I’m a sucker for juicy courtroom dramas. Give me a battle of wits, of oratory. Confront me with questions of good versus evil. Please try to confound me with ample shades of moral grey. The film adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill (circa 1996) does just that. It gives us great courtroom drama and more. It offers a powerful philosophy for employee development.
The film’s protagonist is a young lawyer defending a man who admits to killing two men, men who raped and tortured his daughter. Swirling around our affable, handsome protagonist are issues of loyalty and strategy, race and love, truth and justice, politics and power. Underlying fuel for the dramatic tension: the inexperienced lawyer isn’t ready for the job at hand.
As the trial nears its close, the young lawyer desperately turns to his mentor, his legal idol, for guidance on how to present the closing argument in a way that will win the jury’s hearts—and thus the case—something he is convinced his mentor could magnificently do. The mentor responds, “Don’t be me, be better than me.”
Don’t be me, be better than me! Isn’t that really what we want for all our employees?
If you hesitate in saying “yes,” you’ve got some self-reflection to do my friend. If you balk at investing in individualized development from the minute an employee is on-board, you (and your business) are on shaky ground. If developmental opportunities aren’t the cornerstone of your recruiting approach, you’ve likely got a BP-sized leak in your talent pipeline.
But you’re definitely not alone.
A recently released study, Great Expectations: Insights from the Accenture 2014 College Graduate Employment Survey, paints a startling development picture—at least in the United States.
Polling two thousand 2014 college grads, researchers asked grads about their workplace expectations and compared those expectations with the experiences of recent grads already in the working world. The vast majority of 2014 graduates, 80 percent, expect their first employers to provide them with a formal training program. Over half (52%) of students who graduated from college in the past two years say they did not receive training and development opportunities in their first job.
The upshot of the report? “In the area of developing and maintaining their talent supply chain—how employees are hired, developed and deployed to optimally support business strategy—too many companies are neglecting the all-important entry-level positions from which many of their top-performing employees will emerge.”
Future-proofing our businesses—in fact our world—depends on us giving others the opportunity to learn and grow beyond our own capabilities. In this world of rapid change, of global competitiveness, we need to ground our entry-level and onward employee development in a “Don’t be me, be better than me” philosophy.
How might we begin shifting ourselves toward this philosophy?
First, we’ve got to work on ourselves. If not-so-deep-down you’re thinking, “she’ll leave me if she develops too much,” or “she’ll make me look bad because she’s grown beyond me,” or “I didn’t get development opportunities so why should I give them to him,” tough leadership love time: those fears are about you and your ego, not about your business.
Second, set aside time, reasons/excuses and reflect. Don’t let real or imagined worries about the cost of employee development get in the way of your reflection. Instead, sit in freedom for a moment and ask yourself, “If I could create the most incredible array of developmental opportunities for my employees, what would that look like?” And ask, “Given my own experience, what developmental opportunities would have made a huge difference in my career?”
Third, moving toward a “Don’t be me, be better than me” philosophy requires great hearing. You read this right, hearing not listening, there’s a difference. Listening sessions with employees about what they really want and need to develop becomes hearing when you take their words, their longings, and empower them to take action that you actively participate in too. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fund all their desires, simply joining in their developmental vision is an incredible place to start.
Of course, there is no surefire way to future-proof your business. But I suspect that if we all adopt the “Don’t be me, be better than me” philosophy, we’ll be well on our way to guaranteeing the adaptability, creativity, and agility that sustainable success in the 21st Century demands.