Great Leaders Develop Their People

  • 6 mins read

Years of data have revealed a repeated theme for employees: they want to be competent at their jobs and have the ability to succeed. This has become so important to them that 40% of employees who feel they’ve been deprived of the training necessary to be effective at their jobs will leave before their second year. A Middlesex University study showed that over 70% of workers are not happy with their level of professional development because they are not reaching their full potential. Gone are the days when employees accepted a dull, clock-punching life, doing the bare minimum to get by.

From another perspective, leaders want more productivity and progress than ever before. Their expectations of their staff require higher expertise, commitment and dedication. Yet, ironically, leaders often fail to recognize the need to develop their people to attain the goals they set for them. Unknowingly, many leaders are forfeiting productivity gains of 200%, according to Dale Carnegie studies. They surrender 20% higher profits with employees underdeveloped for their demanding jobs, according to ATD research. Their turnover rates are also painful.

Many of these issues can be minimized with the proper emphasis on employee development. Unfortunately, too many companies struggle to practice it.

What Development Means

Raising the level of an employee‘s value is not as simple as getting them more training, although training is a very crucial aspect of it. Effective development touches every aspect of an employee’s experience, including technical, managerial and interactive skills. The employees who contribute the most to their company are given the ability to know what they’re doing, apply what they know, enjoy what they do and grow to do more.

Technical training is essential, of course, allowing each person to carry out the tasks they are assigned within the system provided to them. Studies show that less than 15% of workers feel they have the skills they need to use workplace technology to effectively do their jobs. This includes computer and internet usage.

Some jobs call for high levels of skill in several areas beyond the commonly accepted norms. For example, engineers may have great theoretical and innovative skills, but need to be more proficient at technical writing or public speaking to document or present their ideas. Production supervisors generally have good process and productivity knowledge, but often need communication or conflict resolution skills to address the issues that crop up every day.

Fortunately, excellent sources of specific training in all these areas are available and leaders will benefit by allowing their people to get any training they need. Companies that fail to budget for ample technical training also fail to account for the cost of a skill shortage, where processes fail and problems expand without sufficient solutions.

Many employees need better managerial skills, where communication and collaboration are essential. A staff that works well together sharing information and ideas, setting and achieving goals and drawing the input of others to make great plans is making use of good managerial skills.

Business insider Steve Olenkski sums up the development goals very nicely in the Forbes article, 8 Key Tactics For Developing Employees. He states that organizations develop employees for two reasons ¾ to enhance employee interest and engagement in their roles (which raises productivity), and to grow new managers who in turn engage others.

Engaged people take on more responsibility, motivate themselves to keep improving and inspire similar motives in those around them. Employee development is best designed to build better people who are more interested in what they’re doing, are more effective contributors and raise the bar for the entire culture. Everyone benefits when any employee develops into the person they ultimately can be.

Develop people through specific processes.

Career planning is an often-overlooked process that identifies an employee’s ambitions, skills and opportunities to grow, as seen from a long-term perspective. Companies should always be mindful of how each employee can maximize their potential and provide the most value.

Career plans are highly individualized, focused on the goals the employee and leader agree are worth attaining. Development steps are documented and tracked to make the process effective. You must guide, encourage and assist the employee along the way to make their experience fulfilling and provide the best outcomes.

Any worthwhile plan has measurable means of tracking progress and accomplishment. Criteria for development success are not difficult to create but are necessary to assess the status of the employee’s journey. A milestone may be to complete a series of formal training or finish a project using newly attained skills.

Another process-related aspect of employee development may actually be the minimization of some processes. In other words, reduce the red tape and technicalities workers often face in the completion of assignments. A mindful leader will mend political fences or streamline an official approval procedure to help an employee accomplish their work. Try to reduce mundane tasks or offload routine busywork to other resources when possible. Put as much authority into the employee’s hands as you can and their growth will accelerate. You’re interested in developing new skills and expertise, and people need the time to do that.

Develop people through specific actions.

Not all development needs to be formal or regimented as Gwen Moran notes in her Fast Company article, How to Help Build Employees’ Career Paths So They Don’t Quit. Growing and developing can also happen through everyday activities and assignments.

One of the best ways to grow an employee is to connect them with a mentor figure, someone who’s knowledge and insight have been proven over the years. One of the goals in mentoring is to train the mentee how to solve problems and gain the confidence and self-awareness needed to handle tough situations.

Employees who’ve shown that they’ve gained a greater perspective can also mentor others. Providing this opportunity is a great development step that benefits everyone, including the leader.

Employees benefit from learning how your company works, where experts in other disciplines teach their basic practices and procedures. Very few employees can describe the flow of work through each of their organization’s departments but knowing this puts them in a better position to contribute. Giving an employee the chance to shadow others helps them see how that department works. They gain invaluable knowledge.

By design, employees who show significant levels of development are candidates for moving up. When the time is right provide them the chance to prove themselves in a new role. This may be a vacancy from a retirement, or more significantly, a position created for them where no one has had the chance to lead before. Giving someone a groundbreaking chance to make a difference is the ultimate motivator.

A final area of development is to provide the employee opportunities to offer their input and receive your feedback. Discuss their progress, ideas and lessons learned. Let them know how they’re doing and offer continued insight, support and direction. This is the foundation for effectively developing your people.

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