In our ‘crazy busy’ schedules within our ‘fast paced companies’, your direct reports’ professional development often falls my the wayside in the quest to move faster, get more done, beat that deadline. This is equal parts frustrating to you and ‘who has time for that?’. When you’re moving a mile a minute, the ‘who has time for that?’ side of you wins out and the frustrated side becomes a very soft voice way in the background.
I get it, because I was there once, too. I remember being thrust into a rather large management position with virtually no training, intense personalities and the fastest pace environment I’ve ever seen. So not only did I not know how to develop my team at first, but I also felt like I was going to battle (as much as event production could possibly be like that) everyday, putting out fires, navigating the office politics (not very well all the time) and arriving home late at night mentally battered and bruised with a glass of pinot noir in one hand and takeout Thai food in the other (who had time for cooking?!?!).
But you don’t have to follow my not-so-great example in your own situation. There are ways to develop your team with limited time and energy, and it behooves you to do so. With employee engagement at an all-time low – A Gallup survey last year reported that the number was at 68%- and turnover a major problem for even the hippest companies, it is THE tool you have at your disposal to prevent your group or organization from suffering the same fate.
So, how the heck do you do this? There’s no one right way to do this so here are several ideas for you to try on for size:
- Break the thought process that tells you there’s no time: This is a big one for me. Our thoughts create our reality to a large degree, so if you continually say to yourself or to other managers that there’s no time, that’s what you’ll get. On top of that, when you’re talking to other managers about this and they agree that there’s no time, you’re getting reinforcement in a big way, which is hard to break. Commiseration at work can be a good thing, until it’s not. So next time you find yourself spinning that “No Time” yarn, create an opposite mantra you can repeat instead like, “I am creating the time to do this.”
- Audit your department: Take 30 or 45 minutes to actually get the hard data. Maybe you won’t know it all, so you’ll need to ask HR. But figure out your department’s turnover rate for the last year or two. See how it ranks against benchmarks like the company’s turnover rate or your industry’s turnover rate. Ask HR how much it costs them to replace an employee when they leave. Ask to see employee engagement survey results if your company uses a tool for that. The hard numbers could make not taking action immediately an untenable choice.
- Be a human. Ask your direct reports themselves. Hear it straight from them. Keep in mind that they way you ask the question is important because some employees may be hesitant to share their real feelings on their engagement level. You don’t want them to feel like they’re in an interrogation room at the local precinct. Super direct employee engagement questions like, “Are you engaged at work?” feel a little Law And Order-y, whereas questions like, “How are you feeling about your current workload and type of work you’re working on?” open the conversation to go any number of directions.
- Plan for it & take the pressure off. If this is something that has fallen by the wayside for forever, no one is expecting you to perform miracles overnight or anything. So take the pressure off yourself to “get it done”. Instead, within the next week or two, schedule 30 minutes with each of your direct reports for a simple conversation about employee engagement. Communicate with each of them beforehand that you’re working to make their professional development more of a priority so they know why the meetings are being called. Ask them to think of specific questions prior to the meeting like:
- What they are excited about working on
- What other skills or areas they’d like to develop
- Where they’d like to go next in their career (this doesn’t have to mean another company or industry, although it could)
- Where they’re unclear about their career development
One quick note
If it comes up that they see themselves moving in another direction eventually – i.e. not with the company – it’s important you are open to that and create an atmosphere where they can share that. Often the disruptions in workflow and the high costs to replace an employee happen when it seems sudden and abrupt, but really the employee was too scared to be open and honest with you. I know what I just wrote is fraught with all sorts of office politics and caveats, which we will cover in another post, but for now, that’s the most important piece of this I want to underscore.
- But I have no time!: I get it. There’s no time at your organization. I felt the time squeeze in a big way back in the day. Know this: there is no way you need to attend every meeting you’re attending or answer every email on a crazy reply-all chain (can that stop please?!) that you’re answering. Take a week to really pay attention to all the activities you’re doing and meetings you’re attending and note how much time they’re taking up. Then, ask yourself if YOU were required to do those activities or if, for example, someone taking meeting notes could have shared the one bullet point you needed to know. Add up the time gained if you did not do those activities. Bank it for your people.
One final note
if this is something that’s brand spanking new to you, this will feel unwieldy and weird at first, but it’s vitally important to the success of your organization. When people leave abruptly or worse, are disengaged and not putting out stellar work, your client relationships suffer, your culture suffers and YOU suffer as a manager. So take a deep breath and dive into it head first, but give yourself the option to come up for air and give yourself a break as you navigate these unknown waters. You’ll get there.
What tips here speak most to you? Which will you try on for size?