The Perils of Having No “Bench” | An Employee Development Rationale

Management talks about it. They get HR to develop programs for it. They study methods at other companies and its merits for them. And then it dies!

What is it? Succession planning and employee development! Two all-important efforts to get the right people ready to take on higher levels of responsibility when the need arises.

Wanting to isn’t enough!

Management has good intentions but somehow can’t turn them into sustainable efforts. It’s understandable. Developing people is messy. We aren’t like a building, a profit and loss report, or a new product. Those things are tangible.

Getting people ready to advance is about behaviors, interactions, and change. People take a few steps forward and them a couple back. Helping us build our skills and knowledge takes patience, insights, and teaching.

The employee development process isn’t all that satisfying at the beginning for anyone. We prefer quick fixes. So we can tire easily of the development process.

Giving up is perilous. 

Having no bench can be costly in more ways than you’d think. Your employees expect you to lead. That means making sure that you have future leaders in mind to sustain the culture they work in or to transition the culture into something better.

Employees know when you have no plan to develop the good people around them. They fear the empty bench because they know that only turmoil follows when you have an unanticipated vacancy.

Way too many organizations do this:

  • Think about succession planning when time has run out and people are getting ready to leave
  • Figure they’ll just go “outside” to fill a vacancy, even though bringing in a new face means unsettling the chemistry of the organization and  lost productivity that often goes with it
  • Abdicate their responsibility to develop people from within because they don’t understand the value or don’t know how 

Every organization needs to revisit their real commitment to employee development because it’s simply good for the business, not just the employee.

Keep your head out of the sand. 

Employee development is often done poorly because management:

  • Doesn’t forecast future needs
  • Is comfortable with the players they have in place
  • Is unable to assess talent confidently
  • Believes that they can’t afford the costs
  • Have a self-centered “what’s in it for me” attitude 

Managing expectations around development is important, and many employees aren’t focused on their part in this effort either.

They often see their development as a job perk, an entitlement. They expect the business to:

  • Tell them what and how they need to develop, providing opportunities
  • Pay for training classes and conference attendance
  • Orchestrate job growth and promotions 

Employees sometimes forget that working for a company is a business deal. It’s in both the company’s and the employees shared interest for the employee to increase his/her capabilities.

How a bench is built!

All good bench building is collaborative. When it comes to employee development, here’s the model:

We, as employees, must own and execute our own growth because our capabilities become our career currency. We will use it to position ourselves for promotions within or outside with other companies.

Management must support the development of its employees by developing growth plans with them, providing feedback, mentoring, and offering opportunities. Their job is to support and ours is to engage.

No bench. No sense. 

You’d never see a professional baseball team without a minor league system from which to rehab and develop players. That’s because the bench in baseball is their ticket to immediate and future success. So why would a business not follow that model? Beats me!

The private and public smart moves that build your business fitness are the formula for managing your own development and influencing your company to support you. First we warm the bench and then we get to play. Now, go ahead and hit one out of the park!

What kind of employee development has had the biggest impact on your career? Or how has a “benchless” company you know paid the price? I love hearing from you!

Think You’re Not Good Enough? Look Around! | Evolving Self-Confidence

I often hear this: “I don’t have enough:

  • experience for that job
  • knowledge to lead a team
  • years with the company to advance
  • know-how to start my own business.” 

Exactly, who says we aren’t good enough? Most of the time, we’re the guilty party.

Doubt is our enemy.

Negative self-talk is often riddled with self-doubt. We look at what others are achieving, compare ourselves, and question whether we have what it takes. We self-assess against standards that we invent before we know what the real expectations are.

Self-confidence is as much about being willing to explore an opportunity as it is about being able to execute an assignment. All too often, we worry about our ability to do a job before we understand what it is.

Doubt cannot be allowed to rule.  

The antidote to doubt is reality. Not some “reality” you imagine but the reality that exists.

Start by looking around. Who is doing the work that you think you’re “not good enough” to do as well or better?

Look hard and long at those people. Watch exactly what they do and say. Pay attention to the actual results they produce. Examine their work closely. Find out what others are saying about it.

Then ask yourself, “Can I produce work like that or better?”  My guess is that, in most cases, your answer will be, “Sure.”

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you know that I spent many years as a commercial horse breeder. I knew nothing about it when I started.

Before I bought my farm, I had doubts about whether or not I could care for horses on my own since I’d had no knowledge or experience. The owner of the barn where I’d been boarding warned me, “You could kill those horses if you don’t feel ‘em right.” That rocked me.

Then I stopped to think about her and the other people I’d met who were in the horse business. I asked myself, “Is there any reason to believe that the people in this business are smarter than I am? Do I have good people to advise me when I have questions?” The answers were obvious.

Self-confidence is not arrogance. 

Arrogance is when you act like you know everything. Self-confidence is about believing in yourself. It builds courage, keeps you moving forward in spite of setbacks, and enables you to seize opportunities to grow.

You find self-confidence by looking positively at yourself, acknowledging what you can do. You build self-confidence by testing your capabilities.

The biggest mistake we make is telling ourselves that we have to be the best at something before we are “entitled” to be self-confident. In fact, we just have to be as good as the situation requires.

Role models are everywhere. 

If your self-confidence is a bit shaky, it’s time to look around and see who’s out there doing what you want to do with capabilities similar to yours. In the past four months, I watched these two confidence-building situations unfold:

1.) A Gen Y college grad, who hated her job, started a blog, made professional on-line contacts, was recognized for her writing talents, started freelancing, and just got a full-time job.

2.) An experienced marketing professional was downsized, couldn’t find another job, talked to independent contractors about how they worked, informally looked for clients, blogged about her “start up” experiences, got great advice, opened an office, and saw her business start to grow.

Self-confidence evolves. Every step you take helps you build your truly capable self. You can mentor, volunteer to lead a team, give speeches, deliver training, start a hobby business, or cover a temporary vacancy at work.

Every step you take to become business fit builds your self-confidence. If you haven’t had a chance to learn the seven smart moves, perhaps now’s the time. Your self-confidence is your success engine. Without it, we don’t move very far or very fast. Vroooom!

How has your self-confidence been tested? What were you able to do to overcome your doubts and move ahead? Thanks for helping out!

Who’s Got Your Back? You Need to Know!| The Essential Internal Network

You’ve got a decent job, a reasonable boss, and nice co-workers. You do good work, get good performance evaluations, and don’t make waves. All’s well, right? Well, maybe not.

Businesses are volatile places. The good times and the bad times don’t last forever, but a lot can happen during those transitions. No job is guaranteed to last, so getting comfy in your daily work routine isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not about “who you know” but “who knows you.” 

Relationships are the underpinning of successful careers.

Businesses are transactional. When there’s a nod in your favor, it means that your work benefits both the nodder (your manager) and the business. More often than not, the first thing noticed about you is your work style, attitude, and ability to collaborate. The work you produce comes next. When both are good, you attract the attention you want.

If, however, your visibility is minimal, your chance for growth is stymied. (Unfortunately, there are some supervisors who like to keep talented employees under the radar for their own selfish purposes.) So it’s important to become known outside of your work group.

Relationships are your lifeline. 

Productive relationships move your forward and draining ones slow you down. So it’s important to find people who share your work values and commitments. Then form a proper business relationship and become mutually supportive.

Nothing beats having well-regarded people in other departments talking about their positive experiences with you. Nothing beats advanced notice or insights into upcoming changes courtesy of your connections. Nothing beats someone tipping you off that there’s a problem afoot that involves you.

Why would your connections want to do that for you? Because they value what you bring to the company and to them.

People have your back because they recognize that you are committed, caring, smart, helpful, dependable, ethical, and reliable. They want and need you in their midst because people like you keep the business going.  

A strong internal network is your success ticket.

Internal networking is not about making a list of people to meet and then checking their names off when you’ve met them. It’s about connecting with other people who can expand your understanding of the business. Ultimately, what you offer each other is broader insight into “what’s really going on” around you.

You need to be strategic about the way you build your internal network:

  • Start by looking at the work you’re accountable for and ask yourself, “What insights am I lacking? Who can help me fill in the blanks?”
  • Then write down the questions or discussion items that you’d like to talk about with specific people outside your work group.
  • Arrange for a time to talk to each person.
  • Commit to how you will follow up and keep the dialogue going. 

Here’s what can result from those conversations over time:

  • Deeper insights into how the business operates and its challenges
  • Understanding of the pressures and problems stirring in other departments
  • The inside track about changes, new initiatives, and competitive opportunities
  • A wholistic perspective on issues facing the company
  • The possibility of attracting a mentor for yourself 

Where does this get you? 

Internal networking demonstrates that you care about the company as a whole, not just the interests of your work group. Your efforts to get a handle on the big picture, your appreciation for work done in other areas, and your desire to use your talents to make the right things happen will make you a standout.

Business fitness means staying connected (a private move) and attracting a following (a public move). Internal networking gets you both and a great group of people who will now know you in the best way. It’s a thing of beauty!

Have you tried internal networking? How has it worked for you? Any tips to share?

Employees Underperforming? Get Their Attention! | Supervise for Accountability

Work’s piling up. You’re worn out. Finally, you get the okay to hire.  You’re pumped. Relief is in sight. Truth is: Employees are work. Actually, they’re your job.

Employees, especially new ones,  mean that you’re faced with:

  • Job orientation and training
  • “What do I do now” questions
  • Reluctance to make decisions when you’re not around
  • “I didn’t think that was my job” disclaimers 

So where’s your relief? You’re not totally free of the work you hired for, because it’s still in your head, and the people you hired to do it feel like an added burden.

Take heart. The time you invest developing your employees will deliver big rewards.

Be clear about employee accountabilities. 

The biggest mistake is hiring people to complete a string of tasks. Look at your job descriptions. My guess is that they describe responsibilities, duties, and/or tasks.

If you want employees to lighten your load and add value to your business, hold them accountable for results. That means the tasks/duties they complete must be the means to the ends that you need.

Here’s how you link tasks and accountabilities (also referred to as results or outcomes):

  • Process customer claims (task) within 48 hours, ensuring a positive interactive experience for the customer (result)
  • Maintain product inventory (task), ensuring availability to meet monthly demand (result)
  • Market services to clients (task), averaging 5% conversion to sales monthly (result)
  • Complete administrative reports (task) within the first 5 days of the new month (result) 

Employees need to know what they are expected to contribute to the success of the business. It’s not just about being busy doing tasks. It’s about doing work that counts.

The next big question, of course, is: “How do supervisors and business owners motivate employees to do their best work?”

Being “in” on things matters most. 

Repeatedly, studies have been done on what motivates employees. We always think that must be money, but it isn’t. Actually, we all want to feel like we’re important enough to be in the know.

Supervisors who want to bring out the best in their employees share relevant information and make them part of what’s going on.

They can pump up the motivation and ability of employees to do their “best” when they:

  • Engage employees in decision-making about things that will affect them (i.e., scheduling, work processes, equipment purchases, working conditions)
  • Involve them in the root cause analysis of work that “went wrong” (i.e., customer problems, accidents, equipment failure, miscommunications)
  • Ask them for ideas, innovations, and insights (i.e., new products, procedures, work processes)
  • Give them visibility with customers, vendors, suppliers, and management
  • Take them to see similar business operations in other companies or to visit departments they impact in their own company
  • Give them business cards, reminding them that they are representatives of the company and impact its brand

 Talk to your employees. 

Reinforce each employee’s accountabilities monthly. That means a face-to-face dialogue about:

  • how they are doing
  • what they may be uncertain about
  • how ready they are to take on more responsibilities
  • what help they need from you, and
  • what they can do to get better 

This is where the two of you talk about your expectations and how you can  support to each other. It is not a performance review;  it a conversation.

Becoming the “best” is a team effort. 

Setting the bar attainably high is the best thing you can do for your business and your employees. Employees who think they’re being set up for failure won’t make the effort. Those who believe their supervisor is counting on them to succeed will knock themselves out to deliver. If that isn’t the case, then that employee is the wrong fit and may need to move on.

Supervisors who use the smart moves for achieving business fitness with their employees create an individual development culture that delivers success all around. Nothing beats an employee team making it happen!

What approaches have you experienced that helped employees become their “best”?  What made them work? Any cautions? Thanks.