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Make Talent Your Business
How Exceptional Managers Develop People While Getting Results
By Wendy Axelrod Jeannie Coyle
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 Wendy Axelrod and Jeannie Coyle
All right reserved.
Chapter One Make Every Day a Development Day
When we suggested to Joe that he make every day a development day for his staff, he just about jumped out of his chair. "I've been trying to get two people to a required training course for the last five weeks and just can't work out the schedule. I am up to my eyeballs in projects and paperwork. How can I possibly make every day a development day? Sorry, but that's just nuts!"
You can probably relate to this harried manager. Good managers know how important it is to develop their people, but actually finding the time to do so is a challenge for them. Let's face it, it's a challenge for anyone in business these days. Fortunately, there are ways to go beyond what Joe saw as "nuts" (as in crazy) to nuts-and-bolts actions that make daily development a reality. Exceptional development managers (EDMs) we interviewed told us they use a dual approach to deliver a daily dose of development:
1. Deliberately building stretch into the work people do every day
2. Using their daily interactions with people to support that stretch
Surveyed EDMs overwhelmingly supported this winning combination. In fact, it was at the very top of their list of practices they value and actually put to use. What's more is that the exceptional developing employees (EDEs) we interviewed (the people who have done particularly well at developing in their careers) also ranked this kind of daily focus on development at the top of their list. That's why this practice is one of the two foundational elements for developing employees (the other is to tap the psychological side of development, which will be discussed in Chapter 2).
How to Make Every Day a Development Day
Imagine for a moment that you were asked to make every day at work a fitness day. Your first reaction might be to schedule time to go to the gym or to take the stairs instead of the elevator. But here's the hard part: you must stay in your very small office. Oh, and you have no budget to buy any fitness equipment—no treadmill, no elliptical trainer, not even weights. Give up? Antiapartheid activist Nelson Mandela didn't. Confined to a small cell on Robben Island for the first eighteen of his twenty-seven years of incarceration, he found a way to make every day a fitness day. Keeping his long-term goal of being strong enough to lead the country beyond apartheid, he used whatever tools he had at hand—mainly his own body—to do calisthenics and make fitness part of his daily routine.
Like Mandela, exceptional development managers use what is in front of them—namely, the work itself and their daily access to people doing it—to make bite-size progress on a big goal: continual development of the capacity of all their people so that they make talent their business.
If you were to observe these managers, you'd see two major trends. First, EDMs plan "stretch" into the work so that their people are continually pushing the boundaries of what they know and are comfortable doing. These managers are motivated to spend the little bit of extra time it takes to plan and support stretch because they know that the work at hand is the most powerful source of development. As one manager put it succinctly, "The work itself is the development. Experience is far and away the best teacher." We agree.
The second trend you'd spot is the way that exceptional managers spend their day. Instead of waiting to make a big (but infrequent) investment in development, they make lots of small (but frequent) deposits in their development account—think recurring short interactions versus infrequent formal meetings. They do this to help their people learn while doing work that stretches them. Another EDM we interviewed summed up this trend beautifully: "I approach development as an everyday 'being there' sort of thing, not as a programmatic process. I gently push people to do more than they think they can do. Then, if I see something, I note it and simply say it. I don't wait for a meeting or call it out as a developmental conversation."
Using the work itself as a major source of development is not a novel idea. The uncontested results of multiple research projects, some dating back to the 1980s, show that the vast majority of development comes from experience on the job, not from formal training programs. Leadership guru Warren Bennis puts it this way: "I would argue that more leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together." Yet according to research that mirrors our experience, fewer than one manager in ten uses the work at hand as a development tool. Training is an important part of the mix, but too many managers still see sending people to programs as the panacea for development. When they do this, it lets them off the development hook, and that's unfortunate.
Are we saying that the one thing that matters most is done the least? Yes. We believe that a major reason that using the work itself as a development tool is so rare is that managers simply don't know how to package together work and development or how to put themselves in the picture every day to support development. The solution comes down to these four approaches that you can use to make every day a development day:
1. Tuck development into work
2. Create the right stretch
3. Seize development moments 4. Leverage team learning
1. Tuck Development into Work
EDMs are experts at creating development "twofers." You know the system: the hotel room that accompanies the plane ticket, the bottle of champagne that complements the purchase of a three-course meal. Marketers love to give attractive two-for-one deals—and we all love receiving them. EDMs achieve twofers by planning and shaping work so that employees go after one goal (business results) and along the way meet another one (development milestones). Here's how the twofer concept worked for an EDM we'll call Tim:
Tim was a sales and marketing manager for a small software company. He was committed to developing Gloria, a late-twenties marketing manager who had just knocked his socks off by finishing a focus group project ahead of time while achieving great results AND teaching some interns how to properly conduct a focus group. She was chomping at the bit to learn more. Tim assigned her to lead a large and exciting project to design a new market approach for India. The market launch was a mere six months away. Gloria's team included financial analysts, HR specialists, and a consultant expert in doing business in India. Tucked into this assignment was lots of potential learning: about the Indian market, about creating a business plan that included financial analysis, and about getting the most from an expert consultant without letting him hijack the project. Tim took the time to talk Gloria through the assignment up front, making sure she knew there was a double finish line. He told her, "There are two ribbons waiting for you at the finish line: a results ribbon and a development ribbon." Then he went on to very specifically describe the expected results and what he wanted Gloria to learn while achieving these results.
What Tim and other exceptional managers do is not only tuck development into daily work but also create a simple, very strong combo development-and-performance plan. Tim didn't just tack a development plan onto Gloria's performance objectives, as routine performance management processes often suggest. Instead, he used one recurring planning process that put development right in the middle, on the way to results, so to speak, not at the end.
Imagine yourself giving people goals that will stretch them while they achieve important results. Be inspired by an EDM we know who said, "If you build developmental goals in, you improve the chances that they will be achieved. The results are better too, because the learning fuels higher levels of performance. So if someone has a goal to 'improve communication' in an execution plan, the person will not view development as extra stuff. You send a strong message—grow and learn while you are at work."
Good Ideas ... For Tucking Development into Work
OK, so maybe you're not in charge of opening new markets around the world. How can you tuck development into the work you do manage? The opportunities are endless. Start by considering these:
* New demands on your department that you can turn into skill-building work that will stretch your employees
* Tasks on your plate that are routine for you but would be good learning opportunities for others
* Opportunities for people to reshape their work to include tasks that are developmentally rich from their point of view
* People who hold critical knowledge and can be tapped to transfer knowledge to colleagues
* Communications that provide individuals with a stronger line of sight to business strategy in order to pep up and enrich their day-to-day tasks
Another approach is to encourage someone to take a side trip from a core job to pick up something he or she can bring back and apply. Imagine a football player taking a ballet class as part of his practice regimen. Before you get too distracted by visions of a hefty running back up on tippy toes, think about the potential of this kind of cross-training. Some NFL stars do, in fact, take ballet because it teaches them physical lessons about balance and nimbleness that improve their moves on the field. Here are some "off-road" experiences from the world of work:
Gregg, a supervisor in the Auto Maintenance Pool, was known for his rough feedback style. He had a habit of losing good employees. His boss, Walt, decided to have him spend time working on the customer response line handling customer complaints. With this experience, which began with a short training course, Gregg learned some new communication skills such as how to be responsive to irate customers and leave each with a positive impression instead of a negative one.
Sydney was a staff project manager who used the same planning method over and over and expected everyone to comply with her way of doing things. Spencer, her manager, wanted her to vary her style. He assigned her to the corporate advertising department with the specific charge to learn how the same communication challenge could be addressed from four or five different angles using six different channels.
Once you have pinpointed what development you want people to acquire in a side trip, you'll need to engage them in actually taking the side trip and acquiring the learning that fits their development goals. It's important to take each of the four steps. To illustrate these steps, let's pick up the story of Gregg, the supervisor of the Auto Maintenance Pool. Gregg will be taking a learning side trip to customer service. See what his manager, Walt, told him in each of the key steps.
Get the person to recognize that the skill to be developed will make him more successful in his job.
"Gregg, you're very direct with people. As we discussed before, the way you talk sometimes turns people off. It's as if you have one tool in your toolbox but you could use a few more. How about exploring other ways to influence people—ways that will work on your job and help you retain good people?"
Sell the particular development idea as a fast and effective way to learn and practice new skills.
"There's nothing like going to a new place to learn something. Gregg, have you ever been on vacation and picked up a new way to fish or learned how to scuba dive? Going to customer service where people deal with confused or angry customers is a great place to find out different ways to deal with people. You'll get a chance to develop a new tool and try something new away from your current job and staff."
Express your support and respond to the person's concerns and needs.
"I know that this new role will feel strange. Learning new skills always does. What concerns do you have about making this side trip into customer service, and how can I help?"
Engage the person in coming up with solutions.
"Gregg, I know you are concerned about what your staff will think of your involvement with customer service. Some of them might get nervous about a change in your role or that you might not be available to them when they need you. Let's first figure out a time schedule for you with customer service that you can live with and then craft a conversation you can have with your team."
2. Create the Right Stretch
A challenge of tucking development into work is to plan just the right amount of stretch that builds skills without pushing people too far beyond their limits. Let's look at some ways that EDMs get the balance right.
Accurately Assess Employee Capabilities
If you had packed for a Maui beach vacation and then were given the opportunity to trek the Himalayas, you would obviously need to repack. You'd swap your swimsuit and flip-flops for parkas and hiking boots. But you'd keep your toothbrush and some of your T-shirts in the bag. That decision-making process is similar to what you need to do when sending people on a development journey. Your first task is to help people understand what's in their skill "suitcase" that can be of value in the new role. Then consider what they might unpack and what they may be missing for the next destination. Here's how Jared thought about helping Sheila pack the right stuff for a new development journey:
Plant manager Jared wanted to move Sheila, the plant controller, one step closer to learning the skills to become a plant manager in the future. His plan? To expand her role to include quality management (QM). This objective worked very well with the QM function's recently adopted approach of empowering frontline supervisors to improve quality. Jared thought about Sheila's biggest strengths: an almost reflexive action to jump in and solve problems independently, and her highly developed skill of digesting and interpreting the numbers. For her new quality management role, Sheila wouldn't need to lean on her number-crunching skills, so that could be left out of her "suitcase." Similarly, she could unpack her skill of solving problems on her own. Sheila would need to add some new skills to her luggage, including superior questioning and listening skills to find out what supervisors needed to learn about quality, developing rapport to gain credibility, and teaching ability to help others understand how to use QM data.
When you are assessing skills to develop your staff, remember that it really helps to push yourself to be specific. Don't just think "communication skills." Get inside that broad notion and identify the behaviors as you have seen people apply them on the job or how you would like to see them applied in an expanded work setting. For example, a better phrasing than "You have poor communications skills" would be "You are good at listening but too wordy in replying to people. To progress in a broader role, you will need to be able to present ideas in a meeting succinctly, without drawing out your explanations."
Articulate What Is to Be Learned, Not Just What Needs to Get Accomplished
The picture of what people need to learn in a new assignment may be clear in your mind. It's less likely that the picture is as clear in their minds. If the lessons inside the assignments are not crystal clear, you run the risk that people will rely heavily on their familiar skills to get the job done and miss the chance to grow new skills. Consider this story about a manager who at first failed to make development goals clear:
Hector was a division VP of a Fortune 100 company who had been tracking Jim, a bright and likable high flyer in the Finance Department, for ten years. Hector liked what he saw. During many assignments on several division and corporate strategic initiatives, Jim consistently turned out innovative ideas and good plans to implement those ideas. Hector quietly identified Jim as his heir apparent. But Jim needed some rounding out, so Hector sent him off to head up the León, Mexico, operation for a couple of years.
At first, Jim focused on making great improvements in the back office rather than dealing with plant operations. He felt that his cultural and language difference might upset the flow. He essentially relied on his plant staff to keep things humming. The locals loved him, and Jim had a sense of pride for having mastered the role of general manager. But Hector saw that Jim had missed the primary learning goal. With some help from his HR partner, Hector acknowledged his fault of not clarifying the development goal and caught his own misstep just in time. On a visit to León, he sat with Jim and clarified what Jim needed to learn from the assignment in order to develop as a GM: how to create a market-based strategy with his staff and then help them align their goals to that strategy. Jim also needed to learn how to lead cross-culturally.
Excerpted from Make Talent Your Business by Wendy Axelrod Jeannie Coyle Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Axelrod and Jeannie Coyle. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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