There’s great potential for growth in every person on your team, and it’s your responsibility to provide them with options.
By Brendan P. Keegan June 14, 2022
In some ways, never changing can feel like the right thing to do. That’s thanks to the cozy blanket of familiarity it wraps you in. Avoid change for long enough, though, and you’ll start to wonder why there aren’t any new challenges — and why you aren’t making a difference.
You need to keep your team out of this funk and make sure they can keep taking your company to the next level, so delivering growth opportunities should be part of your leadership calling card. There’s great potential for growth in every person on your team. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to provide them with opportunities to unlock that potential.
1. Trade big degrees and certifications for micro-credentials
When I took the helm at my company, I realized people needed short opportunities for learning that built the skills they needed in real-time. We created a new program that focused on getting people through courses that lasted only a few weeks. You can do the same by partnering with different educational organizations. Training agencies and colleges like Columbia and Harvard provide a variety of onsite and remote classes, usually for only a few thousand dollars or sometimes even for free. Instead of having dozens of employees getting MBAs, we have hundreds getting certified in cybersecurity, data analytics and sustainability. Each micro-credential an employee earns can be immediately applicable to their job for better results. When workers have that chance to put what they’ve learned into practice, it can also provide a jolt of confidence.
Remember, your need to learn grows exponentially the higher up the ladder you climb. People will also model what you do. So if you want them to get on board with short-term courses, take some right alongside your employees. I recently had a great time taking a six-week sustainability course from Harvard along with about 50 people from my team. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a big part of our company’s core vision and values. So it was also a highly relevant topic for us all to learn together.
2. Lead people into a deeper responsibility pool
When I was 23 and first became a manager, I found myself seated at a conference room table with people twice my age. I really didn’t have any experience running things — I didn’t even know how to run a meeting! Yet these same people, many of whom used to be my colleagues, now expected me to lead. Was I pretty terrified? Yes. Did I learn and figure things out? Also yes.
My experience reflects that no employee is likely comfortable approaching things they feel they can’t do or have no experience in. But there’s a grain of truth to the idea that if somebody can’t swim, you have to get them in the water responsibly. If you never let people get their feet wet with more significant tasks, they’ll never get far from shore. Let them try to handle something that’s a little outside their reach. They’ll gradually gain the strength and know-how to manage bigger things. The ability of people to rise to a challenge in this way should comfort you as a leader. As business gets more competitive and resource-demanding, the reality is that necessity will drive you to promote people as much as good results do.
3. Keep frontline managers at the front of your mind
Your frontline managers have a massive influence on everyone they supervise. The more time and resources you invest in them, the more likely people below them will have a positive experience and stick around.
One-on-one mentorship, trusting them to manage more projects or people and connecting them within your industry: These are just some options for helping your frontline managers be their best selves. Remember, one of the biggest reasons why people leave your company is not compensation — it’s their direct manager. Support your frontline managers so they have the best resources to retain your most important asset: people.
4. Move people around
Everyone in your business is hired to perform specific functions. But the more you move them around to help with different projects or support other departments, the more skills they’ll grab and keep in their bag of tricks. They’ll also gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the organization as a whole. And, they’ll see how hard each department works to keep things running smoothly every day. Both of those developments translate to greater value for the business.
I remember one time in my career when I got put into a support role. I was always in a revenue-producing role, so this didn’t quite fit my background. But I learned so much about how you have to support the revenue producers even when you aren’t on the front line and how to do it. Again, it wasn’t the ideal long-term job for me, but I gained so many vital skills from it.
5. Give the green light to internal sponsors
From what I’ve seen through my career, about 20-30 percent of the people who come into your business will come from referrals. Many of those referrals will be from your team members, telling people at their gym or church, I work for a great company; you’ve got to come over!
When someone on your team pulls someone else into the business, they’ve got somebody on the inside who’s rooting for them. This creates a perfect opportunity for the team member to act as a sponsor. They can guide the new hire and check in on how they’re doing. It’s a win-win setup where the sponsor can shine as a responsible leader for someone else and the new hire can learn faster.
For long-term success, it’s a healthy culture that counts
Admittedly, there may be times when giving people more money motivates their learning and growth. But because it’s a short-term solution, seeing pay as a differentiator is a losing strategy. The winning game plan is to create a culture in your office where people feel supported in trying new things. They become energized about the possibilities their growth means for themselves and the team. The options I’ve provided will help build that kind of collaborative, engaging environment. Pick one or all of them, but trust that there’s enormous potential for growth in every person around you.
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