Three Straightforward Steps To Develop Your Team

A common scenario I hear from managers is that an employee will come to them and essentially say “I want to grow,” hoping their manager will figure out how to make this vague directive happen. The manager then tries to give more feedback than usual, but the employee doesn’t feel anything concrete is happening. Both sides grow frustrated, usually ending in some form of blow up during a 1–1 or review. So the manager comes to me and asks:

“How am I actually supposed to help my team develop other than showing them how to do their job better?”

Good question. Here’s how.

First, get curious.

This seems like it would be intuitive, but many managers skip over this step and get right into a prescriptive set of goals or a plan, usually based on their own path. But that misses the mark on multiple fronts: Your idea of success might be different than your employee’s, AND you miss the chance to strengthen your relationship by being a good listener.

So what do you get curious about? The most direct route is to ask about your employee’s past and their future. This is from a workshop I’ve done with clients:

Three Straightforward Steps To Develop Your Team

When discussing their future, it’s important the conversation be genuine and rooted in reality. Just because you are supporting someone in their growth doesn’t mean that you can make anything they want happen.

Second, create the right environment.

Your job as a manager is not just to train everyone that reports to you (frankly, many of them are probably better at certain things than you are); your job is to enable them. So how do you do that?

  • Give them the space they need to get the job done. Make sure that you put your employees in situations where they can actually stretch and prove themselves to you and other leadership in the company. Too often I hear stories of employees being told they need to lead a presentation or own a project to get promoted, only to never be allowed to do those things because they haven’t done them before. Also be cognizant of what’s realistic for them to get done— your job as a manager is to advocate for your team’s skills and do whatever you can to protect their time.

  • Ensure they’re accountable to make and act on their own decisions.It’s common to think: “If someone on my team comes to me with a question and I tell them what I would do, I’m teaching them how to think about the problem.” But what’s actually happening is that you’re teaching them to come to you for answers. If you’re going to promote someone or have them take on new things they need to show both you and themselves they can make decisions when uncertain. Obviously you can serve as a resource to bounce around ideas or approaches (and curb them as needed), but make it clear they’re accountable for their own decisions.

  • Don’t confuse your way of doing things with the right way of doing things. As we get more senior we become more confident in our ideas. We’re also much more likely to pattern match, thinking that because something has always been done a certain way it should continue to be done that way. Be open minded about how heavy of a hand you should use when giving guidance or approving/nixing plans. This is another opportunity to get curious: What interesting new routes can your employees think of? Do they need to be redirected or just supported? (Note: sometimes challenging someone is a version of supporting them.)

Third, help them set goals.

Setting goals can be scary and ambiguous, especially when the growth options aren’t clear in a company. Most employees just know that want to “become more senior” or “get better” or “do more.” Here’s a simple breakdown of the types of goals someone can set to help you guide their (and your) thoughts:

Types of Goals Someone Can Set

  • Performance
    If there’s a skills gap between where they are and where they want to be (or where you want them to be), what can they do to improve? What are tactical actions they can take?

  • Growth
    What experiences will help them grow toward their career goals? What skills do they want in their toolbox for the future? This may not be something directly related to what they want to do, but rather something that will help them be well rounded as they get more senior.

  • Opportunity
    What are some new areas for them to master? What opportunities can they have to try new things?

  • Training
    What are the opportunities to shadow or learn from others? What tools or trainings can they access?


This post was written by Lucia Smith, a Gray Scalable Human Resources Consultant. A version of this post originally appeared on The Startup.


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