Develop Your Employees

Photo of plants growing from soil heaps with PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT conceptual words written on paper cards

At Ohio State we support a culture of learning. Managers encourage self-identification of opportunities and partner with the individual to assess development needs, set goals and create and support individual plans. On-the-job experiences and exposure to others as well as learning opportunities should be considered as part of each development plan. Growth and development efforts are most effective with ongoing dialogue and collaboration between the employee and the manager.

Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION, VISION, EDUCATION, GOAL, REWARD, GROWTH, ACHIEVEMENT and PROMOTION words imprinted on metal surfaceEmployees who are engaged – who enjoy their jobs and feel motivated to give their best – are more productive. As a manager, you play an important role in the university’s success through your ability to motivate and engage your employees and foster a high-performance culture.

Give appreciative and reinforcing feedback regularly

Employees with managers who focus on their strengths or positive characteristics are almost 13 times more likely to be engaged, according to a Gallup poll.  Ongoing encouragement and recognition are key drivers of employee engagement.  Managers who focus on strengths get much better performance from their teams compared to managers who focus on weaknesses.

Appreciative feedback is probably the simplest and least expensive way to motivate and reward employees.  Saying thanks, sending personal notes, posting complimentary letters from customers and celebrating outstanding accomplishments are simple ways to let people know they are appreciated and valued.

Give positive reinforcement immediately when someone does a great job.

Don’t wait for the next time you are together or the next performance review.  Be specific about what they did well.  Instead of just “Great job,” try saying, “Great job facilitating that meeting yesterday.  Your well-planned agenda kept everyone on task.  I appreciate all the prep time and thought you put into the meeting.”

Give positive reinforcement for improvement, not just for excellence.

Look for opportunities to reinforce employees’ efforts when they’re making improvements, even if they haven’t yet attained the highest level of performance.  “People who are making an effort to do things better deserve all the encouragement you can give them,” writes Thomas K. Connellan in his book Bringing Out the Best in Others!  Encouragement along the way helps employees reach their full potential.

Give reinforcing feedback to support the growth of employees and your unit.

Reinforcing feedback is one of the most effective and efficient ways for managers to maximize their employees’ contributions to the university by letting them know what they are doing well and how their efforts advance the team, the unit, and/or the university.

Shot of a group of colleagues having a meeting at work“Engagement is not a one-time event. It is simply a way of working differently.”    – Gallup, Inc.

Engagement doesn’t happen overnight. Often, it is a way of managing differently and the process is continuous. While the adjustments you make to your management style might be minor, the results can be significant.

Managers who help employees continually work towards individual and team goals and to look for new ways to further success will build a culture of engagement. Below are some tips to help you keep engagement alive with your team:

Engage in regular conversations about engagement and discuss the team’s progress on its goals. Make engagement a part of your daily conversations.

Questions to ask your team include:

  • How do we define engagement as a team?
  • How engaged do you feel the team is right now?
  • What positively affects engagement on our team?
  • What parts of our work culture are helping us increase our engagement? Decrease our engagement?
  • When we achieve our team goals, how should the team celebrate?
  • What do you think I expect of the team this week? This month? This year?
  • As a team, what do we expect of each other?

Questions to ask your individual team members include:

  • What do you believe you are paid to do?
  • Are there things getting in the way of meeting the responsibilities of your role?
  • How can I help you be successful in your role?
  • What parts or activities of your current role energize you?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the next month? Six months? Year?
  • What do you think I expect of you this year?
  • What do you expect of me as your manager?
  • When you achieve your goals, how do you like to be recognized?

Hold your team accountable. As a manager, you need to hold yourself accountable for team engagement levels and hold your team accountable for progress on its goals.

Carve time out in your day to connect with your employees. When your employees connect with you and know you care about them, they are more likely to be engaged and come to you with matters they want to discuss.

When you are talking with your employees, remember the 80-20 rule: Listen 80% of the time, and talk 20% of the time. Encourage your team members to lead the conversations.

Remember to keep yourself engaged. A manager’s engagement, or lack thereof, affects his or her employees’ engagement. Gallup studies show employees who work for engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged.

Still life photography of a hanging, lit vintage light bulb. Business phrases chalk drawing. Smudged blackboard background and wooden desk. A crucial quality of a manager is the ability and desire to develop employees. Development is a two-way commitment that employees and managers make to each other.

Provide new and ongoing challenges to help people stay motivated and interested in their jobs.

Encourage participation in training, workshops, and online courses. Encourage employees to broaden and expand skills through special projects and initiatives, job shadowing, apprenticeships, mentoring, etc.

Encourage employees to come to you with solutions, not just problems.

By encouraging employees to think about and propose solutions, you empower them to feel more in control and more invested in the outcome. You also build employee problem-solving skills, which are critical for high performing cultures.

Provide opportunities for two-way mentoring.

Consider asking an employee who is good with technology to mentor a co-worker with less experience, or ask an employee with management experience to mentor someone who is supervising a project for the first time.

Regularly review career goals and development plans with employees.

Encourage employees to discuss their goals and help them develop a plan to achieve them. Ask about their career aspirations so you can identify meaningful learning opportunities. You might ask, “What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months?” “The next year?”

Wooden mystery box with question marks.

What tools and resources are available to help me develop my employees?

There are many great learning and growth opportunities at Ohio State.

Male hand in business wear holding a thick pen, writing on an imaginary screen at the camera: Elements of being a coachShare this tool with your direct reports and discuss how you can coach them most effectively. By learning about their aspirations, what motivates them and what frustrates them, you can build a more successful and satisfying partnership.

How I Want to be Coached

Even during challenging economic times, the best and brightest employees have options. Failing to help them grow and develop can lead them to take their talents elsewhere. Equally as damaging as employees leaving are employees who stay and become disengaged or worse, actively disengaged.

When it comes to the manager’s role in development, a conversation is the best gift a manager can offer. Genuine development is not about forms, new assignments or promotions. It’s about the quality of the conversations between a manager and an employee, conversations that are designed to:

  • Facilitate insight and awareness
  • Explore possibilities and opportunities
  • Inspire responses that drive employee-owned action

Shorter, more frequent conversations equal more impact

Managers are all starved for time so development conversations often occur once or twice a year, if at all. Yet development conversations that are shorter and more frequent communicate a genuine commitment to the employee, keep development alive and in the forefront of everyone’s mind and allow employees to layer awareness, insights, and action more naturally.

6 Steps to Effective Development Conversations

Your role: Demonstrate curiosity through thoughtful questions, listen effectively and support the employee.

Start the conversation by explaining that a solid development plan includes understanding who you are and how you got where you are today.

1. Talk about their current position or most recent positions. Ask your employee:

  • What parts of this position bring you joy, energy and a sense of excitement?
  • Which parts lead to boredom, disengagement and a sense of just going through the motions

2. Next, spend time understanding your employees. Do you know:

  • How your employees define career success?
  • What kind of work do they want to be doing?
  • What do they want to achieve?
  • What strengths do they want to leverage or develop more?

3. Before you jump into doing, talk further to help them determine what they need.

  • To reach your goal, what skills and knowledge will you need?
  • What kinds of experience will prepare you to be successful?
  • What might you need more of? less of?

4. Next, focus on how they will reach their goal and how you will support them in their development. Employee development occurs in three main ways:

  • Experience – through challenging learning opportunities
  • Exposure – to others who can teach, coach and mentor
  • Education – through a variety of learning methods

Education and exposure go a long way toward helping employees develop. But experience is frequently the best and most powerful teacher. Experienced-based learning is about integrating learning into the workflow. It can happen through:

  • Project involvement and leadership
  • Community service
  • Stretch assignments
  • Job shadowing
  • Experiential learning opportunities

Exposure is all about creating compelling connections among individuals who can share knowledge, skills, and experience. Provide exposure to mentoring, coaching and feedback, professional memberships, board involvement, leadership and networking opportunities. Start the dialogue with questions such as:

  • Who is known for…?
  • Which groups or teams have experience with…?
  • Who might know someone who can help you learn more about…?

Educational opportunities include workshops, eLearning, videos, webinars, credit courses, etc. You can stimulate intentional learning and focused effort through good questions:

  • How will this learning help move you forward and toward your development goals?
  • What specifically do you hope to gain?
  • What challenges or obstacles might come up while you’re learning?
  • How will you address these challenges or obstacles?
  • What are you willing to invest to make the most of this learning opportunity?
  • How can you amplify this learning opportunity with experience and exposure?
  • What support do you need from me?

Make sure you provide the employees with appropriate time for the educational opportunity and support opportunities for them to use what they’ve learned.

Tips for helping people learn through experience

  • With intention and attention, nearly any experience can drive learning and development. Learning can occur if employees are focused on making something happen and reflecting on its lessons.
  • There’s no such thing as failure in a learning experience. The failure is when employees don’t learn from it. During your conversations gather every bit of insight and learning from the experiences the employees have.
  • Learning is a choice. Employees must decide to actively engage and learn – it’s not your choice, it’s theirs.
5. Whatever combination of experience, exposure and education you and your employees agree on, there needs to be a plan. The plan should be:
  • Documented
  • Employee-owned
  • Aligned with their goals and the team’s goals
  • Linked to the needs of the unit

6. Finally, in order to truly benefit from a development opportunity, employees need to take time to reflect on the experience and how they benefited from it. Engaging in a conversation with your employee about their experience demonstrates a genuine interest in their growth and development.

Before the development opportunity takes place:

  • What do you hope to learn from this experience?
  • What will you be able to do differently?
  • What support do you need from me?

During the learning experience:

  • What are you learning that you can apply to your role?
  • What are you learning about yourself? Your skills? Your talents? Your passion and interests?

After the learning:

  • What is different for you?
  • In what ways were your challenged or stretched?
  • What new insights did you discover about yourself?
  • What is the most important lesson you learned?
  • How will this learning/insight help you be more successful?
  • How do you plan on applying your new learning?
  • Did you reach your goal to your satisfaction?
  • What support do you need from me to continue to develop this skill?

Remember: Development is an ongoing conversation. Watch for clues that your employees are searching for more development.

Employees are hungry for development opportunities. Look for cues that suggest an employee is ready to delve deeper into your development conversations or examine new directions. Sample cues:

  • The employee expresses an interest in learning something new
  • Job responsibilities or expectations change
  • The employee shares a concern or lack of confidence
  • New project launches…or old project ends
  • The employee takes on a new opportunity or assignment…or is passed over for one
  • New credentials or awards are earned
  • The employee inquires about an opportunity
  • The employee demonstrates extra effort or interest
  • Lack of effort or interest is noticed

Employee development begins with two-way communication. Some questions to consider for managers before a development conversation are:

  • What skills and/or knowledge does the employee need to enhance their current performance?
  • How do I discuss, document and implement development plans for employees in my area?
  • What tasks and/or knowledge would the employee like to obtain to position them for the future?
  • In what new ways would the employee like to see himself/herself contributing to this unit? How can we make that happen?
  • How can this employee’s potential be developed?
  • How do I identify training opportunities that will allow employees to grow in their positions?
  • How do I help talented, ambitious employees remain challenged and satisfied at the university?

Questions for managers to consider during a planning or development conversation include:

  • Describe how you best like to learn
  • What do people say you do best?
  • What talents are you most proud of?
  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • What things are you doing that you would like to stop doing or delegate to someone else?
  • What skills, experiences, and/or knowledge would you like to obtain to position yourself for the future?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in the next 6-12 months? This question is a follow-up question to the planning conversation.
  • What aspects of the job interest you most? Least?
  • What would you like to learn about?
  • What tasks and assignments would you like to be involved in to increase your skills?
  • In what new ways would you like to see yourself contributing to this unit?