Like flossing your teeth and testing your smoke detectors monthly, regular staff development is one of those things many of us intend to do, but often allow to fall by the wayside. When there are dozens of conflicting priorities it's easy to blow off that coaching meeting, and your staff are often all too happy to oblige, as time with the boss is often a dreaded event.
However, your team is likely the place where the actual work gets done today, and is the best source of future managers and leaders tomorrow. It may not seem like it in the moment, but an hour spent developing your staff is probably one of the best ways to spend your time in the long term. Here are some tips for developing your staff.
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1. Just do it
With apologies to the famous sneaker company for borrowing their slogan, half the battle of tasks like staff development is making it a priority and then executing on it. To that end, take the time to book dedicated slots on your calendar for staff development, both for regular face-to-face meetings with each individual, as well as an hour or two each week to plan that person's development. This time might include identifying training opportunities that are relevant, or calling people outside your group that the staff member works with soliciting feedback. Taking time to seriously plan your interactions will make them significantly more effective.
2. Focus on building strengths rather than mitigating weaknesses
Try to help your staff identify activities that they enjoy and are good at, and focus their development energies on these areas. You'll create more engaged and more effective staff if they can amplify their strengths rather than spend months trying to become competent in an activity they find unpleasant. Of course, there are some activities that are unavoidable or not relevant for the job they currently occupy, but each employee likely has a different set of unique talents that they can develop and use to grow their careers.
SEE: Tips for building and advancing your leadership career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
3. Remember that your employees may not want to follow your path
One mistake I see many leaders make is assuming that others want to follow the same path that got them to their position. For example, a strong technical focus might have helped you achieve your current position, and it may be tempting to emphasize similar skill development for your staff. However, this might be difficult advice for someone who is passionate about project management. Just as you should help staff build upon their strengths, avoid forcing them to follow in your footsteps rather than chart their own course. You can certainly share hard-earned lessons and tips from your career, but present these as a perspective rather than a prescription.
SEE: How to build a successful project manager career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
4. Gather objective feedback
Depending on how your company is structured, you may not regularly work with the staff you're helping develop, or may have mentors or people you help develop who don't directly report or regularly interact with you. In this case, it's important that you do a bit of detective work, and try to speak with multiple people who have worked with the person in question. Avoid taking one person's feedback and basing all your guidance on that single data point. Rather, try to speak with multiple people and perform your own observations in order to identify trends that you can share with your staff.
5. Don't overload your staff
It can be tempting to offer a veritable buffet of coaching to staff, especially those who are new to your company or earlier in their careers. While your intentions are good, offering more than two or three development areas is almost as bad as offering no advice at all, and it creates stress and confusion in your staff as they try to develop in so many areas that they ultimately don't appreciably develop in any of them. Even if there are multiple development needs, try to identify the low hanging fruit first, and spend a month or two focused on that area with your staff. Once they show progress, move on to the next development area. Ideally, some intelligent sequencing can mitigate multiple issues.
SEE: IT Jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF) (ZDNet/TechRepublic special report)
If nothing else, take the time to be more thoughtful as you develop your staff. If you feel like this is an area where you've lost focus, merely carving out dedicated time for staff development can be a great start, and if you're already making progress, hopefully a tip or two will take your efforts to the next level.
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Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.