Why Executives Need Performance Development Plans (PDPs)

Executive Participation in Performance Development Plans (PDPs) Sets the Model

Executive managers need to participate in performance development planning just like their staff.
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When an organization adopts a method for accomplishing a particular goal, one common question deals with whether executives need to participate in the process. In the instance of performance development planning and the resultant document, the Performance Development Plan (PDP), executive leaders are key participants.

Executives model how to create a Performance Development Plan (PDP), for their reporting staff. They create the framework from which the goals and expectations of all department members will flow. Executives demonstrate how a performance development planning meeting can most effectively proceed to engage, empower, and hold participants accountable for their commitments, accomplishments, and contributions.

Executives give reporting staff the courtesy of a periodic time period during which their attention is focused exclusively on the staff person’s development, goals, dreams, needs, and accomplishments.

Most importantly, performance development planning, documented in an executive PDP, is a method to encourage executives to keep both their accountabilities and their ongoing personal and professional development on the front burner. It is not appropriate for an executive to blame staff members for failure to execute the departmental plan or achieve the team goals. Ultimately, the executive leader is responsible and accountable for all that happens—or not—within their area of responsibility. The PDP documents this process and expectation.

So, yes, HR practitioners need to support executive participation in PDPs. Will the PDP of a senior manager look like that of other employees? Not necessarily. But, the fact of its existence and the participation of executives in this critical process is unquestionably significant. After all, why do PDPs exist at all? They exist so employees:

  • receive direction in a format that is understandable, measurable, concrete, and that documents accountability,
  • know exactly what is expected of them,
  • are accountable for accomplishing these expectations,
  • continue to grow and develop both their interpersonal and their professional skills,
  • receive periodic focused and personal attention and feedback about their performance from a person who is important to them - their boss, and
  • provide the company with necessary written documentation about an employee’s contribution and performance.

Keep in mind that, perpetually, the number one reason employees don’t do what you want them to do is: they don’t know for sure what it is that you want them to do. You can see why PDPs might be the answer. Wouldn't you like this concrete framework for your work, too?

Story About Executive Participation in Expectations

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, in an executive office of a manufacturing company in Detroit, a CEO asked the proverbial question that executive leaders have been known to ask for all time. He said, “Why do I have to do what I ask my people to do? Why don’t they just do what I say?” It was the first time I encountered the question. And, it was the beginning of my long-term dislike of the expression so often used by managers—my people—think about it for a minute. "My" people.

It came from a man who understood and valued the power of employee engagement and empowerment long before the terms became popular. He hired me to help him figure it out. But, he struggled to run his firm in an empowering, participative manner and sent mixed messages to his employees, because he hoped the rules didn’t apply to him.

He later sold his firm for a figure in the hundreds of millions to a conglomerate that called all of its employees, “associates.” The purchasing firm employed a world renown consultant to help integrate the cultures of the companies it purchased long before the words “culture” or “mergers and acquisitions” were popularly in use.

Its associates (read VPs) had “associate” on their business card, but no one forgot for a moment—nor did customers—that they were really the “VP of xxx.” The conglomerate later went bankrupt, a victim of its overreaching ambition and its failure to execute. My original CEO, the man with the gut understanding of the environment that enabled people to contribute? He’s now retired and spends his time at various lake homes, jetting around the world, and organizing golf tournaments in Florida.

I tell you this story, one of many from over thirty years of consulting, to emphasize an age-old predicament. Must a CEO and executive leaders do what’s good for their employees or should the employees just do what they say? This question remains uppermost in any changes an organization adopts. Must executive leaders “walk the talk” or does the fact of their approbation abstain them from participation?

Let’s continue using Performance Development Planning as an example. Do executive leaders need PDPs. Here’s why executive leaders need a Performance Development Plan (PDP).

Why Executives Need a Performance Development Plan (PDP)

Earlier in this article, reasons for executive participation in any change process, and specifically, the PDP, was addressed. Here are additional thoughts about executives and PDPs.

  • Any process is more powerful, and more powerfully accepted, when executives “walk the talk.”
  • The PDPs of employees build from and are derived from the goals of the executive’s PDP. A solid departmental plan, that the executive “owns,” will serve a similar purpose, but does not accomplish the other goals of the PDP process.
  • The PDPs serve four purposes.
    -- They supply written goals and expectations for accomplishment for a quarter to a year time period (department plan).
    --They supply written, developmental goals for participants that cover management development topics that will increase the executive’s skills in leading and managing people (improve communication transparency, exhibit behaviors that build trust, act as if you have faith that reporting staff will succeed and remove barriers, provide clear direction with measurable expectations).
    These management development goals assist the executive to create an environment in which they are able to obtain the best contributions from employees. These skills are developed in management training and development classes and seminars; online education via seminars, webinars, podcasts, and articles; reading; day-to-day practice; 360 degree feedback; and through coaching and feedback from involved colleagues and bosses.
    -- PDP goals enable an executive to focus on his or her overall continuing development, in general. (What new best practices exist for software development? What marketing tactics help a product go viral in social media? What departmental organization is most effective for communication?) These goals might be filled through attendance at conferences, trade shows, state-of-the business senior executive seminars, executive round-tables, reading, and participation in professional organizations.
    --Review of PDP goals enables an executive to spend time with their boss discussing the subject that is near and dear to them–themselves. This guarantees interaction four times a year that is focused exclusively on developing an executive’s strengths and ability to contribute. Through participating in this discussion, the executive learns from their boss, how to model the process—or not—for their own reporting staff.

While executives may be reluctant to participate in the performance development planning process, their participation sets the stage and the tone for the acceptance of the process company-wide. If the executive leader has a PDP and he or she meets with reporting managers to develop their PDPs, you can be darn sure that the rest of the employees in the organization will have PDPs, too.

And, keep in mind that employees want PDPs. They want to know your expectations; they want clarity on what they are supposed to accomplish. They want your time and recognition when they achieve their PDP goals. Seems like an organization’s universal adoption of and commitment to PDPs is a win for everyone—including your most important constituents—your customers.