Early in my career, a colleague told me “every interaction with our boss is an interview.” Now years later, I rephrase his statement to “As a boss, every interaction we have with our teams is an opportunity to help them develop.” What an awesome responsibility…helping someone grow in their careers. That’s right Grasshopper, employee development is not HR’s responsibility, its yours!
So how do you find time to develop employees amidst all the meetings, projects, and fire drills that come along? It’s not easy, but its that important! It starts with a plan.
As with any plan, you have to know where you are starting and where you are finishing, or the goal. In development planning, neither of these is always easy. To know the starting point, you have to know the individual, what are their strengths? what are their weaknesses? what are their opportunities for growth? This takes time and involvement. I am a big fan of 360 degree evaluations, but I don’t rely solely on them. I observe, I probe. Each plan must fit the individual. Different people learn differently, they are motivated differently, a one size fits all just does not work.
The finish line? There is always room for growth and development, so the finish line continues to move. I have found limiting the plan to a specific time span, say one year, two years, maybe three years, helps to focus the plan.
You have to consider the goals of the company, the competencies that it finds valuable to continue its growth and impact. We have defined a set of twelve core competencies for our company, aligned with our five basic principles. We call it the “competency wheel”.
Not only do you have to consider the goals of the company, you have to consider the goals of the employee as well. As hard as it is for me to believe, not everyone aspires to be a CIO! Some may want to be the best software engineer they can be. Or, they may even see their career moving outside of IT and my department. For those that DO want to be CIO, nothing makes me prouder to see one of my team step into that role, ready and able to take on all the challenges.
Now that you know the starting line and the finish line, who writes the plan? The employee! Each employee should be responsible for his or her personal and professional development. Your role is to guide, suggest, challenge and approve the plan, not to write the plan. Even in the case of employees with performance issues, I find it more effective if I define the expectations, where they are falling short, offer ideas for growth, and set timelines for improvement; but the employee still writes the plan.
We offer a variety of tools for our employees to use, typically in combinations. They fall into four main areas: Technical Training, Learning and Development, Mentoring, and Self-directed study.
Technical Training – Beyond our initial orientation training, we rely on external partners to provide most of what I would categorize as technical training. Coming from the IT world, this could be training on specific hardware, software, development languages, and processes. As an employee grows this might include management practices, understanding finance and budgeting, and ironically, employee development.
Learning and Development – I am making the distinction here between technical training and “soft skill” development. Our firm has developed an extensive learning and development program around the core competencies. We run two “levels” of this training in several cohorts a year. The first level is aimed at front-line supervisors and managers who are interested in moving up to manager and or director roles. The second level is for managers and directors who want to move up into senior leadership roles.
Mentoring – Again, I am making a distinction here between mentoring and coaching. Coaching is used to handle specific performance issues that need immediate focus and attention. Mentoring is longer term, based more on the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. It is focused on development. Typically, a mentor does not directly manage the mentee. They are involved in the process for input. We offer internal mentors who volunteer to work with an individual over an extended period of time. We also offer the use of external mentors when an internal one cannot be located or the development plans calls for some specific areas of development that cannot be addressed internally.
There you have it…3 (not so) Easy Steps to Developing Employees. Develop the plan, provide the tools and then check in again after a year. No? No! Employee development requires constant attention and constant monitoring (not micromanaging) which brings us to step number 3:
Timing is everything! Progress should be observed and discussed. Immediate feedback is key, especially if you are working with an employee who is under-performing. Remember to praise in public and “nudge” in private. Feedback does not need to be “in your face”, but it should be timely, much of the value is lost if you say, “remember that meeting three weeks ago, you might have handled the situation this way”. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly remember the meetings I had YESTERDAY, much less three weeks ago!
I encourage my direct reports to schedule a quarterly review of their goals and objectives with me (remember, their development is up to them). During those sessions, we look at their progress toward the corporate goals, departmental goals, and their individual development plan goals. This is a time to assess progress and make any changes in the plan that may be needed. Rarely should there be any surprises because we have discussed progress each week in our one-on-ones and any feedback between meetings is provided immediately.
So now! There you have it! 3 (Not So) Easy Steps for Developing Employees: Create a Plan, Provide the Tools, Give Immediate Feedback. Good luck with one of the most important parts of your job!