Chairman's Letter: Employee Development

Last week I visited a 200-employee company that has over the last two years developed and implemented their own employee university. While they recognize they’re not going to operate at the level of GE, they’ve made the decision that they want to become a learning organization in word and deed. Wow! That’s quite a commitment for a small company with limited resources. But, it’s also a statement to the people of the business that their growth is a keystone of the business’ foundation of success. The people in this company are being shown that corporate health involves a significant investment in people. Do your people feel that same sense of commitment from you and your business?

If not, it should give you pause. Isn’t the commitment of your employees the only true competitive advantage you have any real control over?

If you don’t have the time, resources or understanding to develop your own university, what can you do to create a simple but effective employee development program within your organization? Is there a mechanism that could potentially increase both work satisfaction and employee retention – yielding that elusive competitive advantage mentioned earlier?

I’d suggest you start with the basics – getting employees what they need to be successful throughout the life-cycle of their employment:

  1. Hire people suited to do the work you’re giving them to do
  2. Give them the training, tools and measurements to know what success looks like and the ability to achieve it
  3. Empower them to do their jobs
  4. Provide a forum for feedback that’s aimed at improvement
  5. Let people know the potential path for them to grow within your organization.

These are basics that are too often ignored. Frequently, entry-level people are hired if they pass a drug screen and their employment history isn’t too shaky. These newbies are paired up with different workers to learn their jobs and the trainers they’re given can’t help but blur the definition of success that’s provided. Ill-equipped for success, management is left to hawk over the new employee’s work because the worker doesn’t have the skills or confidence necessary to function independently. The bad work is caught and admonished and the good work often ignored. The only place employees know they could be going in the future is back to work tomorrow – hopefully.

What specifically can we do to overcome these challenges and build a basic employee development program?

First, even at the entry level, people want a job suited to their personality. An employees’ first view of working in your organization is the first job they take. Why not make sure that they are, at the least, doing a job that gives them the opportunity to gain satisfaction from the work that they do? Use Predictive Index® to develop a range of successful job profiles for each of your jobs and make sure that people are working where they’ll have an opportunity to enjoy the work you give them. Or, if they’re not in a job for which they’ll likely glean satisfaction, for whatever reason, communicate why they’re doing what they’re doing and the reason for them doing it (development, perhaps). And, if there is an end in sight to their working against their personality, discuss what that is.

Employees want to know how they can be successful. Thus, the first day someone reports to work, you should have a plan in place that:

  • Lays out how you’re going to measure success at each stage of their learning
  • Describes the training you’re providing to get them to excellent performance
  • Provides the tools they need to be successful.

Ideally, the person would already have most of this information prior to being brought on board. Regardless, they need to have you go over it all once again their first day on the job. Go over, “Here’s what success will look like. Here’s what training will look like. Here are your tools. Here’s how you’ll be reviewed and when.” People want to do good work. They need to know what that looks like and how they’re going to get there. Employee development begins with learning the job.

Once the job is learned, empower your people to do it. Yes, they need feedback that they’re doing well. Yes, you want to thank them for a job well done. Yes, you want to pay them fairly. Yes, you want to give them whatever their profile requires to gain satisfaction. But you also want to give them the ability to do their jobs without too much interference. Empowerment builds both trust and confidence – and that nourishes development.

People also want and need feedback about their work. First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, posits that an employee talking with someone in the last six months about their progress and receiving praise at least once per week are differentiators of organizational success. If you’ve followed the first three items above, you already have measures for success for your jobs. Use them to review your people. And do your best to catch them doing good work and recognizing it from their first day on the job.

Finally, let people know to what positions they could be promoted, what they need to do to earn that promotion and the time frame in which it could happen. Many people don’t want to change jobs. Some jobs don’t have promotional opportunities. Just know you’re better off being frank about the personal growth situation you have in relation to each employee – letting them know where their opportunities may lie. Both positive and negative assumptions made by employees about their future are counterproductive to you in the long run. Getting the facts out builds trust and confidence.

There is no better mechanism to increase employee productivity than following the basic employee development tenets laid out above.

Until your people are operating independently doing work that suits them with feedback on doing the work well, other employee development programs are frosting on a mud pie. Do you have these basics of an employee development program in place? If not, you might think about what you could do to start. If you want to chat, give your Predictive Index consultant or me a call. It is a good way to continue to build upon your competitive advantage.

Thank you for reading.

Bob Wilson

3 thoughts on “Chairman's Letter: Employee Development

  1. Mr. Wilson,
    Thank you for your excellent article regarding Employee Development. What are your thoughts about handling/resolving employee errors? Once an error is found, rather than turning the error into a training/learning opportunity, many times employees are ‘written up’, chastised, reprimanded and often times fired for errors. Instead, how may we best re-tool he employee to avoid future errors. Thank you again for your time and attention.
    Terry Coyle

      1. Hi, Terry –

        While this seems like a simple question which should yield a simple answer, it is neither.

        The short answer is, it all depends.

        Some jobs require intolerance of errors. Typically, these are jobs where execution matters more than achieving results. In those types of jobs, I’d suggest standards of performance be set regarding the various stages of training through to them becoming experienced folks. For example, in the first few weeks of training we’d tolerate X errors; the next few .5X errors; after that and going forward .25X errors – creating an environment where acceptability is established and tolerance clear. In those types of jobs, too many errors can mean the person just isn’t right for the job.

        In other types of jobs, especially where results are more important than execution, errors tend not to be as critical – as a salesperson filling in an expense report or documentation of a call.

        In both cases, standards should be established but in the former, they tend to be much more critical. Those cases are generally pretty well understood in organizations and typically treated appropriately.

        The problems tends to be more difficult especially where we’re developing new processes or trying to do things in a different way. In these circumstances, errors are inevitable but tend to be punished rather than used as teaching platforms. Punishing errors during a change effort tends to drive people away from wanting to continue trying to change – thus making the change effort more challenging than it needs to be. In those kinds of situations, managers / leaders are really best off congratulating errors as an effort in the right direction as that positive encouragement encourages the effort of change.

        In management and leadership, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I hope that helps.

        Bob Wilson

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