There's nothing I treasure more than helping my employees become a better version of themselves--all while being a sneaky version of myself (sometimes).
It makes it even more fun and frankly some of the most effective tricks of the people building trade are outside of the protagonist's peripheral.
Here are my five favorite tactics for turbocharging my people, with a twinkle in the eye.
1. Establish their secret Personal Board of Directors.
Informed, outside perspective is a beautiful thing for one's development. So don't just rely on your own observations of your employees to help them grow.
Quietly assemble a Board of Directors for your employee (unbeknownst to the employee, lest they "play up" to these people).
They should be people who interact with the employee, but do so from an observational and "elevated" point of view, with wisdom and experience under their belt as an aid.
For example, for a product manager, enroll the VP of Research, the Director of Finance, and the Director of Sales as "board members". Their role on the board is to observe the product manager from an informed distance and to offer perspective on performance (which is usually uncannily accurate).
Furthermore, they've seen more than one product manager, even in the same role, and can offer calibrating and comparative insight as well. Leverage this seasoned input to help ensure your employees are strengthening true strengths and working on the right opportunities.
2. Get the skeletons out of their closet.
No, I'm not talking about getting them to confess their sins. But I am talking about getting them to confess with sincerity their most closely held performance weaknesses.
We all have skeletons in the closet, or things we aren't good at that we don't want anyone to know about. Things like, "I don't understand the P&L", "I'm no good with the customer", or "I stink at analysis".
Such fears are barriers to maximizing full potential.
Build a foundation of trust with an end goal being to uncover any such skeletons. Then help your employee tackle their fears head on, in a safe environment.
You can even keep the opportunity area "off paper" (i.e. not part of any formal performance review) and between you and your employee only.
3. Guide them to tell you what they want in their career, not what they're supposed to want.
They won't always know, or might not want to tell you for fear of it being outside typical notions of career advancement and thus "career limiting". They may fear that what they really want to do will cause you to bail on their development.
But you should be earnestly strengthening your relationship with them so that one day (like number 2 above) you can get to truth.
There may be no greater service you can provide than to ensure they aren't wasting their time and talents on something that doesn't get them closer to where they truly want to go.
4. Have a career marketing plan for them.
Anyone who wants to succeed in business knows you have to make a concerted effort to market and sell your product. It requires a thoughtful marketing plan with understanding of who the target audience is, what the most compelling messages are to communicate, and how you'll trumpet those messages--via what communication vehicles and when.
It's no different when it comes to getting awareness and quality impressions for talented employees as part of their career progression plan.
Know who to target with what messages about your employee (in what fashion), and when and where to do so. Just like you want an advantage over competition when you market your product, same goes for marketing your people.
5. Let them have the ideas.
Your job is to expand the employees point-of-view, not give them their point-of-view.
Like you, they'll be more committed and energized by something they figured out needs doing.
The key is to build your skill set at coyly helping the employee discover things for themselves.
Do so by asking better questions. Open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking a leading question like "Don't you think we should increase prices?", ask "What should we do to offset our costs?"
They're the soil. You're the sun. You can plant seeds and be supportive, but they have to get their hands dirty and feel ownership for ideas if they're to truly grow.
So if you want to do all you can for your people, put a little deviousness in their development.