By Susy Roberts, an executive coach and founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts
Employee development isn’t just an exercise in enabling people to become better at their jobs, or equipping them with the skills they need to carry out specialised tasks. Successful development of individuals is the foundation of a successful organisation – without it, there’s nothing to build on.
Whatever the sector, failing to ensure employees are developed to their full potential will leave people feeling frustrated, undervalued and stifled. And you don’t need to invest in costly training or team-building exercises – although there are cases when professional help will be warranted.
Training and team-building supports development, but fostering a culture of communication and being open to the needs of your workforce is enough to establish that you are an organisation that cares not just about profits, but its people.
Communication is a two-way stream
The people on the frontline know better than anyone what works and what doesn’t. Giving them the tools they need to be able to give feedback and establishing a framework that allows them to make suggestions without fear of recrimination will allow them to explore new ways of doing things that a manager or leader may not have considered. If it’s clear that their opinions are not just valued, but encouraged, people will find new ways to develop their roles, themselves and, ultimately, the organisation.
Collaborate, don’t dictate
Whether your employee is a customer-focused member of a retail team or strategic thinker developing marketing plans, they’ve been appointed because they have a set of skills that’s suited to their role. Involving people in the decision-making process that goes into deciding how that role is carried out will help them to see why they’re doing what they do and make them feel valued. Simply being told to do things a certain way won’t stretch or challenge anyone, and when people aren’t stretched they become bored and start looking for something new. High staff turnover is bad for business – the time and cost involved in recruitment would be much better spent developing the people who are already in place.
Set clear goals
Sales or production targets are all well and good, but if there’s no clear path for improvement they very quickly become a chore rather than something to achieve. Be honest about the potential for progression and train line managers to spot those who show promise. Regular meetings to discuss progress, where the employee is given the opportunity to be clear about what they want from their work, will ensure that everyone knows what can realistically be achieved. And, if someone shows promise but there’s nowhere left for them to go, be honest. Encourage them to develop their skills even if that means looking outside the organisation, but make sure they know you’re open to the possibility of them returning further down the line with a whole load of new and valuable experience under the belt.
Focus on strengths
If someone is struggling in their role, it could be down to any number of reasons, but penalties should be a last resort. Focusing on what people do well, and giving them the training and encouragement they need to be able to develop those skills, will make them much more productive. Obviously if a member of the accounts team is clearly not good with numbers, then no amount of positive encouragement will change that. But openness, flexibility and a willingness to develop the natural skills of a team member will ensure you get the best from them.
Recognise different styles
Even the most talented team of individuals who have received professional coaching or intensive training may not work together effectively as a unit. There are six widely recognised leadership styles: coercive, visionary, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching. Asking two coercive leaders to work together on a project, with both insisting on laying down the law, will result in stalemate. Similarly, Belbin identified nine roles within a team, each with their own valuable contribution to make. But asking two co-ordinators – who typically identify objectives and delegate tasks accordingly – to meet a tight deadline, and you could end up with two people who simply repeatedly pass the buck to each other.
If people clash, no amount of coaching, mentoring or encouragement will make a difference. What’s important is to equip managers and leaders with the skills they need to be able to recognise that everyone has their own style and build teams that will complement each other. Happy teams, where each individual is encouraged to play to their own strengths and their achievements recognised and valued, are the key to any successful organisation.