10 Powerful Ways to Develop Your Employees

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By: Blend Images/John Lund/Vetta/Getty Images

Published 9/15/2014

Investing in the development of employees is the most important and rewarding thing a manager can do. Yet for some reason, it’s often the last thing on a manager’s “to do” list.

Why is it so important? From a purely selfish perspective, when you develop employees, they become smarter, more productive, higher performers, and ultimately, make the manager look like a rock star. It helps with recruiting and retaining the best employees, and it allows you to delegate so you can focus on what you’re being paid to do, or even take a vacation now and then.



Most importantly, it’s rewarding! It’s what leadership is all about – making a difference in the lives of others.

Most managers have good intentions – they want to be known as a developmental manager, but there’s often a huge gap between the “should do” and the “do.” In many cases, managers just don’t know how.

If that sounds like you, then here’s ten ways to get started:

1. Start with yourself.

Before you can credibly and effectively develop others, you should develop yourself first. Otherwise, you’ll come across as an arrogant hypocrite who looks at development as being needed for everyone else, but not yourself. Shaping behavior starts with role modeling – and it also helps you learn how to get damn good at development.

2. Establish a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Employees need to know that a development discussion isn’t just a sneaky way to get an employee to admit their weaknesses.

See 12 Ways for Leaders to Build a Solid Foundation of Trust with Their Employees.

3. Turn your weekly meetings into learning opportunities.

Development isn’t a once or twice a year event, or something you send your employees to HR or a training class. See guest post by Beth Armknecht Miller: Talent Obsession Weekly to learn how.

4. Ask questions.

Coaching questions force the employee to think and figure it out for himself or herself. Questions can also be used after an assignment or event, as a way to reflect back on lessons learned and cement the new knowledge or skills. See 70 Awesome Coaching Questions Using the GROW Model.

5. Delegate.

Most managers are doing stuff that they are good at and/or like to do, but really shouldn’t be doing. When told they should delegate, they’re willing to dump the mundane stuff they don’t like doing, but unwilling to let go of the good stuff. Letting go of these responsibilities and using them as a way to develop your employees is a win-win.
Don’t expect your employee to do things the same way you did them. Remember, chances are, when you learned to do it, no one was holding your hand every step of the way with detailed instructions. Sure, they may fall and skin their knees know and then, but that’s how we learn.

6. Give stretch assignments.

Other than a job change, stretch assignments are hands down the best way to learn and develop. As a manager, you’re in a position to look for opportunities to offer to your employees that are aligned with their development needs and career aspirations.

It’s not about picking the most qualified person for the assignment – it’s about picking the right developmental assignment for the person.

7. Make networking introductions.

Managers are often in a position to make introductions, open doors, and connect employees to role models, subject matter experts, and mentors. What if you’re not already well-connected? Then see number one, and start with yourself.

8. Feedback.

We all have behavioral blind spots. A manager is often the person who can tactfully help an employee see a weakness that’s getting in the way of his or her effectiveness or advancement.

See A Proactive Approach to Tough Feedback.

9. Help navigate organizational politics and culture.

Help your employees learn that “politics” isn’t a dirty word; it’s the way things get done in organizations. Job shadowing and role playing are two ways to teach the ins and outs of being politically savvy.

10. Be willing to spend real money.

Last, but not least, support your employee’s developmental goals with training, conferences, coaches, and other tangible resources. A good training program, while not a substitute for all of the above, can include many of the items above and turbocharge your efforts.