Why -and How- You Should Be Developing Your Employees

developing your employees

The vast amount of professional learning and development takes place on the job—not in a classroom or a training program.

It happens through developmental assignments, feedback, lots of conversations and mentoring. That kind of managing helps drive performance, keep employees engaged and attract and retain great people.

The best managers are always looking for ways to develop their people– deepening their employees’ current skills and enabling them to learn new ones, all the while validating their contributions. In fact management professor Monique Valcour at the EHEC Business School in France, suggested last year in the Harvard Business Review that if you aren’t helping people develop, you aren’t management material yourself.

Developing your employees is also good for the company—research shows organizations that care about their employees’ career progress and provide opportunities to grow have lower turnover and higher sales. Development is especially important to high potential employees. A 2014 study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that those high potential employees expect more development, support and investment from their organizations.

Here are several ways to create opportunities for that kind of learning and development and mistakes to avoid:

Know your employees. Great managers understand that each person that reports to them has different motivations, skills, weaknesses and needs. Each employee also faces different challenges and stressors in their lives outside of work. Do your best to know your employees as people first and then you can figure out how best to guide them toward high performance.

Be genuine. People can tell the difference between real interest in them from their manager and interest mandated by human resources, so be genuine in finding ways to help your employees grow and develop. Taking an honest interest in someone builds loyalty, and loyal employees are engaged, productive and motivated to do a great job for you and the company.

Be thoughtful about project assignments. As a manager, your job is to find assignments for your employees that allow them to gain experience in areas unfamiliar to them. They should be gaining skills they will need to move up in the organization, so be clear about why you are giving a particular employee a particular assignment. For instance, you might want to give certain employees experience running meetings or coordinating projects—these are leadership skills they will need if they want to move up within the organization.

Help employees network. Networking is a key component of success in any industry or job, so encourage them to develop their own, internal social networks across functions and divisions so they have a broader understanding of the organization. Those connections will also help them find more opportunities to contribute and add value to the company.

Allow your employees to be challenged. Don’t feel the need to rescue someone having trouble with a particular task or project. You will be more helpful to them if you act as coach and mentor, pushing them to figure out how to solve a problem on their own.

Don’t limit conversations about career goals to the annual review. Have several short conversations throughout the year reviewing each employee’s performance and discussing their career goals. Regular conversations with your employees will help you to spot the right development opportunities for them when they arise.

About the Author

Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist who writes about entrepreneurship, technology, small businesses and the workplace. She was a career columnist for the New York Times and is a regular contributor to the paper's small business section.