Development discussions always go better when your employee comes prepared to engage in conversation. We’ve designed this guide to help your team members think more deeply about their development goals and key actions. Give it to them in advance and ask them to bring it with them to ground your development discussion.
Use this Development Discussion Planner to help your employees prepare
Ask your employee to reflect on both their current and desired future roles and answer the following questions.
What strengths would you like to leverage and grow?
Leveraging strengths is a great way to start the discussion. How can you test and build upon these strengths across a variety of contexts? Once the discussion moves to action planning, think about ways you can pair up your team members to help one another.
In what strategic relationships would you like to invest?
Often the most important work to get ready for the next level or a strategic lateral move involves building more influential relationships. Encourage your employees to think about where they need to invest in relationships for their current role, as well as future roles. Who can help champion, sponsor, prepare for, and give them a taste of their desired future?
What challenges are you looking to overcome?
This is an important calibration point. You want to know if they know what’s holding them back. Much better to start with their perspective before adding yours.
What skills would you like to learn or improve?
Our training clients often tell us that they are often surprised by the answer to this question. Giving your employee some time to think about this in advance will lead to a meatier list.
What support do you need?
Ask your employee to come with a specific “ask.” This helps overcome the two most frequent answers to this question, “I don’t know” and “I haven’t thought about it.”
You can’t afford not to develop people – but it doesn’t require hours.
Katrina paced back and forth as she described her problems with customer service and employee retention. “I can’t improve either one, but I don’t have time to develop people.”
“I know I should, but it’s a constant crisis. We’re backed up, missing deadlines left and right, and any time I take for development conversations is costing me on our KPIs.”
You’ll never have enough time. It’s a fact of life – you can’t do everything. I’ve never met a manager who has extra time. It will never happen. The number of things you could do today will always exceed the time you have available to do them.
Even so, developing people tops the list of your leadership responsibilities. When leaders claim they don’t have time to develop people, it usually means they’ve misunderstood their responsibility. Here are common errors in thinking:
I’ve got to take care of the customer now so I can’t take care of the employee.
These aren’t mutually exclusive. Take care of the customer with your team member – not instead of your team member. Investing in your people will help them take care of future situations without your direct help, giving you more time.
HR can handle staff development.
This is a common mistake. Your Human Resource team can support you and your team, make training available, and coordinate grow opportunities, but as a leader, you are the only one who can help your people to grow right now, where they are. There’s no substitute for your leadership and you can’t outsource your team’s growth to someone who isn’t a direct part of their journey.
Developing people takes too long.
Many well-intentioned leaders make this mistake. You might feel like you need an hour to have a deep coaching conversation, but you don’t. You may want to take a couple of non-existent hours to put your thoughts together in a rousing motivational speech that will fuel your team’s performance.
But that’s not how the real world works.
Winning teams aren’t built by a stirring halftime speech; they’re built one micro-engagement at a time.
The Secret to Developing People When You Don’t Have Time
It’s true. Your time is limited. So you’ve got to be laser-focused and make the most of every opportunity. It’s amazing what you can achieve in 30 seconds or less when you’re prepared. This is the secret of micro-engagement – consistent short development wins every time.
Start by knowing what your people need. Use the Confidence-Competence Model to identify who needs encouragement, coaching, more challenge, or training. Don’t waste your time or their attention encouraging someone who needs a challenge or coaching someone who needs encouragement.
Once you know what they need, be on the lookout for a chance to share it. Keep it short, keep it focused – that’s the magic of micro-engagement.
When time is tight, encouraging and challenging competent employees are often the first behaviors managers abandon. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, so take the time to do it. You always have 10 seconds to look someone in the eyes and tell them they did well.
“You had fantastic empathy and patience with that customer. I know it’s not easy when we’re this busy, and you did a great job. Well done.”
“I appreciate the dissenting perspectives you shared – that keeps us thinking and makes sure we don’t make dumb mistakes.”
“You did a masterful job bringing that project in on time. Would you be willing to start our next team meeting with a five-minute overview of how you did it? Some of the newer team members could really benefit from your wisdom.”
“I noticed that you didn’t follow the client’s request on the design specification. What’s going on there?” Assuming it’s not a justified reason: “Okay, rework it to spec and bring it to me by four this afternoon, please.”
“Can I show you a faster way to find that information and solve that problem?”
Effective development conversations happen in the work, not apart from it. Don’t wait for the next retreat, offsite, or performance review to give your people the development feedback they desperately need. Help them grow through the daily interaction you already have.
You don’t have time not to.
Please leave us a comment and share how your favorite way to invest in your people when time is tight.
90 days to transform your team, your leadership, and your results. We’ve got seats available for ACCELERATE 2019. Make this year your best year ever – without leaving your office.
Jack gets very excited this time of year. He stumbles on a perfect gift that he knows EVERYONE on his list must have. It’s clever, and he finds it useful. Convinced his friends and family can no longer live without it, he buys a dozen or so.
Watching the excitement in his eyes, I know it’s not laziness. He’s convinced. The sad part comes when the reaction is not as he hoped. He begins “selling” to inspire excitement. As leaders it’s tempting to take such an approach to employee development. We offer the development that comes naturally.
“People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Development is most meaningful when we leverage our unique gifts with the areas the employee is looking to develop. We won’t be able to fulfill their entire developmental wishlist. That’s okay. Great leaders are developmental matchmakers.
Just the Right Gifts – An Exercise
An easy exercise helps match your gifts with your employee’s needs:
Step 1 – Consider your best leadership gifts. What are you in the best position to give this team member? Write them in the left hand column.
Step 2 – What’s on your team member’s developmental wish list? What do they want (or need) to work on most?
Step 3 – Identify where your strengths and their needs best align.
Interpreting The Results
Green a direct match you can coach (e.g. you’re great at speaking, they want to be a better speaker).
Yellow a nice synergy to partner> (e.g. your a good listener, they want to be a better speaker). Share how you use effective listening in speech preparation, delivery, and in Q&A)
Red, areas to look for additional support. They’ve got a need that you’re not in the best position to support. Work together to brainstorm and identify co-workers, mentors, or coaches who can help.
Call for Submissions: December Frontline Festival, is all about Gifts (widely interpreted).
Submissions due December 13th, post goes live December 20th.
People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
~ Henry Ford
Competent, lazy leaders are dangerous.
“Why fix something that’s working?”
“I was promoted to this position for a reason.”
“I’ve seen this movie before.”
Beware of highly skilled, non-learning leaders.
I Already Know How To Swim
This summer my son, Sebastian, refused to take swimming lessons. Why? Because he “already knows how to swim.” Well, technically, I suppose that’s true. And if he were to fall off a dock, I’d want him to believe it.
REAL leaders inspire confidence while exposing growth opportunities
60 Reasons Leaders Stop Learning
This week, to kick off our last leg of the REAL model, Learning, I’ve been asking leaders across many contexts why leaders stop learning. Here’s the top 60. Don’t fall into these traps. Be deliberate in your learning. If you’re already a great leader, read more closely. Leadership is never handled.
Leaders stop learning when they…
Stop listening (#1 by a landslide)
Stop doing something with what they hear
Have closed minds
Allow talking to become more important than listening
No longer connect with the purpose (#2 answer)
Forget WHY they are doing
Think they’ve accomplished their goal
Get distracted by their own desires or success
Have their own agenda
Let ego get in the way
Think they have all the answers
Have only “past tense” conversations with themselves
Have seen it all before
Are not vulnerable
Create an appearance of being omniscient
Assume they’ve learned everything there is to learn
Stop focusing outward
Believe they’re the accomplishment
Lose their passion
Lose their flow
No longer love what they do
Lost sight of their dreams and goals
Don’t feel energized and inspired
Lose their passion to motivate and influence others
Are afraid to fail
Success becomes more important than growth (my personal favorite)
Are afraid to develop new skills
Are afraid to take risks
Stop believing in their ability to grow
Stop being inquisitive
Stop asking “dumb” questions
No longer encourage feedback and ideas
Fail to connect the dots between where they are and where they want to be
Stop challenging themselves and their team
Can’t measure progress
Stop being creative in their leadership approach
Become resistant to change
Assume they’ve learned everything there is to learn
Aren’t open to possibility
Tasks become more important than people
Believe success comes from control
Stop believing in teamwork
Stop developing their team
Your turn. Leaders stop learning when__________.
Never stop learning.
This post is the first in a series on the 4th branch of the REAL model. Join the conversation, enter your email address to join our interactive, growing leadership community.
For a variety of reasons, many manager/employee relationships stay formal, cordial, and don’t realize their full potential. The conversation stays focused on the work at hand, and hopefully there is some discussion of strengths and development needs, along with a plan to improve on them. There is often real reluctance to go deeper.
Choices, fear, time, professional boundaries. I’ll give you a minute to complete the list____, ____, _____, _____. Real can be scary.
And yet, some relationships seem to bust past the normal conversational fare. The query goes deeper and the outcome is amazing. Real can be vital.
I have debated this with leaders from across a variety of organizations and contexts. My leadership choice is err on the side of going deeper, unless I pick up real signals to the contrary.
5 Real Conversations Worth Having
So you want to go deeper, but you don’t want to cross any inappropriate boundaries. Where do you start? Here are a few topics that open up the door for deeper trust and broader development.
My Big Dream
Most development conversations focus on potential next steps, or the 5 year plan. What other big dreams are your employees holding in their hearts? What do they want to become? What’s on their bucket list? Is there any way to build some related work or skills into their current job? It’s motivating to be working on your big dream, even in baby steps.
What Motivates Me
Just asking is a good start. However, you can also learn a lot through observation. Paying attention can give you insights that will serve as excellent fodder for a deeper dialogue. When do you see them “skipping to work?” A starter “you seem really excited about this project what aspects make it most meaningful for you?”
What Scares Me
This one’s more tricky. And, it’s not on the short list for new relationships. However, as your relationship deepens, getting underneath fear and uncertainty can go a long way in helping someone to grow. Facing fears leads to confidence and competence.
What I Really Need from You
An important one to ask from the beginning of a new relationship. The trick is to keep asking as the relationship matures.You will likely get a more real answer as the trust increases.
What Matters To Me More Than This Job?
Really? Yup. I wouldn’t ask it just that way but what do they care deeply about their children? their church? their hobbies? their aging parents? their health? Knowing what really matters is vital. A little knowledge can go a long way in making you a more supportive leader.
These conversations evolve over time and won’t work best in one sitting, but bringing them in gently as the relationship evolves can go a long way to building trust, development and inspiring best work.
I was intrigued by the recent article by Scott Edinger in HBR Blog Network, Why Remote Workers are More Engaged. He shares research that shows that remote workers are more engaged, and rate their leadership more highly. His article sparked a flurry of comments and debate, including questions of limited sample size and statistical significance. Despite the skeptics, I have not been able to get this conversation out of my brain. Why, Because my experience is that long distance leadership can be very engaging and achieve fantastic results.
I have been working in long-distance leadership situations for almost 2 decades. I have led many highly dispersed teams. For most of my career I have not worked in the same state as my boss. Although Edinger’s research spoke to those working at home (I have also lead folks in that situation, and have worked from home at certain points in my career), I think the debate raises important conversation for any leader not working side-by-side with their teams on a daily basis.
In fact, in my current role, I am leading my most remote team ever. I am leading a team dispersed across the country in over 20 states and every time zone. It’s tricky. I spend much time on airplanes, and I am never “there” as much as I would like. And, I would argue this is one of my most engaged teams ever. They are on fire with results, are passionate about the work, and care deeply about one another.
And so, I offer my opinion on the “are remote workers more engaged” debate. No statistics. Just lots of personal experience and a track record of making long distance leadership work.
Why Long Distance Leadership Works
Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have
Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong
It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder
When teams are together they work hard to create relationships and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances
Absence makes the heart grow fonder– remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction
They make better use of tools and technology
They listen more closely because they are not distracted by the daily noise
Behaviors that Support Long Distance Leadership
Select a fantastic team, carefully with a track record of self-direction
Have a dramatic vision and crystal-clear goals
Communicate that vision and goals loudly in every medium you have available
Celebrate success loudly and frequently
Show up face to face, more than is practical
Be deliberate in helping the team to know you as a human being– distance can be scary, it helps if the team can see you as a real person
Be silly and fun remote teams need to laugh and know it is okay to have fun
Have a scheduled check-in pattern so no one gets left out
Get really good at situational leadership– understand who needs what and give it to them
Admit mistakes, it helps to encourage risk-taking and creativity
Are you a Long Distance Leader? Please share your comments. What have you found works best in managing remote teams?
I am delighted to be included in Dan McCarthy’s Leadership Carnival. I have enjoyed reading some fantastic posts included here from some insightful leadership bloggers. I encourage you to check it out.
Sometimes leadership is just about creating an open-space and getting out-of-the-way.
I love using Open-Space Technology with a large group to generate ideas. It’s an amazing, high-energy, low-cost way to hold a powerful meeting. Participants essentially create their own agenda and self-organize into groups to discuss topics that matter to them. Although it’s useful to have a trained facilitator help with the effort, I have found it works just fine with the leader serving both as host and organizer.
“We have discovered, through countless pointed lessons, that there is precisely one way to mess up an Open-Space and only one way. And that is to think that you are in charge of what happens, or worse yet, to act that way. Truthfully, the facilitator has little if anything of a substantive nature to contribute. No fixes, no interventions or at least not of an obvious sort. For a brief time at the beginning, the facilitator holds center stage (literally), and then it is essential to get out-of-the-way.”
~ Harrison Owen, Founder of Open-Space Technology
Open Space in Action: One Example
Last week, I held an Open-Space Meeting with over 100 participants discussing the topic: How Can We Be More Influential Leaders?
We started in a big circle, set up the process and guiding principles and we were off (see resource links in the post for more how-tos). WIthin 15 minutes we had generated 18 fascinating topics to be discussed throughout the next 3 hours in concurrent sessions. Team members stepped up to own and facilitate topics. Participants could move freely from session to session. The conversation was robust. We then ended back in the circle where each participant-turned facilitator shared highlights from the conversation and next steps.
The topics were an interesting mix of leadership development, business-processes, how-tos, and best practice sharing. Some topics were inspired by challenges, others by success. Some chose to teach and share, while others chose to facilitate through lots of questions. We ended with many ideas and actionable next steps.
The spirit and the energy in the room was palpable. This was a group inspired to change things.
Why it Worked
I asked the team why it worked. Here’s some of the thinking:
I had a chance to think about the topic I would share in advance, and I came prepared with some ideas on how to facilitate the discussion
I chose a topic that I was passionate about it was cool to see how many others shared that same interest
We got to talk about exactly what we needed to, with the people we needed to
It was intriguing to see where the interest was which topics attracted the biggest following.
Now we know what matters most to our organization for future work
It was cool to see how many people in our remote group are all sharing the same experiences.
I found kindred spirits
I was heard
Some fantastic ideas were shared that I can take back and use immediately
Even though only a few people showed up to my session, we got started on some important work and I have already set up a follow-up conference call to build on our actions
A Leader’s Perspective
Our topic of “Influence” lent itself well to this technique. By stepping back as the leader and providing space for the conversation to emerge, I could model some of the most important parts of influence– listening and understanding. The team became the teachers. The spirit of this exercise can be translated in other ways as they go back to their daily work and provide influence in those environments.
We also set this up in advance as an important developmental opportunity for the team. Open-space sessions are a gentle and friendly way to practice facilitation and public speaking. I was delighted with the preparation and delivery of the team.
I was inspired by the opportunity to travel freely from session to session as a participant. It’s great to experience such inspired thought leadership from people at all levels and roles within the organization. If I had built the agenda myself, I would have overlooked some of the most popular topics.
Leaders work hard to build confidence in their teams.
They know that building confident teams and people is vital to success.
Confident team members are more creative, communicate more effectively,
and take more risks.
Plus, it’s easier to delegate to a confident person.
Sometimes the very actions leaders take to create confidence, can backfire. How does what was meant to be a confidence-builder become a confidence buster? It’s a matter of depth.
Here are a few ways well-intentioned leaders destroy confidence (from the follower’s point of view):
1. Give me a new big task, because you believe in me
… but don’t give me enough support to succeed
2. Tell me I am doing great
…with no details as to what is working
3. Recognize what I do at work
… and ignore who I am and what I am accomplishing on the sidelines
4. View me as a specialist
… and overlook my creative ideas and what I could contribute to the bigger picture
5. Stay calm, cool, and collected
… and show no emotion around my big wins
The common thread through all of these well-intentioned actions is how much the leader invests. Building confidence requires exploring deeply with someone. Understanding what they are most proud of and building on that through specific opportunities, feedback and recognition.
It also involves getting into the muck, working a few levels below the obvious insecurity to understand what scares them, and helping them to overcome those fears one step at a time.
With subtle shifts in approach, leaders can build on their positive intentions, and work to create stronger, more-confident followers.
In my earlier post, Don’t Get a Mentor, I talked about my preference for finding a mentor organically rather than waiting for formal programs. On the other hand, throughout the years, my favorite formal programs have always been in the form of circles.
These are groups with a leader as guide and a small group of people learning together. I have experience with this in 2 contexts: (1) as a formal HR program and (2) as skip level development for my own teams. Both informal, with lots of options for customization.
In this context we paired execs with cross-functional groups of leaders learning together. This structure helped to create a space for natural relationships to occur and if someone did not necessarily click with their mentor, they might develop a cool relationship with one or more of their peers. We did all this in-house, at very low-cost. We gave the groups tools, but also lots of latitude to do what worked for them. Each group was given an action learning project (a real problem to solve) which worked quite well.
My internet research shows that there are a lot of companies offering support for this online these days. I would love to hear comments from anyone using these programs and the success that they have had.
With My Own Team
Over the years, I have had a lot of fun running mentoring circles in my own teams. I do this as a skip level experience, giving me an opportunity to get to know 8-10 high potential managers by working together. I always start with teaching them about “elevator speeches”, and having them create one. Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.
We talk about the business and we all share the challenges we are having and share best practices. The fun begins when we take field trips to struggling areas of the business and offer support. We also do a project together to give back to the business. I have found that these circles (called various names, usually “academies” or “leagues”), are a great way for me and my team to share our vision, work on work, and really get to know the managers in a deeper way. An added win is having a direct report involved with this as part of their leadership experience. I have seen a good track record of successful promotions coming out of these scenes.
Of course, some would argue it’s not “mentoring” if it is your own chain of command. Perhaps.
Please share your stories of mentoring circles. I would love to learn more.
First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).
Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.
If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.
Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.
Some questions to consider in your preparation:
Why are you here? Why them?
What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
What worries you most open up a bit
Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?