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Developing people – why bother?

When you hire people, you want to find the best person for the job. Usually that involves experience and the right candidates will have a great mix of relevant skills developed in similar roles. Then they join you. So are you going to continue developing their skills or just ask them to repeat the same tasks over and over? If you do not develop people, will that cause any problems for you?

My heart sinks when I see a paper appraisal form that refers to development areas. So often it is an annual exercise and any planned actions get delayed, if they happen at all. Developing people doesn’t happen by magic. You need to pick an area, work out the best way to tackle it and stick to it until you get the planned results.

The best approach is to look at it from both sides: what do you need and what does the employee want? For example, you may need someone to step up and be involved in searching out new business, meeting prospective clients and screening potential opportunities. Do you think you have someone who could do that, if you work with them in these areas, and are they likely to be interested? If it is a business area that the employee has no interest in, then investing time for development might not work.

From the employee’s point of view, what do they want to do over time that they are not doing today? Is it realistic and is it something you can see them doing? Is it a good fit with your business? Is it also a way to stop them getting bored and leaving your company? The best example is career progression: are they hoping for a promotion to become a manager at some point? In that case, you could consider working on areas that would make them a great candidate when that happens, such as anything that gives them experience supervising people – perhaps through projects as a team leader.

Once you have captured the concept, you need to act on the details: what is the likely timescale and who is going to help with developing the employee? I always advise pinning down the end result: how will you know that it worked? What difference in skills or behaviour will you expect to see? For methods, relying on developing people in the workplace can be effective but slow, so you need to consider how realistic that is compared to any external training. How much time will you commit to this or are you likely to have to abandon the planned training when things are busy?

Realistic expectations are critical here: making it clear that someone will develop through exposure to a new area might be a more successful approach than promising training and then saying a year later that you just never had time to do anything about it. Avoid damaging your credibility by over-promising what you can offer.

Ultimately, the difference is between a company culture where your people grow and take on new skills or a role-based culture where people’s jobs do not change, from the day they join your company to the day they leave.