“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King, American writer.
Every organization has its Campers—uninspired workers who hunker down and do only what they have to, waiting for the weekend to come…and eventually, retirement. They meet the minimum requirements of their positions, but you rarely get much more out of them. They’ve either reached their career goals or given up on their dreams, accepting what they’ve achieved as the best they can do. They’ll stay where they sit, thanks very much.
Fortunately, that’s the exception—most people do want to do their best and get ahead. As a leader, you face the irony of having to keep your team members happy by developing their skills and offering opportunities for advancement…only to have most move on as soon as they have an even better opportunity. But if you don’t develop your folks, you won’t be able to advance, either, because there’s no one to replace you. Employee development, then, becomes de rigueur for any ambitious team. You’ll need to consistently provide all the development your team members need now or might need soon to do their jobs productively.
These tips will help you get started down that road.
1. Get to know your people. Study your team members intensely, so you know how their skills interlock, where they believe their deficiencies lie, what they feel insecure about, where you see gaps in their development, and where they excel beyond their current job descriptions. Listen to what they tell you about themselves, especially in regards to their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, find out if they have interest or hobbies that might apply to their jobs or future jobs. You have to know all this before you can even get started with the rest.
2. Assign strategic tasks to help them learn. If Jim is a great writer but a poor presenter, and his job requires both, don’t just have him write reports. Assign him plenty of presentations, knowing he’ll have to work hard to improve if he wants to meet your expectations. I’m a big believer in focusing on strengths rather than shoring up weaknesses, but every job has some tasks that require certain minimum standards of competence. Keep honing each skill they’re deficient in until they reach and exceed those standards—and then have another look at their strengths.
3. Show a genuine interest in their futures. People appreciate it when they know you care about them as individuals, rather than as cogs in your workplace machine. Be honest and genuine about it. This alone will help boost loyalty and engagement.
4. Urge your people to keep learning. In addition to making sure they maintain their required skills, check in with your team members to see what skills they think they may need in the future, or may simply want in order to get ahead. Do what you can to provide those skills, whether by sending them to a conference or workshop, or by paying for college-level courses.
5. Motivate them to improve themselves. Give your people extra reasons to learn by offering incentives if they do. For example, achieving certification in a specific specialty or computer program might automatically qualify them for a higher salary and a title, or at least for a nice one-time bonus. Point out that educational advancement also offers a good way to ascend the career ladder, allowing them to obtain more power, authority, and salary.
6. Keep learning yourself. Like it or not, you serve as a role model for your team. To some extent, they do what they see you doing. If they see you making a deliberate effort to develop your own skills further, they’ll prove more likely to do so themselves.
7. Plan for succession. Smart leaders groom talented, hard-working people for advancement whenever they find them, for the day when they or another person in management leaves. If the organization can promote from within, the organization can count on a smoother transition than might otherwise occur if there was no one on hand to fill the empty shoes.
8. Never slow down. Opportunities for career advancement are crucial to employee engagement. Without engagement, you’ll never maximize your team’s productivity. You can never slack off on talent development for your team. It must remain one of your top priorities if you want to keep the cream rising to the top.
Right Here, Right Now
Many workplace teams get stuck in the daily whirlwind of their job requirements, running as fast as they can just to stay in one place, so realize also that not all talent development needs to take place on company time. If your people want to get ahead, they’ll have to face the reality that some may have to occur during their personal time. The same goes for you. While it shouldn’t overwhelm one’s life, work is important; and the more you can develop your workplace talent, both in yourself and in your team members, the more you can all achieve.
How do you balance daily responsibilities with development opportunities?