Why A One-Size-Fits-All Approach To Employee Development Doesn’t Work

As a manager, you know you need to think about your team members’ careers and help them develop professionally. But are you challenging yourself to go beyond the standard resources your company offers and provide customized coaching and support to each employee?

A 2016 Gallup poll of Millennials found that almost 90% of them valued “career growth and development opportunities,” but less than 40% felt strongly that they had “learned something new on the job in the past 30 days.” That same poll found that managers are critical to the experiences that younger employees have at work, accounting for “at least 70% of the variance in engagement scores.”

My research not only confirms that bosses matter a great deal, especially when it comes to learning and development, but that some have tremendous positive impact on the people who work for them. The exceptional leaders I studied don’t leave it to HR to create career progression programs for their team members. Rather, they personalize their coaching, support, and teaching efforts. They don’t just track the big learning opportunities granted to their employees. They also understand the nuances of how people are growing week by week and month by month and adjust their actions accordingly. As a result, they keep their teams engaged and excited.

Managing each report in this way might sound daunting, or downright impossible to many managers, given the demands on their time. But, as my clients have found, it’s easier than you think. Here are the key steps:

Organize developmental information about your employees into a spreadsheet. For each employee, keep track of a range of information, including:

  • Your own observations of the person, and your assessment of his or her potential
  • Feedback he or she has given you about your management style
  • The employee’s preferred ways of working
  • Key motivators for the person, including extrinsic rewards like financial compensation and intrinsic rewards like recognition
  • Opportunities you see to further his or her career, including networking connections you can make, stretch assignments, and promotion targets
  • The employee’s stated career and developmental goals
  • Feedback you want to give the person
  • Broader wisdom about the industry or life you wish to impart

Consult and update these grids on a weekly basis. Take 15 minutes at the end of each week to think about your team members. Note any new information you’ve uncovered, specific interactions you’ve had, and steps you’ve taken to coach, teach, provide support, and so on. If you find it hard to remember details, keep a notebook dedicated specially to your coaching efforts, jot down thoughts in real time, and consult them when making these updates.

Do a deeper dive every three months. For each employee, what patterns are you seeing? Is the team member making strong progress? How has he or she reacted to your coaching and development efforts? Have you given the right kind of advice, recognition, and so on? Is there anything you would change? You might also note differences between team members. Are certain techniques working better with some people than with others? If some reports seem stagnant or struggling, why might this be? Are any external factors like illness or interpersonal conflicts coming into play?

Talk to team members. As you gain insight into individual progress, as well as the coaching or development methods that seem to work, pull team members aside one by one to discuss. Don’t necessarily wait for your quarterly analysis to have these conversations and be sure not to make them overly formal. Engage with people in the moment and on an ongoing basis, making these interactions a defining component of your work together. Show them that you know what success looks like for them, specifically, and exactly what they need to do to improve.

Consult the grid each year when writing performance evaluations. Many managers struggle to recall the nuances of their team members’ performance and development work over a year. With all of your observations and impressions laid out before you in a neatly organized package, you’ll find yourself writing much more insightful evaluations in much less time.

Some managers might still object that they don’t have room in their calendar to track each employee so closely. My response: If you want to build an exceptional, high-performing team, you’ll make the time. You are responsible for giving your people what they need to excel and helping them to fulfill or even surpass their potential. If you take this obligation seriously, they will be far more motivated to put out their best effort. With their hard work and your teaching, they’ll become more skilled, perform better, stick around longer, and help attract more talent. And, even if they move on, they’ll remain grateful to you for helping them achieve their career ambitions.

When you embrace customized employee development, you become a far more effective and admired boss. You might even turn out to be an exceptional one.

By Sydney Finkelstein, Harvard Business Review


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