We all want opportunities to learn, experiment, and grow in our jobs, but most bosses and businesses tend to seek out and reward team members who already know how to do the job, and can repeat the task without fail as the business scales.
As a former manager in big businesses, as well as the founder of my own small startup, I found that leading team members on their own learning curve, and designing their job to maximize learning and engagement, is a win-win situation for the business as well as the employee. The best part is that everyone is poised for today's rapid market changes, rather than fighting them.
I was pleased to see this approach highlighted in a new book, Build an A-Team, by Whitney Johnson, a Wall Street analyst, writer, and keynote speaker on business and career innovation and growth.
I fully support her outline of seven accelerants of learning and growth in business, which I believe every manager and entrepreneur should practice:
1. Become a talent developer, by taking some risks with people.
This starts by finding new hires that have to stretch to fit the role, and mentoring them as they learn. Every team member should be rewarded for taking market risks to grow themselves and the business. Actively create and share a plan to move them to new roles as they mature.
2. Pinpoint individual distinctive strengths and utilize them.
To perform at the highest level, and get the greatest satisfaction, each member of the team must operate from a position of personal strength in job assignments.
Because we all have a tough time spotting our own strengths, your job is to help people find and deliver in their best roles.
3. Impose thoughtful constraints on time and budget for focus.
We all want unbounded freedom to do a job, but we also realize that tasks tend to expand to fit the time and budget allotted. Reasonable constraints force team members to be resourceful, creative, and learn from taking risks. The result is personal and business growth and innovation.
4. Battle against entitlement, yet celebrate even small successes.
Fearing an increased sense of entitlement, manager sometimes dial back on praise. Smart managers learn to reward progress without entitling team members.
Disruptive innovation thrives in an environment of gratitude and continuous learning, rather than one of entitlement.
5. Position stepping backward as a way to move forward.
Many of the best companies support taking a leave of absence for additional education or training. This step back from current responsibilities can be a slingshot to greater long-term growth. The same can be said for side assignments of other countries, or broadening roles in other organizations.
6. Give failure its due, and push employees to new challenges.
Learning from failure is not always instinctive, but you can help it be constructive rather than destructive.
In the same way, a good manager is a bit like a parent, pushing charges into uncomfortable situations and helping them grow and learn. Good employees love stretch assignments.
7. Encourage individualized discovery-driven growth.
This is called planning to learn, rather than learning to plan. You need to have a destination in mind, but let your team members tell you the best way to get there. Pit them against the real challenges, and innovation will follow. Be quick to shift team members as their skills and talents evolve.
If you follow these initiatives, I assure you that you will drive higher performance and higher morale in the organization, as well as become the boss people love.
People need continuous learning and fresh challenges to stay engaged, and your business needs it to thrive, no matter what the economy and your industry throws at you.
In my advisory role, I often see the alternatives, and they are not so positive. You will lose your high potentials, and even if they do stay, they won't innovate and your business will become less competitive.
You will be beaten by faster-adapting competitors because you won't be prepared for the future. Remember that the single biggest impediment to innovation could be you.