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Answer These 3 Questions to Develop People at Any Stage in Your Organization

Katie Huey July 30, 2019

As a leader, you’re asked lots of questions. What’s your vision for the company? Where are we going to be in five years? What is our environmental impact of switching product providers? How are we approaching diversity in the workplace?

When answered well, responses to vital questions like these bring energy and provide inspiration for your teams. Many caring, forward-thinking leaders get stopped in their tracks when asked the question, “What are you doing to develop leaders across your organization?”

All too often, building leadership skills for employees falls to the bottom of the priority pile. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, possible reasons for the pause float to the surface. Perhaps financial resources are short this quarter. Perhaps time is crunched and squeezing one more thing onto your middle-managers’ already full plates seems out of reach. Or perhaps you feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start or what to prioritize for your people. These responses are appropriate and normal and, unfortunately, lead you to miss out on opportunities to strengthen your team, and organization, as a whole.

You know the world of work is changing. Boomers are working longer, and the unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in years. Finding good talent is challenging, and job ladders previously easy to climb are now full of unpredictable stumbling blocks. As a result, there’s a whole slew of emerging leaders craving leadership tools as they wait in the wings for what comes next.

Here are three common questions executives often ask when considering developing their teams and answers to change your approach to developing those waiting for leadership positions, now rather than later.

Question: I want to develop leaders, but isn’t this going to be expensive? 

Answer: Financial investment is important to consider, and there are many ways to frame this investment. The familiar 70-20-10 development plan is a helpful way to assess your investment. Under this model, 70 percent of a team member’s leadership development comes from on-the-job training, 20 percent is focused through mentorship and relationships with others, and 10 percent is more formalized, classroom-style training.

Providing opportunities for employees to be trained well in their roles and the expectations of company culture requires time and the talent of others. Building connections and relationships and connecting struggling employees to mentors does not cost a lot. And setting aside budgets for traditional “professional development” can provide choices and opportunity for those seeking continuing education.

If you are tight on cash dollars, can you make changes to create time for connection and building cross-functional relationships? Reorient yourself with on-boarding processes and analyze how people are learning their jobs. If executive leaders are swamped, can middle-managers take on new responsibilities? Can younger entry-level employees shadow your meetings for a day or two to gain exposure to internal processes and business outcomes that guide decision-making?

When considering the costs of developing eager leaders, it is also helpful to ask: What is the COI (cost of inaction)? What will happen if you restrict time and resources and choose not to invest in developing others? The costs of turnover, disengaged employees, and stifled learners often outweigh the tangible costs of programs, conferences, and opportunities for learning through relationships.

Question: I’m not sure where we are going next quarter. How can I train people for what comes next?

Answer: We live in an uncertain world. Markets change, economies dip, and customer loyalty falters. Knowing when and where to distribute dollars or how to make changes to improve the organization feels like a never-ending struggle.

A great place to start developing your team is to uncover their strengths and weaknesses. Assessments like DiSC, Workplace Motivators, and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Assessment provide a framework for understanding not only personality preferences and differences, but also what motivates employees and how they respond under pressure. When employees understand their strengths and their weaknesses, they can more comfortably show up and take on new responsibilities that excite and motivate them. Gaining an understanding of how they fit within your team structure improves belonging and can improve communication and understanding for differences in how you approach challenges and opportunities together.

This also gives you as a leader a clearer picture of how employees can use their passions to improve your business outcomes. We may not know what is coming next, but we can know ourselves — and that vital awareness can help us navigate all kinds of challenges.

Question: What if I train people up and then they leave?

Answer: The common response to this question is: “What if you don’t and then they stay?” Few leaders want unprepared and ill-equipped people working for their organization.

If you’ve hired for values-fit, chances are you’re working with a team of passionate people who want to make big positive impacts in the world. It’s likely they are life-long learners: curious people who want to problem-solve and earn big wins for the organization.

Without opportunities to develop and practice new skills, previous passion and sense of purpose will deflate. This is true for folks at all levels of your organization.

Richard Branson is commonly quoted as saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Ask yourself what your role is in equipping people not only as employees for your company, but also as humans with the potential to tackle problems facing our communities and beyond.

If you’ve done your work and created a compelling vision for your company, people will want to join you. How you support their interests, honor their passions, and increase their responsibilities can improve outcomes for your organization and enrich not only the resumes of individuals, but also the life trajectories of the people you have working for you. The choice is yours. Why wait?

Stakeholder Capitalism
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