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Make room for development — here and now

Think outside the box with learning and development.

5 min read



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Although growth and development consistently top the list of what employees want (and organizations need) most, it’s a fairly universal source of disappointment to all. When asked why it’s not happening, people typically point to workload, budgets, time and insufficient promotional opportunities as barriers to growth.

But what if I told you that there are at least eight vehicles for powerful development at your disposal right now? Opportunities that are squarely within your sphere of influence? Experiences that you and your employees can co-create to drive learning, engagement and more?

It all boils down to mining the present moment rather than waiting for some future conditions or roles to present themselves — to embedding growth into the workflow and making room for development in the here and now. It’s easier than you might think. Consider the eight V’s as alternatives or enhancements to your tried-and-true development approaches.

  • Value. An employee’s current role can be a juicy opportunity for growth when we look at it differently — when we ask ourselves and others, “where are some opportunities to add greater value?” The truth is, any role can be more fully optimized by taking a critical look at what else is possible. And most of us are too close to our own jobs to do it. Challenging but supportive conversations about elevating contribution and value lead to employee development and promote optimal organizational results.
  • Volume and Velocity. Sometime taking one’s skills and growth to the next level requires additional cycles. And this isn’t always palatable to employees. We all frequently think that once we’ve done something and gotten it down, it’s time to move on. But often the truth is that we need to hone capabilities and drill them into our bones for future use. That requires the next level of mastery and fluency. Working with employees to consciously increase the volume of work or the speed with which tasks are effectively completed is the way to make this happen. But, heed a caution here. You can’t just throw more work at people faster and call it learning. What makes it development (versus drudgery) is that it’s controlled, intentional, supported and in service of growth goals.
  • Variety. It’s the spice of life at work, too. Inviting new assignments into the envelop of employees’ jobs is another way to enable growth here and now. And savvy leaders can create mutually beneficial outcomes by aligning real work with the growth goals of those around them, shuffling tasks among the team members or identifying stretch assignments. This offers variety. But, again, a caution. All employees can detect more work masquerading as development a mile away. So, make sure there’s a clear link between growth goals and the proposed new challenge.
  • Voids. Voids are the white space within an organization. You may know it as the no man’s (or no woman’s) land between and among departments, the pinch points in the customer’s journey or the needs that are vaguely known but clearly unowned. These voids offer a rigorous informal course of study in complexity, collaboration, creativity, execution and more. Those who step into the void immediately distinguish themselves for their initiative, garner attention and visibility, and gain valuable lessons that could never be learned within the context of the daily grind.
  • Visibility. Visibility is defined as “the state of being able to see or be seen.” When executed with intention, it’s a powerful development strategy. Offering employees the opportunity to attend events, showcase talents, represent the team and meet key leaders are all opportunities for them to expand their perspectives. But for it to be learning rather than just subbing in for you, it’s got to be intentional. You and the employee must align with growth goals and develop a plan to create not just business but also developmental outcomes.
  • Volunteerism. Let’s be honest. All developmental needs may not be able to be met at work. So, leverage what many employees engage in outside of the workplace: volunteer efforts. Coach them to use these to simultaneously give back and take back some skills. For instance, employees who want to assume supervisory roles but aren’t quite ready can look to their extracurriculars for opportunities to lead and learn. Maybe there’s a committee or activity that needs a chair. Incorporate conversations about what’s learned outside of work and relevant applications within your development dialogues. Blur the lines between work and life for development, just like they’ve been blurred in so many other ways.
  • Vendor and other partnerships. As hard as it is to acknowledge, an organization simply might not be able to offer the development that an employee may need. But rather than lose them to competitors, what about exploring upstream and downstream partnerships for development. How might relationships with suppliers, vendors and even customers be used for development?  Are external rotational assignments a possibility? Offering the development people demand and need may require that we look outside the usual box.

Development doesn’t have to be daunting. And it doesn’t have to be deferred to another time or another position. These 8 Vs can spell victory for those looking to make room for development here and now.


Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning.  Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want,” You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at

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