Even the most experienced managers need a reminder, now and again, of the potential goldmine they’re sitting on in the form of latent employee talents.
Daily demands often get in the way of “development,” with many team members logging hours in dull, uninspiring roles simply because no one has taken the time to ask whether they’d like to do something more.
And although the employees themselves are also to blame if they are dissatisfied at work, the responsibility for gathering information about an employee’s skills, assessing employee development needs, and understanding individual career goals still seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of leadership.
But even if you know that employee development is your responsibility, what is the best way to go about it? It depends on who you ask. The “best” approach is in the eye of the beholder, but to help you on your way, we’ve provided a few tips below.
1. Ask about personal and professional goals regularly.
Developing talent and building effective teams is essential to the continued success of your organization. Encouraging team members to build skills provides leadership bench strength, opportunities for succession planning, and an ample talent pool that affords organizations the luxury of promoting from within.
Most managers know that training is essential to the development of a high-performing team, but many don’t bother to understand the specific needs, goals, or motivations of the individuals who comprise the team.
Some training requirements are universal, of course, but once an employee has completed new-hire orientation and has a firm grasp on the requirements of the job, the employee development methods that follow should be as unique as the individuals they’re meant to shape.
You can’t provide training and opportunities tailored to your team members unless you know what they want to learn and how they see themselves advancing. Get used to having this conversation and regular intervals.
Each person has different roles, responsibilities, objectives, talents, levels of understanding, and personal capacity. It’s crucial that leaders remember the importance of developing others by providing the right training to the right person at the right time and in the right way.
To begin, ask your team members questions like:
- What are the challenges that you face every day?
- What do you find to be the most frustrating aspect of your role?
- Which areas of your role or the organization do you wish you knew more about?
- What would you like to see yourself doing in the future?
- What is preventing you from maximizing your effectiveness?
- What kinds of skills or additional training would help you do your job more effectively or productively?
The answers to these questions (and others like them) will give you an entry point into a deeper conversation, one that will help you to better-understand the employee’s perspective and ways that further training and development activities might be aligned with this person’s personal and professional goals.
2. Create a customizable skill development framework.
Review job descriptions and/or develop “core competencies” for each role. Once you have done the initial legwork, brainstorm with your colleagues about work projects and professional development training activities that are likely to help employees develop the requisite skills associated with each position.
Next, consult the job descriptions and/or competency model(s) supplied by your organization. Use them to inform the decisions you make about the scope and complexity of the developmental assignments and responsibilities you will entrust to your team members. At this stage, you are brainstorming possibilities that can be riffed on later to serve the needs of individual team members.
Don’t allow competency models to dictate the development schedule or the manner in which certain skills should be developed. Building organizational talent rarely happens using a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, analyze the skills of your team players on a case-by-case basis, identify any gaps that exist, and discuss these opportunities for improvement with individual team members in a non-threatening manner.
Approach the conversation from a problem-resolution perspective. Position yourself as an ally rather than an adversary by working collaboratively with the team member to identify or create appropriate developmental assignments.
Though many organizations’ “core competencies” are intentionally generic, they can be used as the underlying framework of a developmental assignment and then individualized for the needs and interests of each person.
In fact, if these assignments are to make a meaningful impact on team members’ abilities, the developmental approach you take really needs to be tailored to each individual.
3. Make professional development part of the culture.
For some organizations, professional development may be evidenced, in part, by a visible commitment to lifelong learning, the tendency towards insatiable curiosity, and a personal determination to constantly evolve, transform, and progress. When leaders exhibit these qualities, other team members are more likely to follow that example and develop their own skills.
In other organizations, professional development may follow a prescriptive, easily measurable track along a well-worn career path. However, in either case, professional development isn’t just about building relevant job skills—it’s about being driven to be better today than you were yesterday and finding new ways to contribute intellect, energy, and creative ideas to the organization’s collective talent pool.
When you make professional development part of your organization’s culture, you can consistently show that you care about more than developing talent for organizational results. You care about encouraging personal growth and satisfaction as well.
Establish performance expectations that support the development of a high-achieving, high-performance culture throughout the organization. Provide team members with support and guidance as they work toward achieving challenging goals.
4. Commit to helping employees realize their goals.
The importance of demonstrating to team members that you truly care about them as individuals, that you want to help them improve their professional skills, and that you support them being architects of personally satisfying careers simply cannot be overstated.
Leaders who ask for their employees’ input when constructing development plans will gain commitment, loyalty, and respect from their team members. Leaders who treat their employees as extra bodies, on the other hand, will not manage to retain talented people for very long.
It’s crucial for leaders to listen, and listen well, to what employees really want from their jobs and their perception of how they can contribute to the organization.
Although it seems like a small gesture, leaders who ask employees to be actively involved in the creation of their personal development plans show these employees that their opinions matter and that they are at least partially responsible for ensuring that their careers are challenging and meaningful.
Sharing responsibility with employees in this way also frees leaders up from acting as enforcers who drag unwilling employees down career paths that they had no hand in designing.
Professional development is an ongoing responsibility for both parties, not a “once and done” task. As such, it’s important for leaders to remain available to employees once a mutually acceptable, challenging development plan has been developed and put into place. Providing guidance and genuine support all the way through the plan increases the likelihood that employees will achieve success with their development goals.
When beginning a conversation about professional goals and skill attainment, you should ask open-ended questions that will help employees develop their own solutions. Having this kind of conversation encourages autonomy and provides employees with the opportunity to drive their own growth.