Secret No. 1: Focus on strengths not weaknesses (unless of course you want mediocrity)
For too long now, there has been a school of thought which suggests that people development is about eradicating weaknesses. In some companies, they are even called ‘areas for development’. However, by focusing on the negative, surely we encourage a workforce of mediocrity? Wouldn’t our efforts be more richly rewarded by further developing peoples’ strengths and unleashing their unique talents?
You can do this by ensuring that the jobs you design, the training you offer and the coaching and mentoring you provide focus on building strengths.
That is not to say weaknesses should be ignored and allowed to fester. Quite the contrary, they should be highlighted and understood so that practical ‘workarounds’ can be found, such as re-assigning parts of a job to others who have greater skill in that area.
Secret No.2: Lead by Example
It is well known that the environment in which people work has a measurable impact on their performance.
As the owner/MD of the business, what you do (i.e. how you behave) sets the culture and climate for your business. You’ll only need to look at the impact people like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Alan Sugar and Anita Roddick have on their organizations for proof of that.
It’s probably worth, then, taking a moment to consider what you are doing to deliberately and purposefully create the culture which will enable your staff to deliver at their best. You might even want to get soundings from your employees, customers and suppliers to find out what words they use to describe the culture and how this impacts their experience of your company. Then, take a look at your own behaviour and see what you are currently doing that supports this.
Armed with this wealth of information, commit to taking action.
Secret No.3: Recruit for attitude
We are all familiar with the distinction that is made between technical skills (such as computer literacy, accountancy skills etc), and so-called ‘soft’ skills (such as team work, interpersonal skills etc). Is one set more important than the other? By the very fact that they are called ‘soft’ skills suggests they are in some way less important than technical ability, and certainly that is often reflected in the way in which people make recruitment decisions. Is this, though, the best way?
Faced with the two candidates below, who would you rather employ?
A seasoned engineer who has several years experience of the piece of software he would be using. During the interview, he is unable to give examples of how he goes about building good working relations with colleagues. Equally, he doesn’t express any interest in his own development, favouring instead to just get on with the job in hand.
An individual who has only recently started to learn about the piece of software she would be responsible for. However, she has a good track record of learning about and then using other software. To date she has taken an active interest in developing both herself and others. She’s keen to ensure that she fits in well with the team and gave some good ideas about how she could ensure that this happens.
Our preferred choice would be Candidate Two. Whilst Candidate One is most likely to be able to ‘hit the ground running’, how long would it before problems arise from his apparent lack of interpersonal skills? Also, as the company’s needs change, how willing will he be to adapt and learn?
Candidate Two may require more help in the early days to learn the technical aspects of her role. However, given her willingness to learn, and her ability to form good working relationships, this should not be a problem. Recruiting for growth is something to keep in mind in all recruitment campaigns and Candidate Two’s flexibility, will serve the company better in the medium to long run.
Secret No. 4: Remove the blinkers
All too often when recruiting people, we filter out the skills which, at the time, don’t seem relevant. As time passes by and your business develops, the needs of the job may change. Also, it’s likely that your employees have developed new skills which you may be unaware of.
To help uncover these hidden talents, a great question to ask your employees is:
“What skills and capabilities do you have which we don’t currently use?”
By asking this question, perhaps during appraisals, new possibilities will emerge.
Secret No.5: Promote for future success, not past successes
When you employ someone who consistently demonstrates good technical ‘know-how’, always gets the job done and is regularly dreaming up new ways to improve processes, the temptation is to promote them to manager. Wait! Be sure they possess the skills and capabilities that are needed to be a good manager; that is, being able to control, direct and organize the work of others whilst keeping them motivated. Simply because someone is good at technical aspects of their job, doesn’t automatically equip them with these essential ‘people’ skills.
Whenever you promote someone be as vigorous in your selection process as you would be if you were recruiting externally. If development gaps emerge, be certain that the skills required are ones which can be learned AND the employee wants to develop them.
If the individual isn’t right for the job, find other, more appropriate ways to recognize their hard work and the skills in which they do excel.
Secret No.6: Use cost-effective but effective training
One of the most cost effective ways of developing staff is ‘on the job’ training. For the impact of this to be truly enduring, encourage more experienced employees to use a coaching approach. By doing this, they will encourage the more junior employees to think for themselves, and so they will be more likely to remember what they need to do next time, and will take ownership of the task itself.
This contrasts to being told what to do which means the employee is likely to forget what they need to do next time they are faced with the problem. This will mean coming back time and time again for instructions – a waste of everybody’s time.
Useful coaching questions include:
- “How would you go about the task?”
- “What options have you considered?”
- “What alternatives do you see?”
- “Reflecting on what you learned from doing this before, what would you do differently next time?”
Secret No.7: Completing the jigsaw
When recruiting a new person to an existing team, give due consideration to how the skills and qualities of the new recruit will impact on the performance of the team as a whole.
Along with observation and performance reviews there are also many robust techniques available for assessing team capabilities and balance (e.g. Myers Briggs Type Indicator). If the results of the assessment reveal that the existing team has a tendency to think up great ideas, but regularly runs out of steam before the job is done, consider recruiting someone who likes to see things through to the end. If the existing team often get so immersed in detail that they fail to see the ‘wood for the trees’, select someone who likes to see the big picture.
Essential in this mix, is to explain the recruitment choice to the team members so they understand the reasons for your selection and they can start to value the contribution the new member will bring.