sign on the wall that was titled The Twelve Days of Fitness. I was intrigued. Not because I’m an athlete – after all, the only action shot of me in our high school yearbook pictured me lying on the floor, catching a quick nap during gym class – but by the notion that, if I simply did something for 12 days, I might improve at it.
As I thought more about the idea that we have to do something in order to improve, I began to wonder how many of us really focus intently on our development for 12 days in a row, and what the result would be if we did. Of course, 12 days isn’t really enough time to develop a new skill, but it is enough to get a good start at doing so. I think the results might be impressive. Development means we actually have to do something differently and that we have to be consistent about it. And psychology really does offer some wisdom about how people can change, so I’ve tried to incorporate into the following list what the science says about how people best develop. Here are the 12 Days of Development:
Day 1: Use high-quality assessment as a source of feedback on the activity you want to get better at. Your HR partner might be willing to help. Beware of assessments that provide information on what color your personality is, what kind of tree you are, or the cartoon character you most resemble.
Day 2: Listen carefully to the feedback. Don’t judge it. Don’t explain it. Don’t ignore it. Assume the feedback is true and reflect on what you might do to improve as a result of it. In what ways should you develop your skills?
Day 3: Clarify your goals. What do you want the outcome of your development efforts to be? What does success look like? We know from goal-setting research that having a clear goal beats not having a clear goal when we are trying to accomplish just about anything.
Day 4: Clarify the steps you will take to improve. Be specific and be practical. Try to choose steps you could take tomorrow on the job, during the normal course of your work. These steps don’t need to be lofty (e.g., reading the entire 6-volume compendium, The Tao of Donkey Hiking). They could be things like, “Delegate sales reporting for December to Jean.” or “Share my thoughts at least twice during the next department staff meeting.”
Day 5: Give your plan a reality test. Share your goals and action steps with your manager, your HR partner, peers, direct reports, or anyone else who might have an interest in your improvement. Simply ask the question, “If I take these steps, am I likely to improve in meaningful ways?”
Day 6: Eat lunch. Ok, this isn’t really one of the 12 Days of Development steps, but I could only come up with 11, so I thought I’d just slip this one in. Besides, all of this development requires energy. You should be well-nourished.
Day 7: Based on the outcome of your reality test, finalize your plan. Put it in writing. Ideally, share it with your manager and others who have a vested interest in your development.
Day 8: Begin implementing the actions in your plan. Remember, if you aren’t a little uncomfortable about the actions you are taking, you probably aren’t really stretching your skills. Stretch your comfort zone a little every day.
Day 9: Reflect on how the actions you took on Day 8 worked out. Did you share your perspective twice during that staff meeting? Did you provide your perspective using cogent points, or did you sound like a blithering idiot? What would other attendees say about your input? Based on your reflection, what should you keep doing in the next meeting? What should you stop doing (clue: the blithering idiot stuff)? What should you start doing?
Day 10: Based on your reflection, update your action plan. Add, modify, document, and try again. Although development planning in many organizations is a once-per-year event, the best development plans are living documents that are updated often. Don’t be afraid to update and modify your plan as you go.
Day 11: Seek nuggets of feedback about your efforts. Are your actions visible to others? Are your actions moving you in the direction you want to go?
Day 12: Repeat. You didn’t really think you were going to be fully developed after 12 short days, did you? This actually is the most important step. Development is a continuous loop and an unfolding story, not an event that has a definite finish line.
I hope you will try the 12 Days of Development. FYI, I’m going to try to follow through on the 12 Days of Fitness, so we’re all in this together. Right now, however, I have to find a nice chunk of gym floor. I need a nap.