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Attested Development: Helping Your Team Own Their Growth

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Last month I spent the afternoon in Kendall Square in Cambridge, meeting with a very cool start-up that I’m lucky enough to be working with. Kendall Square was also the location of my very first job out of college. As I was driving around, I passed some of my old work stomping grounds and a wave of nostalgia passed over me. This is the neighborhood where I learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of my career and one that I have carried with me ever since those days in Cambridge: just because work is paying for dinner, it doesn’t mean the Cheesecake Factory fried macaroni and cheese balls appetizer should be added to every meal. I attribute this lesson to 90% of my success since then.

The second most important lesson I learned from my time in Kendall Square was the concept of “owning my own development.” At my first job, there was a strong sentiment that each employee was expected to be the primary owner of her own development. Our managers and mentors were there to support us in our growth, but we needed to actively drive our development and the path we wanted to take in our careers. Each person had the responsibility to own what they wanted to do, how they wanted to grow, and what skills they wanted to build.

For those of us in start-ups or small organizations, I’m sure the following scene feels familiar. Our teams ask for formal training. They ask for the well-defined path to promotion. They want the list of capabilities they need to develop. But, our resources (and time!) are limited. As a manager, we awkwardly get stuck waiting for our organization to get big enough (or gets its act together) to finally offer the formal training, the clear set of desired competencies, or the structured career ladder our employees want and need.

But, if you can help your team members reframe their approach, that is, push them to consider development as their key responsibility, your employees will feel empowered to grow, develop and build skills despite limited structure and resources from your organization. To be a great manager, empower your team to own their own development.

Much research has shown that when we set our own goals, we are more likely to achieve them. And, there has been a push in learning to create more personal paths that are customizable and aligned with an individual’s specific skills and interests, especially given the rise of technology-enabled platforms that more easily facilitate this individualization. Our team members do not have identical strengths, identical areas of development or even identical roles, so it’s easy to see why an individual owning his own development makes sense.

But what about how? How can you as a new manager help to build a sense of ownership in your team? How can you get your team to own their own development?

I like to use two simple tools with my team members to build the skill of ownership.

Two Simple Tools For Helping Your Employees Own Their Own Development

1. Individual Development Plan: Ask your team members to think through a set of questions about their own development. These questions help them to think about the long-term (i.e., one and three years out), as well as in the short-term (i.e., the skills they want to start developing immediately). What’s powerful about this structure is that it pushes employees to think about development at the capability level (not the ‘goal’ level such as “become an associate”). For example, the employee looks to develop advanced analytics skills and seeks to do that through a Coursera course, shadowing a peer, or a side project that builds those skills.

This development plan helps your team to look for constant ways to grow, and helps you as a manager know how to better support your people. Insist that your team fills out their development plans and revisit them frequently!

Development Plan Template

2. Job Crafting: Job Crafting is a powerful concept that helps your team members think differently about the work they do and how their work aligns to their motivations and passions. Job crafting both helps to shift perceptions of one's job, as well as helps to shift the onus of development from the manager (you!) to the employee. To job craft, an employee first diagrams her current role, and then diagrams her ideal job that would increase engagement and learning. Within the ideal job diagram, the employee shows how her motivations, passions, and strengths are linked to that ideal job. The employee then works to identify the changes needed to bring the reality closer to the ideal.

[NB: Job crafting feels a little wacky at first, but trust me….it’s an awesome exercise to have your team go through. I typically have each of my team members read the job crafting article and then diagram their job. We then come together as a group and all share our job crafting diagrams and talk about what we are going to do to achieve our ideal job state.]

So, as a manager, you have an important role in developing your team. You have a responsibility to teach, to train, and to mentor your teams. And, despite it being potentially counter-intuitive, one of the best ways to do those things is to get your team to “own their own development.” Encourage your team to constantly learn, proactively seek out opportunities, and identify what capabilities they most want to build.


  1. As a manager, you can help your employees own their own development, that is, proactively seek out what and how they want to build the skills and capabilities in their role.

  2. To build this sense of ownership, team members can create individual development plans which articulate long and short term career goals, as well as specific skills.

  3. Additionally, job crafting is a power tool that helps your people reframe how they think about their role and what their role allows them to accomplish as an individual.

Thanks to Kirsten O’Neill at Dubai Airports for bringing up the mid-year performance conversations as a topic to explore this week!


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Liz Witte
Liz Witte
Aug 02, 2018

Love your blog! I only wish my manager and up would read as well.


Aug 01, 2018

My my favorite part about this blog is how the advice is spot on for both work and for relationships! I have to go do some marriage crafting now :)

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