EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT -
IT'S TIME TO SHARE
Companies and CEOs have willingly taken the responsibility for developing successors and core talent in their firms—investing in training and development programs, continuing formal education, and coaching. When sales and margins decrease and the CFOs are reviewing where to cut costs, however, employee development at all levels is considered for the chopping block.
While this may seem like a wise choice to trade long-term development for making payroll, it begs the question, who is really responsible for talent and leadership development?
Leaders have a responsibility to company owners, shareholders and employees, and all stakeholders are equally important. But, employees should no longer be passive followers regarding their own development. Leaders still need to make sure people are in the correct roles that satisfy all parties, and work with employees on how to maximize benefit for everyone. However, employees need to take more responsibility for what talents they need to grow, or assumptions about what the need will be decided for them, if at all.
An Evolving Culture
It's important to recognize that the employee contract has changed over the decades, as has the sociology of business. It used to be people would stay with a firm their entire lives, but when business broke the culture of retention in the name of efficiency and cost savings, the workforce responded with the expectation that they would not stay in one place for a lifetime.
This creates a major challenge for companies. It is now normal for people to move to new roles, companies and even vocations many times in their careers. Generation Y (30 and under) seeks variety in their development, require a position they care about, and expect development to be given them. And while firms continue to promote development as a value proposition to attract and retain workers, it is often among the first budget items to be cut when things get tough.
The job of employee and leadership development has shifted, and will continue to shift towards the employee sharing a greater role in their own development. This sharing philosophy may benefit companies and employees in the continued quest for the right talent and the right roles that will allow everyone to grow.
A New Perspective
This is not to suggest that companies don't have a role to play. On the contrary, firms now have a bigger role to play in leadership and employee development. Companies who require retention of good people need to be more creative about development.
- They should share the responsibility with their people; create a culture of openness about what real and honest expectations are for growth.
- Treat every talent differently, create unique programs of development, and not expect one program or method to work for everyone.
- Think differently about company sociology and culture, and create retention and attrition plans that serve the needs of all stakeholders.
Take Rachel, for example. Rachel worked for a small firm as the director of sales development. She was good at delivering on tasks, but was not doing as well strategizing and directing her small sales team. Her vice president recognized her potential and wanted to keep her, but knew she needed some further development that the firm could not provide. Rachel was young and had more than 400 contacts in Linked In, served on a couple of local boards and could easily find a new sales position. Her vice president had a frank discussion about what Rachel and the firm both wanted and needed for the future. Rather than send Rachel to more sales training, all parties knew she needed to work for, or with, someone who had experience in sales management. The vice president hired a local sales and marketing firm to provide services to the firm and help develop Rachel's strategy and management skills. This specific and unique plan allowed Rachel to grow and the company to receive the sales leadership they needed. A few years later, Rachel took back control and began to lead all marketing for the company. The firm saved a valuable employee and grew alongside her. As this example shows, a creative solution was custom designed for one person and the firm, and used a unique method of development that went beyond the traditional walls of the firm. More importantly, Rachel and the firm did this together.
Today's and tomorrow's workforce is expected to be flexible, agile and operate in an open and empowered environment. In addition, social changes open up the landscape of professional development. Therefore, the employee contract has to change from "work in exchange for a paycheck" to "professional services in exchange for development." Furthermore, the role of development should be shared and is the responsibility of both the employee and the firm.
For the CEO, this means that you should:
Move from being a custodian of your people to being a champion of them. The role of the firm is no longer to capture people and maintain them for life in the same job. Rather, it is to find people with core skills that fit the firm and grow people into roles that make sense for everyone. This will create less surprises of attrition and allow everyone to evolve together.
- Determine who in the organization has true aspirations to grow. The truth is, some people are happy practicing their vocation and have no desire to advance to management positions. For those who want to become leaders, or have that potential, a development plan should be put in place. Also, tell people with potential they have a future with your firm and begin to help them achieve it.
- Develop a high potential succession plan for your most important future roles. This ensures that your core technical and leadership roles are being planned for and gives people a target for growth. For example, if a technical talent has potential and desires some advancement to management, they should be receiving training, coaching or mentoring around the competencies they will need for those future roles.
- In some cases, it is valuable to actually consider people for succession into your company who come from the outside. Don't think of your organizational pool as just the people you have. The truth is some people won't be able to scale up with your company. In other cases, it may make sense for some of your people to receive experiences outside your firm, which you cannot provide.
- Allow people latitude to work on community projects, sit on outside boards, join outside leadership programs and take project roles for your company. These experiences will provide them diversity and depth that will be valuable to you and them.
- Make your HR department a strategic business partner. If allowed, HR can lead and support true organizational development, ensure that talent aligns with the firms needs, and create development, succession and mentoring plans that will advance the firm's growth.
For the professional employee, you should:
It's time to write a new employee contract. Cradle to grave is not a reasonable expectation for people who are ambitious and want fulfillment in their careers. The new contract should be one that shares the responsibility of development with the employee, is open and honest about what the mutual association will bring, provides training that supports the core competencies of the business, and allows the employee latitude to grow beyond the abilities of your firms.
- View your career progression as a journey that will require you to find and receive different skills along the way. This may require you shifting to other functional roles, projects, and receiving training that compliments your already attained technical skills.
- Consider gaining experience and training outside the firm, even if it's on your own dime. This may mean investing in outside training, seminars and coaching for yourself. Your company is responsible is supporting your growth, but your perspective should be beyond your current position.
- Gain professional experience by volunteering your time. This could mean helping non-profits and community initiatives, allowing you to stretch and practice your leadership in other venues.
- Make the most out of every position you hold. Don't allow yourself to just deliver what is expected. Leaders are recognized when in the act of leading, even if it is a small project.
- Expand your professional network and personal brand. All high performers know that relationship development and maintenance is a key to success. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to nurture your professional brand.
- Become the CEO of yourself. You are ultimately responsible for your own career, personal mission, and professional impact. Create your own development goals, and present them to your firm that allows them to best leverage you.
Employee development should not be an afterthought. Rather, it is a critical component to the firm's and the employee's success and should be at the top of every stakeholders "to do" list.
Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.