Continuous improvement is one of the key phrases of our age, and it applies as much to employees as to processes. We want our staff to keep developing themselves, to take on new skills and refine their existing ones, to absorb the values and priorities of the organization even as those shift over time. But this isn’t easy. Change is scary and people need to be encouraged. So how can we do that?
Developing The Meta
A stagnant, unchanging approach to development is clearly counter-productive. If employees are told that they should develop, but they don’t see that the organization itself develops, then you are sending out mixed messages which will create resistance.
To counter this it isn’t enough to talk about development within the employee development program. You need to engage employees in a meta-analytical conversation, looking at how the development program and the support for it develops. Then take this one step further and apply it to the company as a whole.
Get employees’ opinions on what works and what doesn’t in the organization. Engage them in improving it. Create an organization that doesn’t just talk about development but that lives it, where employees can see innovation, improvement and development in every corner of their working lives. Then they can’t help but buy into development.
Developing A Space
If development of the organization is going to encourage self-development then it has to exist within employees’ control. Thomson Reuters have done a lot of work on this in recent years, creating a culture in which teams can put forward ideas to change the business and then get involved in working on them.
The Thomson Reuters example is a huge and intimidating one, but the principle behind it has applications on even the smallest scale. Rather than trying to develop your employees from the outside through massive programs, create a space in which they are encouraged to develop themselves. Provide the tools, time and opportunities for them to pick up skills and knowledge that are in line with the culture and aims of the organization, but that also suit them.
Use this space to let employees contribute to organizational improvement as well, even if it’s just updating their team’s procedures or improving template letters. By giving them an active role in shaping both their self-development and the development of the company you foster a positive and empowered attitude.
‘failure always arrives in a whimper’ – Seth Godin
If you want truly great employees then you have to foster truly great employee development, and fostering anything truly great means taking risks.
Giving people the freedom to shape their own career and skills means risking that they’ll go in a direction that you don’t want, or that they’ll waste the time and opportunity that you’ve given them. A minority will abuse the chance, and you’ll have to deal with that.
Giving them the chance to shape your organization means that mistakes will be made. There will be failures and dead ends, just like always.
But giving people the freedom to shape their development and that of the organization also gives them the space to be great. For every failure there’ll be a dozen successes, and some of those will be truly great. These will forge the game changers, the homegrown leaders of your company’s future, the improvements that save you millions or sky-rocket sales.
So create a conversation around the development conversation. Create a space for employees to improve themselves and your business. Be bold in how you encourage development to take place.
Take a risk and reach for greatness.
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