Managers Must Develop and Grow Their People

4 Ways to Increase Engagement through Growth & Learning

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I’ll be honest, I seriously dislike hearing managers or executives talk about people in terms of “human resources” or “human capital”.

I don’t think they understand that hitherto, in the course of human endeavors, “resources” and “capital” have been things that tend to be “used up” or “depleted”. And that’s a horrible way to think about the people in an organization—like machines that you operate, break, repair (and repeat) until they arrive at the final cycle of their operational life. Is it any wonder that for more than a century many managers were focused on what they could get out of people instead of what they could put in?

Some are still playing that game today, how else can we explain Gallup’s figure of 70% non-engagement at work?

That simply won’t do.

Today, your job is to develop your “human talent” so that you can grow together.

And how will we measure your success on this front?

Simple, by how much your people have grown from the day they entered your organization until the day they leave for their next challenge.

  • What did you teach them?
  • Did you develop their gifts?
  • Did you coach them to stretch and achieve things that even they thought impossible?
  • Did they grow and blossom under your charge?
  • Are they ready for their next and more difficult challenge?

To answer these questions in the positive, you’ll have to encourage their development every day.

Here are 3 ways to accomplish this:

1. Give them the opportunity to do what they do best

Are you clearly aware of the unique strengths that each of your employees possesses and can bring to their job? And are their unique strengths and skills well-aligned with their jobs to begin with?

If you ask people to perform tasks for which they are not well-suited, you are undoubtedly creating a lot of unnecessary stress, anxiety and friction in your workplace (to name but a few of the unintended consequences you may be experiencing).

But on the positive side, if you have your people work on tasks for which they are suited, they will shine so brightly that they may astound you.

A case in point is the dazzling 1980s San Francisco 49ers trio of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. In a conventional football offense, all 3 may have very well been riding the pine, instead of being out on the gridiron confounding NFL defenses and stacking up victories. Montana (a third round pick) did not possess a powerful arm, Jerry Rice (an unknown) was far from the speediest receiver and Roger Craig was certainly not a powerful, bruising back. But in Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, however, watching these 3 was a thing of beauty. They were so good at their respective positions that they were nigh untouchable during their dynastic run.

That said, keep this in mind: don’t modify the person to suit a particular job; modify the job to suit a particular person.

Useful tools for understanding anyone’s strengths are StrengthsFinder 2.0 and StandOut 2.0. I also recommend reading Dr. Ed Hallowell’s, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People.

2. Give them lots of opportunities to learn and grow

The Huffington Post reports that a study of 2,500 companies conducted by The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), found that companies that offer comprehensive training enjoyed 218 percent higher income per employee and 24 percent higher profit margins when compared with companies that did not provide such training.

So not only is providing your employees with frequent opportunities to learn and grow a “progressive” thing to do, it’s also great for the bottom line. Setting aside $1,500 per employee to devote to training is a thoroughly good investment but not all opportunities for learning and growing are expensive, many are very low cost or even free of charge. No matter what your budget is, there’s no excuse for skipping this responsibility.

And yes, some of your well-trained employees may outgrow the opportunities you can offer them but the goodwill and higher engagement that you receive while they’re with you exceeds any downside to this strategy. There’s a much higher risk and cost associated with refusing to invest in their learning and growth and having them stay!

3. Talk to them about their progress, often

In order to create opportunities for learning and growth, start by understanding each employee’s learning needs and making a plan together to move in that direction. Also, plan for a quarterly review of their progress in this and other aspects of their jobs. Ask for their opinion about how you might help them to continue making progress. If there are issues that are causing them frustration and stress, get those out into the open and figure out what you can do to “clear the tracks” of these and similar obstacles.

However, make sure you are consistent in this process and that you don’t make any promises that you are not prepared to keep. Be honest and sincere. If you as a manager are somehow hindered, make sure you let them know that you’re working on it. And make sure you’re always advocating for your people to your superiors.

4. Provide a buddy

Let’s face it, some jobs are just plain difficult and even arduous at times. There’s not much managers can do about that, but there is one tactic that can prove very effective in helping them keep growing and learning on the job: providing a buddy with whom they can share the experience.

That buddy might be a more senior person or a peer, but helping an employee bond with others creates an emotional support system that can help them endure the stress and grueling effort that some jobs require. This is something that has worked well in the military, even under the super-human stress endured by soldiers in special operations training. Everything becomes more bearable when you have a buddy in whom you can confide, with whom you can share ideas and, hopefully, with whom you can appreciate the lighter side of things.

Work is so much more pleasurable when we have a culture of camaraderie and mutual learning. Don’t you agree?

In my next post we’ll take a look at the last ingredients of high employee engagement.

photo courtesy of Anne Davis