In my assessment of the healthiest work cultures, I've noticed a trend that can no longer be denied. Leaders in such organizations put the needs of others first, shine the spotlight on their employees, and through it all, the organizations they serve gain incredible strength and power.

More specifically, what you'll find in these "Best Workplaces" is a high commitment to growing and developing their employees.

OK, yes, employee development doesn't squarely fall on the shoulders of leaders, I know. Employees have to own their side of the fence by working with their bosses to achieve personal and professional development goals, and be held accountable for them.

The best of leaders, however, shine brightly by creating the environment to motivate people and keep their performance at a high level. It's a partnership.

If you're in a leadership role now, or aspiring to be, here are four things you must do that will set you apart from mere bosses:

1. Great leaders provide opportunities for learning.

They value learning as a path to mastery and will champion a "learning spirit" within the organization. This sends a clear message that "growing our people is one of our highest priorities." What employee doesn't want this?

These leaders make it safe to take risks--and to make mistakes. They encourage risk taking and failure because immense learning takes place there.

Obviously, in learning organizations you'll find ongoing training, coaching and mentoring opportunities that are aligned with job purpose, performance measures, and the organizational mission.

2. Great leaders give meaning and purpose to the employees' work.

Let me tell you the honest truth: a bored employee is a disengaged employee. Don't let it get that far. Revive them by giving them significant contributions. That's what they want!

Employees get excited when they can be involved in a purpose, pursuit or cause that has lasting impact. Give them the opportunity to experience first-hand that their efforts have meaning.

Let them know that the the hard work they put in is making a difference in the lives of their customers. Give them a front-row seat in experiencing the process of how their work, task, or role aligns with the larger goals of the organization.

Bottom line: attach meaning to your people's work because if you don't, you're leaving money on the table. This is the way to releasing discretionary effort, which gives your company a clear competitive edge.

3. Great leaders encourage and affirm.

The Gallup Organization's Q12 Engagement Survey, if you haven't noticed, point to the principles of encouraging and affirming employees to be the best they can be. Let me illustrate. If you're a manager and your employees were asked the following about you, how do you think you would fare?

  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  • This last year, have I had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?

In Gallup's research, workers who responded more positively to these questions worked in places with higher levels of productivity, and were less likely to quit. The opinions formed by employees pointed to their immediate managers as the critical player in building and maintaining a great workplace. Once again, as the old saying goes, people leave managers, not companies.

4. Great leaders leverage the power of blended learning.

This maximizes options for developing people since every person and situation is different. Here are the options that I personally recommend for the most optimum blended learning environment:

  • You want the experiential onsite learning for hands-on application and collaboration.
  • You want on-demand e-learning platforms that give people the flexibility and option to learn at their own pace. Neuroscientists are saying that workers retain this type of learning far longer than just being told what to do.
  • You want to implement individual coaching to further maximize learning that is applied day-to-day. Go one step further and teach your managers how to ask coaching questions that help employees cultivate their own knowledge and confidence.

In Closing

I'll leave you with a quote:

"There are 10 seeds in an apple. But how many apples are in a seed? You must help your employees learn and grow so they become the talented workforce you need tomorrow."
-- Martha Soehren, Chief Talent Officer at Comcast

What are some great techniques that you currently use to develop your people?