A Business Technology Place

Straight talk on developing employees

Employee development can be easy to overlook during the flow of normal business activities. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone because I get so busy running the business that giving thought to employee development becomes secondary. I’ve seen many managers compensate for this by compartmentalizing employee development into training. That’s easy. Set aside some training dollars. Set aside a week. Go develop your skills.

But employee development is better executed as an *ongoing* part of a business rather than an event.

Training and skills enhancement is a piece of employee development, but the bigger whole is in the day-to-day run. When I made this connection I started to think about how I conduct the day-to-day departmental operations in my group. Am I developing employees? Do I create an environment that promotes and supports development?

Managing business employees has parallels to managing sports teams. Sports coaches prepare their players for games by providing time for skills improvement as well as game time strategy. When the time comes to play the game, the manager watches from the sidelines while the players execute the plan. The manager calls adjusted plays based on events of the game. But the players must execute. Managers of business should be functioning with the same type of mentality. They don’t execute the business plan, but they train and prepare the employees to execute the plan.

So as I thought it, there are several recurring situations each week that provide opportunities for me to develop employees (and develop myself!). The primary principle that drives how I approach these situations is that employees are motivated and developed through challenges when they execute the plays for themselves.

Situation #1 – An employee comes to my office to talk about a new problem.

Translation, someone or something has done something unexpected. We need to react, adjust, or execute plan B. The first thing to do in this case is to stop what I’m doing to listen. That means stop typing on the computer or even to get up from my chair to remove all other distractions. It means I should be engaging with the employee to discuss. But it does not mean that I should inherit the problem resolution. To develop the employee and to respect their level of responsibility, the goal is for the employee to leave with a plan or an approach to resolve the issue.

Situation #2 – Approaching a skilled technical employee about the game plan.

Approaching highly technical employees can be tricky. They’re a different breed and can be temperamental. My approach for this is to first always acknowledge that the employee knows more than I do about the technology set. They are the expert.I let them know that we need to discuss and I need their guidance for options and recommendations for a solution. This accomplishes two things. First, it shows a level of respect and helps the employee to feel valued and engaged. Second, it provides an opportunity for me to share the business drivers for the technology solution. Together, we work towards a plan of action and solution.

Situation #3 – Share and discuss departmental metrics with employees.

I share company metrics and department metrics with employees to create awareness, discussion, and involvement. If there is a key metric that is below desirable levels then changing that metric is not something I do alone. It takes the full team working to correct it. Employees *are* concerned about the health of the business. One way to provide development, is to involve them in the results and plans that affect the health metrics. That’s business acumen development and something that all employees need.

An Interview with Coach Earl Williams

From time-to-time I speak with entrepreneurs in my area to learn about their story of small business ownership. Most often these are part of a column I write for the Suwanee Patch. A few weeks ago I sat down with Earl Williams who runs an athletic training facility in Suwanee Georgia.  He also gave me a tour of his new facility.

Earl Williams has earned the nick name “coach Earl” from his clients out of respect and admiration for his work. He’s trained thousands of individuals over the years ranging from youth all the way to professional adult athletes. He’s committed to his mission to provide performance training for athletes or those who just want to keep their physical condition in top shape.

Williams latest entrepreneurial creation is Georgia Sports Performance (GSP) located on Old Peachtree Road in Suwanee. GSP offers skills training for specific sports such as football, baseball, lacrosse, and basketball. The facility staff also provides personal performance training in areas such as strength, speed, balance, and agility.

“I’m very detailed and meticulous about the quality of instruction. How things are done, the mechanics behind it. This increases the confidence of the athlete.” –Earl Williams

“For me this type of program is ongoing. It keeps athletes fit and in shape and instills in them the right habits” says Williams.  He trains on flat surface, hills, and even sand. Williams says the the foundation of the performance training is similar for all athletes, but then varies based on what the individual athlete is trying to accomplish or the specific sport they playing.

The system and message is resonating around the area. On a recent trip, I found all the areas in the facility in full-use by clients. Their ages ranged from young children to middle-aged adults. Each group was following an instructor and the sessions were intense.

If you want to see a resume of successful athletes then look no farther than the “wall of champions” just off the GSP lobby. The wall  has pictures of athletes that Williams has trained. The athletes cover multiple sports and even some well known professional names.  Williams is also currently connected with Suwanee high schools to train student athletes at Collins Hill, Peachtree Ridge, and North Gwinnett.

Williams was a three sport athlete in high school playing football, baseball and wrestling. He took his athletic passion for sports to the collegiate level and wrestled on scholarship for three years. But that wasn’t the end of organized athletics for him as he played a little more baseball in a professional summer league as well.

But what’s most impressive about Williams’ early adult days is the forming of his entrepreneurial spirit. He worked in the health club industry to pay for much of his college expenses while study nutrition and exercise science.  While he was a college student he purchased The Health Machine in Sacramento California. It was a small health club that he managed for two years before selling it back to the previous owner. The experience of owning and operating his own business was a critical piece of molding Williams’ career aspirations.

Williams moved to the Atlanta area to take a job at Bally. After a time he changed jobs to work at Sports Life and in eight years moved from an entry level position to Senior Vice President.  When he left Sports Life he received a SBA loan and started his own business, Sports Plex, located in Duluth. Williams owned and operated Sports Plex for 14 years before closing the doors to open GSP in November 2010.

Now, after years of helping others, Williams is as passionate as ever about his work. GSP is a healthy and growing business. He loves for athletes to be consistent in their training looks to develop long relationships. Williams says he wants athletes that come from his facility to represent their family as well as GSP.  That’s because GSP represents more than just a business to Williams, it represents a lifestyle.