10 Tips for Developing Great Employees
We all want to get more out of our team. We want them to be more productive, more versatile and more self-sufficient. However, to get more out of your team, you have to be willing to put more into them.
Developing your staff is highly gratifying and offers a direct way to improve the standards of work as well as company culture, and it should be the number-one focus of any manager or leader. If you develop your team well enough, you shouldn’t need to micromanage their work because they’re consistently empowered and sufficiently skilled to do it themselves.
Everyone Benefits from Team Development
Taking the time to develop your employees will help them grow, bolster their careers and make them more competent and desirable workers. But you also benefit from their increased productivity and competence, as does the company overall. Furthermore, development raises the standard, expectation and quality of work across the entire team.
Here are a few tips to help you better develop and grow your team and organization.
Invest in Professional Training
It might sound like the obvious answer, but it’s also one that a lot of managers and employees are hesitant to take due to the investment involved. However, it should go without saying that you can’t expect real competency and mastery of new skills if you’re not willing to pay what’s necessary to help your employees achieve it.
Create Development Plans
A single course should not, however, be your entire development strategy for your employees. It should be one of several steps, all with a clear aim. At least once a year, you should go over the development of your employees for the past year, how well they met development goals and what their development goals should be for the year ahead.
How you help them fulfill those goals can be flexible. It doesn’t always have to be formal, and it doesn’t mean you have to train them in hard skills that are directly relevant to their role at the time. The 70-20-10 model is a good way to start development planning.
Check In on a Recurring Basis
An annual development overview will help you sketch out the long-term plans of how your employee is going to develop for the year ahead. However, anyone who has worked on a team knows how easy it is for initiatives — even ones that generate enthusiasm — to be forgotten over the span of a year.
Instead, set up deliberate, recurring meetings to see if they’re happy with their progress, feel development has stagnated or have spotted any opportunities that they need your help to capitalize on. Additionally, make it clear that there is an open-door policy to bring development opportunities to your attention as they come up.
Empower Employees to Find Their Own Development
Just as you should keep your door (relatively) open, you should also keep your mind open and be willing to invest in opportunities that your team brings along. An annual budget for development per employee and a set number of days that they can take for the development of new skills will ensure that you’re prepared for any disturbance that a sudden training course might bring up.
More importantly, it empowers your team to seek opportunities for their development. Once they know that they genuinely have your support, and that it’s not just a promise on paper, they’re more likely to look for the chance to learn new skills and competencies wherever they can.
Set Up a Mentorship Program
Not only can mentors help employees sharpen their hard skills, but they also help employees learn the importance of soft skills like communication, teamwork and time keeping.
The mentor should naturally have a similar or adjacent role to the individual, and should also be more established, experienced and perhaps higher in the career ladder. Not only does this help with developing the mentee, but it also builds positive working relationships both within and outside the business — after all, mentors do not always have to be colleagues. Mentors may work for entirely different companies, which is where the importance of a good network comes in.
Help Your Team Build a Network
Networking is a crucial part of career growth. It helps build the connections that offer career steps both internally and from one company to another. Being familiar with partners and major players in the industry is especially important when you move up to management and C-suite positions.
As a manager, superior or employer, you are in the position to directly help promising individuals on your team with their network. You can introduce them to people you know, give them the time to attend networking events and open doors that they might have trouble opening themselves. This way, they can find mentors, advice and development opportunities within and outside of your organization.
Use Assignments to Challenge Employees
Formally learning a new skill or process is all well and good, but it’s not always enough, nor is it always essential. For internal processes that don’t require any formal training, giving employees some hands-on experience is often the best way for them to learn. Similarly, a formally built skillset can quickly grow rusty if the individual never has the opportunity to put what they have learned to use.
Find the opportunity to push employees out of their comfort zone, whether it’s giving them a new task for the first time or playing it safe with a trial run. Besides competences, you also want to help them develop confidence.
Ask Employees Coaching Questions
Coaching questions encourage employees to think more deeply about their progress and goals, as well as the steps they can take to accomplish them. When you establish a goal, coaching questions are used to encourage the individual to think about how to reach that goal, instead of simply telling them.
Your team wants the training and expertise that comes with development, but are often so involved in their own work that they’re not fully engaged with the process. Asking coaching questions can increase their engagement, and help you both find the best development opportunities ahead.
Understand How Your Employees Work
One of the biggest problems that managers and employers have when it comes to development is the divide between what they think their employees do and what their employees actually do. Until you take the opportunity to understand the day-to-day of their job, you won’t really know what skills they’re using on a regular basis or what skills could help improve their role and open other opportunities to build off what they already know.
Of course, that’s not to say that development has to strictly push employees down the career path they’re already on. Cross-training, for instance, is highly effective, which leads us to our final tip for employee development.
Let Employees Shadow You or Colleagues in Different Positions
The best way to develop an individual for a leadership position is by giving them the opportunity to be your shadow. Bring them along on a business trip, trade show or to other work environments where they can see what exactly it is that you do as a leader.
However, if they’re looking to master other skills, then ask leaders or high-level colleagues in other departments to show your employee what they do and offer them the opportunity to cross-train. Cross-training benefits the company greatly, as it means that even if you lose someone with a certain set of skills, there is someone else already on board who learned those skills directly from the individual who left.
Employee development shouldn’t be a single, straight shot or one-and-done proposition. Rather, there should be a culture of development across the board. Ideally, development plans should become standard practice for the team, encouraging employees to spot gaps in their training or skills they want to develop, and finding the opportunity for them to do that.
Similarly, it’s important that your focus isn’t solely on hard skills. Soft skills are becoming increasingly important and, in many cases, can be more valuable because of just how transferable they are. Getting more out of your team starts with investing more in them.