This article was based on episode 015 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
The decision to invest in your employees can be one of the smartest decisions you make as a manager. When you allocate money, time, or energy to an employee’s growth, the benefits for them, for you, and for your business can be profound.
COST NOW, BENEFIT LATER
Of course, few successes come without some sort of sacrifice. When we invest, we “allocate money (or sometimes another resource, such as time) in the expectation of some benefit in the future.” As with a financial investment, investing in people means looking at the long-term benefits that come from shorter term sacrifices.
Let's consider the two elements, cost now and benefit later, when investing in employees. The cost can be in a variety of forms: the employee’s time engaged in growth activities, your time supporting her, the organization’s money to cover fees, the lost productivity during the learning curve, etc. There’s also an element of risk. For example, will the employee devote himself to learning and applying the new skills? Will he remain with the company so together we reap the benefits of his growth? Will the rewards ultimately justify the cost?
Both the employee and the manager stand to benefit from investing in growth. The employee can learn new skills, improve his results, and/or accomplish new results that serve his professional life. She can advance her career and stay challenged and engaged in her work. (Training and development also are great employee retention strategies.) The employee may feel more empowered and rely on you less for guidance, freeing up more of your time. As a manager, you may have the opportunity to delegate more responsibilities to the employee and open up new options for types of work. Both of you will benefit from the employee’s improved abilities and results.
Investing in your employees requires that you put in the capital now to enable growth - even if it affects your time, revenue, or short-term productivity.
DETERMINE HOW TO INVEST IN EMPLOYEES
You may be unsure how to best invest in the different people on your team. To guide you, use this framework created by leadership consultants Mike Figliuolo and Victor Prince. Figliuolo and Prince have identified five measurables to consider. Ask yourself:
Quantity of result: Does your employee produce the expected output?
Quality of results: Is the work that your employee produces of a high quality?
Timeliness of results: Does the employee meet deadlines or not?
Morale building: How does the employee contribute to a positive, collaborative team experience?
Relationship: How does the employee improve relationships with stakeholders inside and outside of their team?
By evaluating each employee along these lines, you will begin to identify an employee’s specific areas for growth. Consider questions such as these:
Do they need to be more efficient? Is it about skill and capability or time management?
Do they need to increase the quality of their work by developing skills or increasing knowledge?
Do they need to work on executive functioning skills like breaking down big projects or keeping track of key information?
Do they need to pay more attention to their emotional behavior, like how they express frustration or manage stress? Do they need to improve their work-life balance?
Do they need to be more focused on how they work with others in terms of communication style or information sharing?
Remember that it’s not just up to you! Talk openly with your employees about their goals and challenges. Ask them what specific skills they want to improve and what they need to learn in order to advance their career. Use this free mini-guide to help your team member and yourself reflect, brainstorm and plan for their growth. (The full guide is available on Patreon when you join the Modern Manager Community.)
You can get a sense of a person's self-awareness by listening to their responses to the reflection questions. Help them grow by sharing your honest feedback. You can be both prescriptive about what you want for them and flexible by taking their ideas into consideration.
Investments on an individual level
After you’ve identified some areas for potential growth and spoken with your team member about it, decide together on appropriate investments. Try one of these ways to invest in employees on an individual level:
Give them a stretch project which falls outside of their typical duties and requires them to learn new skills.
Pay for them to take a course or attend a conference, or reimburse their school tuition. At 15Five, for example, each employee receives $500 on their birthday to spend on any personal or professional development course they choose. CEO David Hassell explains, “We do it because it improves performance while creating the space for each employee to achieve greatness.”
Give them access to coaching or mentorship. Is there someone inside your organization who can provide these services or would an outside individual be more appropriate?
Recommend relevant articles or books to read together and discuss. I did this with one of my coaching clients and it was a fantastic process for us both. We agreed to read 1-2 chapters of a book on leadership skills to discuss at our next session. Specifically, we'd share what we learned and how my client was going to apply it in her role. It gave us a shared language and mental models, and produced actions to help her implement the learnings.
Help them expand their network and community of practice.
Encourage them to take time off and create a healthy work-life balance.
Have regular 1-on-1s to talk about their growth.
When you’re making an investment, you may also want to think about learning preferences. Imagine that you’re learning how to perform a new physical skill such as salsa dancing or fixing a broken appliance. Which way would you learn this skill the best?
If you prefer to look at pictures or watch a video of people performing the skill, you are likely a visual learner.
If you prefer to listen to an expert explain how to do the task, you may be an auditory learner.
If you prefer to read a book about how to perform the task, you likely learn through reading and writing.
If you prefer to jump in and try it, you may be a kinesthetic or tactile learner.
We all have the ability to learn in each of these ways, but we may have preferences which make the learning more fun and potentially easier to integrate. Tactile learners may be most excited by getting right into something new and figuring it out because they learn by doing. An auditory learner may prefer an online course that guides them through a process step by step. Or your preferred way of learning may be determined by content or skill; how you learn a new software may be different from how you learn to ask critical questions.
The challenge for you as a manager is to strike the right balance between learning style, financial cost, time cost, and expected result. This comes through practice and awareness.
INVEST IN YOUR TEAM COLLECTIVELY
There are also team competencies in addition to individual competencies. When you invest in developing your team as a whole, everyone benefits although not in the expected ways. Team development can result in everyone learning new skills, but it can also be team specific. For example, creating a practice for how various decisions will be made within a team will likely lead to an improvement in the speed and quality of the entire team's work. But, when an individual leaves the team, he isn't necessarily a better decision-maker.
Investments on a team level
You can work with a team coach to develop a shared language, frameworks, or mental models, or to develop ground rules or processes for information sharing, decision-making, and accountability. Consider bringing in a speaker on a relevant topic, or have your team members who are "experts" present during a “lunch n’ learn” on something everyone can benefit from learning about.
INVEST IN YOURSELF
Finally, don’t forget to also invest in yourself. What are your growth areas? What do you want to learn and how will you go about it? When you invest in employees as well as yourself, you pave a future road to success.
This article was based on episode 015 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
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