No Problem, No Development!

Events and exhibitionsSo, what was the last thing you learnt to do?  Chances are, whatever it was, you will have learnt it to solve a problem.  Even those things that are in the realm of hobby or interest, it’s likely you were still solving a problem.  Take for example ‘learning a new language’ there’s a problem, you cant speak that language yet and you want to for any number of reasons.

I’ve been learning how to weld again, it was once (when I was 20) an embedded skill, but life’s journey moved me a long way from that environment and I’d forgotten the detail; exactly how to set the gas bottle pressures, create a weld pool, progress that pool and manage the addition of a filler rod.  But guess what, I came across a problem that needed solving with some welding.  I’m rebuilding and slightly reimagining an old 1973 motorcycle, I couldn’t do that myself without relearning how to weld.  It’s another example of the truth that is ‘if there’s no problem, there’s no learning’.

This is an important thing for managers to understand.  Especially within the context of ‘people development’.  A good development check-in needs first to identify the problem that’s to be solved.  Vanilla training solutions that are providing learning ‘just in case you need it’ will never hit the spot and engender true development like a target learning solution that delivers against current evident problems.

It’s the difference between the two words ‘learning and development’.  We can learn something (knowledge) but we won’t develop skill (action) and become skilful unless we have the experience that a real world problems facilitate.

Here’s a great way to better understand the problem when discussing development needs with any of your team members.  Ask questions using the SPED framework below.


Open the discussion by talking about the current situation, what is the employee doing right now, what are the targets, goals, objectives tasks on their plate.


Then drop into questions that try to understand the associated difficulties they are facing with those goals.  Ask what the problems are!


The third step is to elevate the need to change and learn something new.  We move the discussion to the impact that those problems are having.  Look to articulate the pain!  How bad is the effect of that problem, how frequent, how significant etc.


Finally move the conversation to explore the desired solution.  What’s needed to correct this problem.  Look to articulate the competence that is lacking.  Be careful to identify if the root cause is indeed a competence deficit or perhaps is an organisational matter.  If it’s the later, it’s not a development need at all!  Once you’ve nailed the competence that they need to develop, explore the many ways that the person could build that skill and become skilful.  This is likely to be a product of experience.  So think about how you might deliver this in any or all of the following ways:

  1. Rich and challenging experiences.
  2. Opportunities to practice.
  3. Conversations with others.
  4. Reflection.

Creating problem solving learning opportunities will escalate the employees adoption.  They will see, feel and understand the need for that new competence, and very often willingly approach the opportunity.  Linking development with a problem is a sure fire way of creating developmental change in your teams.  So do yourself a favour, and be the manager that creates skilful individuals that burst through difficulty to achieve new and greater things.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain