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.

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