I noticed the conversations with one of my clients--Scott Moody, COO and CFO of the Bonten Media Group--often included discussions on his efforts to help his team with their professional development. He believes any business should invest in this process, and I interviewed him to share with others some of his most effective yet simplest practices.
What makes a great developmental leader?
When I reflect on the best people I've worked for, they not only had my back but were also the wind at my back. Investing in helping your employees reach their goals is a critical leadership skill.
To me, caring, generosity, and humility are traits central to helping others improve and progress. The best mentors are those who look to "pass the ball" and help others shine.
What are the stakes in people development?
The workplace is more fluid than ever, and younger professionals today are especially interested in growth opportunities. Providing a learning environment is a baseline requirement for an attractive workplace.
Also, today, people get raises, promotions, and job offers based on their skill sets, not company affiliation or tenure. Investing in your employees' growth requires a broad outlook: developing skill sets and personal brands for maximum value not just within your company, but in the outside world as well.
How do you create a growth plan for your employees with such a broad outlook?
One way is to set aside time at the beginning of the year and ask people to think about what they would like their résumé to look like by the end of that year--in other words, the developmental goals they want for themselves.
Then, figure out how to match your current business needs with their developmental goals, even if there is no obvious fit. The company has its business imperatives and you have to do them well, but you'd be surprised how often you can meet your employees' goals and complement or enhance regular operations.
- For an employee looking to improve her public speaking skills or raise her industry profile, help her get invited to participate on a panel at an industry event or present at a company town hall. Support her for election to industry boards or organizations.
- For someone in finance interested in HR, let him negotiate a health care contract.
- Champion someone from a functional area to take on general management.
- If you can push against the grain of traditional thinking in your organization, all the better. This will often be required to make these things happen in the first place.
Very often you can help your employees while helping your company.
What does this type of approach require of top leadership?
Delegating responsibilities and passing along experiences you have benefited from work wonders. This moves people up and frees you to take on new things too.
Use the best, most valuable bonus a motivated employee can receive: Invite him or her to high-level meetings. It costs nothing, and just being in the room helps anyone understand the business better, get face time with leaders, and develop new perspectives.
And always encourage networking both inside and outside your industry.
Are there any downsides to this approach?
Will doing this help your best people spread their wings outside your company? Maybe.
Will you equip them to negotiate more effectively with you? Most likely.
Will you develop loyalty, openness, and teamwork? I think so.