Saturday, November 23, 2013

Employee Development

Every day... we learn something new.  If you don't, you have a closed mind... or your dead.  We learn from  many avenues, such as books, TV, our children, friends, peers, managers, and others.  We learn both positive and negative habits, as well as new information.  Some of this educates us, others hardens us... and yet others drive us to compassion.

What is your role as a manager in employee development?  It's helping to continually improve your staff, and preparing them for the next challenge in their career.  Like marriage... two way feedback is necessary to develop a mentoring relationship.  I try to follow a simple philosophy... challenge my team to continue improving and evolving... and try to listen for feedback on ways to improve.  Am I always successful, no.  It's the team's engagement in their development and sense of ownership that really drives this process.

One of my new members on my team was surprised by the "lack of egos".  I thought about this for a while... and I must say that for the most part... he's correct.  Egos and confidence are two different things.  We are a very confident team, and very customer service focused.  Since we focus on knowledge sharing and continuous improvement... our culture allows us to have the humility necessary to ask for feedback and assistance from other team members... regardless of their level.  Everyone contributes, and you level doesn't limit your ability to contribute and make a difference.  It also doesn't prevent staff in a higher grade from recognizing areas of expertise in a level-agnostic way, and asking for assistance on a regular basis.

So, how should we go about employee development?

  1. Be deliberate - take time to observe, evaluate, and provide feedback often.
  2. Be objective - try to approach each opportunity for feedback with an open mind.  If something occurs, and you can't be objective, write down your feedback... wait a few days... and then deliver it in a statement of fact method.
  3. Be timely, not reactive - If you deliver the feedback in a rash way when you're upset... or wait to long... it won't be viewed as career development... but lashing out... or bringing up the past.
  4. Be reasonable - evaluate staff at their grade... any improvement above that level is being a good mentor and preparing them for either a promotion, or the next opportunity.
  5. Don't surprise - if you wait until once a year to give feedback... shame on you.  Annual reviews should never be a surprise... they should be a confirmation of conversations that have occurred over the year on employee development matters, and to set objectives for the future.

I really like the idea of holistic continuous feedback.  If your employee is a level one... and their focus is technical, then focus on their technical skills and attributes necessary to get to a level two position.  Once they achieve level one... then focus on the development necessary to get to level two, and so forth.

Don't have tunnel vision.  Focus on all attributes... if someone has expert level .NET Skills... maybe they could use some development in SQL Server... or additional testing skills... responsive design, etc.  Don't forget feedback on team interaction, some people don't recognize themselves as leaders... and others don't recognize that they may be abrasive.  Give feedback on improving communications, being responsive, managing projects, improving presentation skills, etc.

Don't look at this as a once and done annual process.  Provide feedback on positive progress... don't be overly critical of your staff.  It's a journey, it's not a sprint.  Don't expect to change the world, or do this yourself.  Get the staff involved, and ask them to help provide feedback, confidentially or otherwise... and encourage team members to provide positive feedback to one another.

If you recruit, develop, and promote in an equitable way... and give credit where its' due... you may find that egos aren't an issue... people don't need to fight for recognition... they get it from the team.

Be humble, if your team succeeds... they deserve the credit!  It's your job to be a leader, and the best leaders are often those that recognize that they also are just another team member... whose job it is to help focus resources on what's most important.  If you're not sure what that is... well... that's a post for another time.