When I ask, how do you develop your staff, more often than not, the reply I get is about sending people on training courses. But how many training courses have you been on that have really made a difference to the way you work? How many have been great while you’re on them but as soon as you get back to work you’ve forgotten everything? I’m sure you’ve experienced this, I know I have. So how do you continuously develop your staff so that you can create a great place to work, motivate staff, attract and retain the best people?
The best way to continuously develop your staff is to talk to your members of staff on a regular basis. Forget the annual appraisal where you may talk about how people have done in the past 12 months and what are they going to do in the next but nothing in between.
Have regular one to ones, perhaps every week and discuss what has gone well, what hasn’t gone well and if not why not. Find out what support they might need, give them the headroom to develop and make mistakes as only by making mistakes sometimes do we learn. Set short term and medium term objectives which can be discussed.
If you meet with staff regularly, the discussions shouldn’t be too lengthy or onerous on either party. Done well, these can be a powerful way to motivate and develop staff as you will get to know them well, their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes and act accordingly.
Can be a very good way of developing staff if done in a proper and structured way and can be a good alternative to a training course. The mentoring can be done internally if there is someone with the right skills to do it or an external consultant can be used.
It is a service I can offer (shameful plug) but it can be a good investment. Mentoring isn’t about having a nice chat. Objectives will be agreed beforehand and often this may be about tackling a particular issue or problem and reviewing what happened etc. Mentoring can be over the phone or face to face so it is a versatile and flexible way to develop staff.
I may have been a little disparaging about training courses at the start of this piece, but they can still have a place and add value. If you do decide to use a formal training course, make sure that the training need has been clearly identified by your efforts as in (1) or through a formal performance management process. It should be clearly linked to their job and fill a gap that needs to be filled. You can find out more about staff performance management here.
Perhaps the main criticism of training courses is what happens when they return to work. To avoid re-entry problems, have a feedback session before they start back. Find out what the key points they have learnt are and how they plan to use these back in the workplace. Agree on some objectives, perhaps set a little project based on the learning and review these in your regular one to ones. This will help make sure that the learning is put to good use, maintained and institutionalised.
Have you considered using apprenticeships in your business? Contrary to popular belief, an apprentice isn't someone new to your business, you can train existing members of staff using an apprenticeship scheme too. Take a look at this free guide to apprenticeships to find out if they're right for your needs.
Provide opportunities for individual growth
Look for opportunities outside the workplace where people can contribute and develop or gain new skills. I worked for a number of years as a school governor and later as Chair of a school which was going through a lot of change and necessary improvement. It was very beneficial to me and helped me develop as a person and a manager. There are other voluntary opportunities that people may want to explore and help them grow. People that look to develop in their own time often become great leaders and should be recognised.
Development isn’t always about promotions and bigger jobs. In many organisations today, the structure is flatter and the old hierarchical structure is not there. So, looking at secondments, lateral moves and job rotation are useful ways to develop people. In smaller organisations, where again opportunities may be limited, this can also work well provided that the communication remains frequent, supportive and high quality.
A commitment to developing your staff is one that any business large or small can and should take. It should form a key part of any people strategy. It doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated but it will help your business be the best as well trained, happy employees make for a better business.