How are you investing in your employees? Most managers would reply that both time and money are lacking. The “task” of employee development comes to mind at review time, when a deficiency becomes apparent or when an opportunity to delegate is missed due to the employee’s inability to handle the assignment. Too often, development is relegated to a few half-day workshops, with no real follow up to ensure that the employee can assimilate the newly learned skills.
I’ve had to learn to be creative with employee development. I had to train myself to recognize those perfect moments for feedback or suggestions; they can’t be scheduled, they just show up on their own. Here are some of creative ways to contrive effective learning experiences:
- When your employee comes to you with a problem, insist that they offer at least one solution. It’s great that they recognize a challenge, but they can’t become dependent on someone else to solve it. Recognizing a problem suggests that they are familiar with the situation and the probable causes – they are well equipped to devise a solution. Presenting a problem is mechanical; solving a problem is value-add. Asking an employee for the solution is an act of empowerment.
- Train yourself to provide “on the spot” feedback. When a problem is happening in real time, it’s the best time for a lesson. Be respectful and constructive. Offer a good business reason why the situation must change. Ask what the goal is and analyze why their actions won’t achieve what they want; suggest alternatives or better yet, ask the employee to suggest alternatives.
- Keep a diary. Create a computer file to store your documentation, both positives and negatives. Documentation is imperative should disciplinary action need to escalate. When preparing and delivering a formal review, it’s effective to be able to offer these “real life” examples of what the employee is doing well and doing poorly. Create reminders to follow up with the employee.
- Assign projects in their entirety to the employee. Let them own it. Provide guidance and support, but let them own it. For example, I once had a situation where the entire employee file system was in need of revamping. The employee who was assigned to the project was expected to educate herself on legal compliance and best practice, through research and workshops, design the new system, implement it and finally create and deliver a presentation to the executive team. This gave her a sense of accomplishment and provided management visibility.
- If appropriate, encourage employees to sit in on other departmental meetings. This is an excellent way for them to understand the issues and challenges that they can possibly help to remediate. It builds team spirit, positive relationships and visibility.
- Encourage your employees to sit on committees. It will result in the same results as above. This is a great way for them to expand their responsibilities and broaden their perspectives of the entire organization.
- Get the most out of a formal educational event. If your employee is signed up for a training, have a discussion ahead of time to set the expectations of what they’ll learn. Inform the instructor of these expectations as well. When the class is completed, have a discussion with the employee as to how they will assimilate the new learning into their job, and be sure to follow up.
- Advocate education. If your budget can’t provide funds, encourage it anyway. They are investing in their own careers. Education can also be provided by books (ask for book reports to share with others or white papers for publishing), research, webcasts and podcasts. Set goals for all of these.
- Find a mentor. This may be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience, knowledge and the right demeanor to act as an advisor to your employee.
- Encourage employees to join professional organizations. It’s an opportunity to expose and expand their career-related experiences beyond the walls of your workplace.
- Practice good performance management. Use a healthy and effective process to change behavior and improve skills. Have the employee own their improvement. Make sure that expectations are understood. Set and enact consequences. Recognize and reward improvements.
- Put the time and effort into a high quality formal review. Think of what you want for the employee and yourself and make sure the review delivers it. Be open, listen well. Revisit the goals set forth in the review regularly to keep them alive, head off any obstacles and inspire success.
A manager by definition, coaches and develops employees; it is an everyday, ongoing process. Train your eye to recognize the learning opportunities. Challenge yourself to find creative ways for employees to grow. In the end, it pays off for everyone, for you, for the employee and for the organization.