Discover Performance

HP Software's community for IT leaders // October 2013

Coach your employees to greatness

A renewed approach to talent development is the key to higher productivity, less turnover, and a more competitive enterprise.

By Joshua Brusse

The workplace is rapidly changing—in part because of a new generation’s arrival, and in part because of a change in how employees want to live their lives—and we’ve been discussing the practical responses:  your employees will demand more flexibility as part of their desire for work–life integration (not just “balance”), and their satisfaction and engagement will rely on more than the old-fashioned standard of incremental pay increases as one very slowly climbs the ladder.

This new workplace should make people both more productive and more dedicated as they better integrate their work and personal spheres. The benefits of this lead to a strategy of managing for happiness, because businesses benefit from happy, engaged employees. Yet you could adopt this principle, and still get neither the full value of a good employee nor the ability to retain them over the long haul. 

The new workforce requires another change, in my opinion. Even before the global recession made companies slower to hire—and gave them the impression that there was an oversized talent pool to pick from—hiring managers were increasingly reluctant to educate and develop. Employees were expected to show up with a dozen skills to fit a job that used to be spread across two or three positions. And once the job was filled, there was little or no effort to groom them for promotion—or just to be better and more useful to the organization. That must change.

In sports, a scout doesn’t look for accomplishment, but for talent and potential, and the desire to develop them both. This is particularly true in scouting young athletes, because a sports franchise wants a young player to deliver great results over a number of years. So, too, when you’re hiring, you don’t want someone who already does exactly the job you’re offering and will be content to do it a few more years for you (such people, by the way, will be scarcer among the quick-moving millennials). You want someone you can teach how to deliver the kind of high performance that rewards them—and thus your company. But this requires companies to do things differently. Here are some tips to consider:

1. Hire from a different checklist. Many job listings today call for 15 or more specific skills and lines of résumé experience. However, many of these skills will be irrelevant as technology and your business evolve—and could easily be taught after you’ve hired anyway. You can teach people skills, but what you can’t teach is a solid work ethic, attention to detail, a team-oriented attitude, and ambition. So which is more important when hiring?

2. Develop your talent. Hire with an eye on talent and potential, and the desire/ability to develop them. Then work on actually developing them. Mix on-the-job training and mentoring with sending workers to relevant workshops and classes. The ROI from encouraging and enabling learning is a more ambitious, better-performing workforce, better retention (and all the savings in time and money that brings), and a better corporate culture that further fuels excellence.

3. Rotate positions. Once you’ve found good workers and put them on a path of improvement, don’t leave them in one place. Boredom kills productivity, breeds resentment, and makes people look for a new challenge. Don’t give them a job and job title; rotate them through various programs and projects you need them to do anyway. Employees should be asking you how they can grow and move within your organization, and you should always have another thing for them to do.

4. Measure outcomes. All this amounts to investing in your workers. Financial investments are usually measured in terms of returns, and investors tend to favor investments whose returns are increasing each year. Your investment in talent should take the same approach: Are they getting more work done?  Is the work they’re doing of higher quality or intrinsic value than before? You should design your development efforts to deliver these results, and refine your programs—or which employees participate in them—based on those outcomes.

Strive for excellence

Companies usually think about excellence in terms of overall success. That matters, of course, but increasingly we need to manage more like a sports team, or perhaps a university. Sports teams excel by getting the best out of each individual and focusing on their maximum development, which is of course the purpose of a university as well. While worker development can never be the sole or ultimate goal of a business, you have to really understand that your employees—your talent—are central to your success, not just random cogs in the machine. Success comes from focusing management efforts on the individual first, and on the team second—in that order, but forgetting neither.

That means attracting people with potential and the attitude that fits your company culture, mission, vision, and objectives—and taking an active interest in their development and sense of engagement. The outcome will be happier, more loyal workers—and a more successful enterprise.

Joshua Brusse has more than 20 years’ experience in all aspects of running IT as a business. He consults with HP enterprise customers regarding strategy, governance, service lifecycle management, and organizational design and transformation.  His recent articles on the future of work coverflex work and managing for happiness.

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