A key to a leader’s exceptional results and long-term impact is their ability to develop the people that work for them.

Although it may seem like a luxury to focus on developing people in a busy and demanding marketplace, the truth is that it is essential for the growth and sustained performance of any size company.

If an entity fails to have the right person ready at the right time for critical roles, business results will suffer.   In addition, the cost of unnecessary turnover due to job boredom or lack of challenge can be high.

So investing wisely in the development of people ensures the lasting success of your team and business.

Here are 8 proven strategies for developing the people that work for you:


1)  Structure jobs to be content-rich learning environments

Since a majority of learning takes place while executing the day-to-day tasks of a role, it is essential to structure jobs for maximum growth.  Give as much authority as possible to each role, within limits, so that people get more experience exercising their own judgment and problem solving.

Look for ways to build in novelty, process improvement, decision making, and collaboration into each job.  Provide cross-training opportunities to employees in related jobs so that they develop a broader skill set and perspective.

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2)  Provide ongoing coaching and feedback

In order to grow and develop, employees need feedback on their current skill sets, progress against set goals, and areas for improvement for future roles.   Observe and talk with employees on a regular basis and review their work products to get a sense of their performance, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

When possible, solicit input from the employee’s peers, direct reports, or others who work closely with them so that you get a more well-rounded view of how they are doing.

Hold coaching discussions as needed to address any performance issues, provide ongoing support, and prepare them for additional responsibilities.


3)  Assign leadership responsibilities

One of the most important growth areas for employees is to develop some leadership skills.   The elements of leadership, such as giving clear direction, planning and goal setting, giving feedback, and helping solve problems are relevant and useful at almost any job level.

Even if an employee doesn’t formally supervise anyone, leadership skills can be practiced in the context of managing projects and special assignments.  Look for ways to add leadership elements to a role whenever possible.  Even allowing an employee to lead a staff meeting, plan a department party, or attend a meeting as your surrogate can help build leadership skill and knowledge.


4)  Boost business knowledge with presentations and team discussions

Employees become more capable and engaged when they know more about the business they are working in.

Build in time on a regular basis for employees to learn more about company strategy, markets, product development, revenue streams, sales strategies, etc.

Encourage informal sharing among employees about what they know about what is going on in the business and any industry trends.   Allow speakers from other parts of the business or outside the company to talk with your team.   Share business presentations whenever possible, either at staff meetings, conference calls, or via email. 


5)  Fund formal training, education, and conference attendance

Investing in formal learning can help accelerate both skill and knowledge development.   Whether online, in a workplace training room, at a public conference, or on a university campus, structured learning experiences are often some of the easiest ways to help employees stay current in their field and add more value on the job.

Start by identifying what skills and knowledge improvement make the most sense to invest in and then identify what solution fits best.   Keep in mind that while these investments can also serve as a reward to an employee, the primary content of the training should be as relevant as possible to current or future job responsibilities in order to get the maximum company benefit.


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6)  Encourage networking and finding a mentor

Remember that not all development has to happen from within the immediate workplace.   Encourage employees to network with others both inside and outside the company and attend formal networking events to broaden their knowledge and perspective.

Make employees aware of what professional organizations might make sense to join, and provide financial support for membership dues if appropriate.

Finally, consider giving employees guidance on how to find a mentor.  In larger organizations, it might make sense to establish a formal mentoring program in-house, where the mentors are typically leaders from other departments.  But for smaller businesses with fewer resources, outside mentors can work well too, with some support and direction from their supervisor.


7)  Assign books, articles, or white papers to read

Written material can provide a rich source of learning on a variety of topics.  Examples include business updates, industry trends, product research, competitor news, workplace best practices, and even personal effectiveness tips.  

Instill the value of reading by role-modeling this habit yourself.  Talk about what you are reading and learning about, and forward relevant content on a regular basis.  Encourage employees to bring articles to team meetings or forward them via email.

The key is to create a culture of continuous learning and sharing so that employees get exposed to a variety of content from multiple sources.


8)  Do individual development planning

Similar to a strategic plan for a business, an individual development plan is a roadmap for developing an employee over a given period, often 12-36 months.

The plan is created as a result of periodic planning sessions held with an employee to discuss their career interests and goals, as well as their performance.  The plan typically includes tactics and a timeline for developing on certain skills, as well as documentation about potential future roles.

Creating these plans helps drive employee commitment and motivation by showing that there is a clear path for growth and potential advancement.   In addition, these plans helps leaders anticipate needed budgets,  address retention issues early,  and plan for promotions and vacancies. 

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