Why wait to support your employees' development? | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Is your company designed to support its employees’ development?

Before you answer the question, let me guess, your answer is going to be some variation on one of the following two themes: “Of course it is!” or “What the heck are you talking about? This is a business, not a summer camp. We are designed to make a profit.”

OK, so maybe you might not have used those exact words, but before we get an argument started, take a look at the following, an excerpt from an extended white paper titled “The Deliberatively Developmental Organization,” and authored by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey and others:

“If we walked up to a random member of your organization—whether a leader, a manager, a support-staff member—would he or she say, “yes” to any of the following questions?

– Does your organization help you identify a personal challenge that you can work on in order to grow?

– Are there others who are aware of this “growing edge,” and who care that you transcend it?

– Are you given supports to overcome your limitations?

– Do you experience yourself actively working on transcending this growing edge on a daily or at least weekly basis?

– More particularly, after you perform the essence of your work—is there any process in place by which you are helped to see how you could have done any of these things better?”

From reading this, maybe you can see that there is a gap between the way you answered the original question and what the authors of this paper seem to be pointing to.

“We cannot afford what you are talking about, and we don’t have the time,” you are quick to say.

Actually, if you look at what is being suggested, you’ll see that it involves only the cost of you paying more attention to your employees.

What do you think most employees’ experience with development is anyway? For that matter, what has your own been?

Do any of these sound familiar?

– moments outside the flow of day-to-day work, an hour here and there

– stand-apart trainings

– high-potential, leadership-development programs (maybe)

– coaching (of any kind)

– once-a-year retreats

This, of course, assumes that you have invested in any training or programming, formal or otherwise.

Yikes! Maybe if you even give it a thought, you consider development as a discretionary expense.

That sounds strategic?

No it doesn’t, and that’s because the prevailing mindset in most organizations is that employees are both expense and expendable. We want the best from our employees, but we see “their best” more as a matter of natural talent, effort and the right incentives, rather than development.

Most business owners would not think of sending new employees out on any job requiring knowledge proficiency without some form of competency testing or skill training. This is not just a good idea, it is a practical imperative.

Customers would not stand for cable installers who could not install or plumbers who could not plumb.

Employers need programmers who can program. That kind of training makes sense to us. It is tactical, practical and necessary.

As business owners, we accept this type of training or purchase of skills as a cost of doing business. But this type of expenditure does not convey to the employee any sense of caring about them.They know this type of training is in the best interest of the business.

Think about this: How might you be different, as a manager or a business owner, if someone had shown an interest in you developing to the fullest extent of your capabilities?

How would your working career have been different, both in terms of outcomes and experience?

Do you think your attitude toward your reports or employees might be different in some way?

Here’s what there is for you to know, contrary to the mythology of many a work place: Very few employees are interested in competing with each other. They are looking for an opportunity to do good work and develop to their full capability.

Let that sink in.

Let it sink all the way in to your own experience and notice how you feel. Isn’t there a sense of an old desire to belong some place, to do work that is worth your life with people you both appreciate and are appreciated by?

Responding to this deep desire, which I think truly resides inside many of us, is what heading in the direction of being deliberatively developmental is all about.

Maybe you don’t go as far as the organizations in the article, but surely there is room for movement from where your organization is now.

Why would you wait?

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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