Developing Employees

52In previous lessons we have considered the importance of staff recruitment and retention. We have learnt how to use appraisals as an effective performance management tool, studied some theories of leadership, motivation and teamwork, and considered the art of delegation. Then we briefly touched on coaching and succession planning, and mentioned the importance of keeping good staff moving up the career ladder to ensure the management of tomorrow is in place.

Companies should develop a succession pan, identify appropriate employees for development and fast track them to ensure they reach their potential

Why it is important to develop staff

In any organisation it is inevitable that people will move on, or retire, and an effective management team will have a system in place to identify the leaders of tomorrow, and ensure they are ready to accept the challenge when their turn comes. Failure to do this will mean that managers have to be brought in from outside as the need arises, and this has several implications for the organisation.

First, there is likely to be a financial implication. It may be necessary to advertise, or even use an agency to find suitable candidates. An agency will involve significant costs, and usually take a percentage of the candidate’s salary as a fee. There will be management time involved in the search for the right candidate.

Then the successful candidate has to learn how the company works, integrate with the existing team, and gain the trust and respect of staff. They will need to understand the values and culture of the company.

So there are risks involved, and some people will not integrate successfully and may move on fairly quickly, with all the attendant financial implications and the loss of effectiveness in company performance.

And the third issue is that staff love to work for organisations that are known to promote from within. It is a great motivator, and helps the company recruit the best staff in the first instance.

So it is important that the management team takes an active stance in the development of their team.

How can the correct staff be identified?

The method of identification of future leaders will vary according to the size and sophistication of the organisation. In a small company it may be as simple as the owner/manager taking an interest in certain staff.

In a larger organisation it may well be done through the formal appraisal process. Typically, managers are asked to comment confidentially on the potential of the employee. Any employees identified as suitable for promotion are then discussed by the management team and efforts made to “fast track “ the individual, or develop them so that they gain the necessary skills and experience. The individual in question is probably not aware of the process.

So whether you are a manager looking to develop your team, or an employee looking for promotion, there are some steps you can take to ensure the team have the appropriate skills.

The first thing that is needed is an understanding by the management team of the vacancies that are likely to arise over the next 2, 5, or even 10 years. This will be a function of the planned development of the business, and the ages of the existing team.

This should then be matched with the existing staff, and mapped against those with potential for development.

What skills are required?

Competencies that are required can be identified and listed, skills gap identified and dealt with.

Some skills will be general and applicable to all, such as leadership, teamwork, carrying out appraisals and giving feedback. In – house courses can then be run, perhaps annually, with candidates identified for promotion expected to attend a series of development courses.

Other skills will be more job specific and courses may need to be identified outside the organisation. For example, IT staff may need to learn particular language or software skills, accounts or legal staff may need to undertake professional accreditation.

Groom staff for success

It is a good idea to instil in all staff the need for continual professional development. Everyone should be encouraged to hone their skills and learn new ones. This can easily be dealt with during an annual appraisal, as an action plan is developed that includes any skills development identified during the appraisal.

In a large organisation there may be in- houses courses run annually. Additionally companies should be aware of outside organisations that provide good staff training, and staff should have access to a course list from which they can select. This is especially easy to organise by using e-learning and online courses.

In house “apprenticeships” are an effective way of training staff. This involves formally attaching a trainee to experienced staff, either to mentor them or even to train them in a complex job role. There should be clearly defined expectations of both parties in terms of timescale and skills to be learnt. Progress should be formally reviewed, measured and documented regularly.


Successful managers will benefit from having a strong professional network of people with whom they can exchange ideas, discuss issues, and get information, advice, guidance and support. The members of the network can be in – house colleagues, or professional peers, or people from outside the organisation.

So staff should be encouraged to meet colleagues from other departments, perhaps at courses, or cross functional social events, or management briefings.

They should also be encouraged to join networking groups, and professional groups. This will expose them to new ideas and enable them to see issues from others perspective.

Stretch them

People are like elastic. If they are used to being stretched, they can take the strain, and then relax when the strain is released. But if elastic is not used, it perishes, and then when a strain is put on it, it snaps.

So get your team used to being stretched. Encourage them to go outside their comfort zone, try new things, and take chances.

But try to give them the opportunity to make mistakes in safety. We only learn by our mistakes. Have a culture of “no blame “. It’s OK if a mistake is made once, but damage must be controlled, lessons learnt and systems improved to eliminate future mistakes. It is not who made the mistake that is important, but why.