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Developing a Winning Team

Luke and Yoda

In my last blog, I talked about Alex Ferguson, the now retired coach for Manchester United, one of the most successful sports franchises in the world. In addition to his technical soccer skills, Ferguson won wide acclaim for his ability to grow and develop talent.

Whether in sports or in business, building a winning team requires nurturing talent. As I continually survey the corporate landscape, it seems that this critical leadership skill often gets overlooked these days. I don’t see a lot of companies with formal talent development programs. And of those that do, the implementation is often spotty at best.

But wait, you say. Today’s employees change jobs faster than a politician changes positions on the issues – especially the younger ones. So why waste time and money on developing people who will leave in a year or two? Besides, who has time to work on something that may or may not pay off down the road when we’re all running so fast just to get the product out the door?

One answer is that if you invest in developing employees, they may not be so anxious to hit the door after a short while in your organization. In that respect, development provides an important retention tool – especially with your top performers, who are always looking to improve their skills and value to the organization. Developing a reputation as a company that invests in its employees can also help attract new talent. Finally, and perhaps most important, talent development offers a powerful tool for creating a team of fully engaged employees who buy into the organization’s vision of winning and bring the best of what they have to achieving it.  

Creating a development plan

People learn and develop through three primary channels: education, experience and exposure. Each consists of different types of learning experiences.

Education includes activities such as:

  • Courses/training
  • Conferences and seminars
  • Selected readings 

Experience is gained through:

  • On-the-job tasks
  • Special projects and task forces
  • Job changes and rotations (cross-business)
  • Special assignments 

Exposure (activities that offer visibility and direct contact with individuals, leaders and teams) includes:

  • Feedback and coaching
  • Role models/mentors/advisors
  • Visible projects 

Effective development plans create and support an appropriate balance of professional growth opportunities.  As a rule of thumb, 10% of development should come from education, 20% from exposure, and the remaining 70% from experience.

It’s also important to recognize that development is not a one-way process. Development plans are mutually agreed upon actions to help people grow and mature in their jobs. They produce the best results when they include input from the people you’re helping to develop, as well as a variety of activities and actions. A development plan should:

  • Ensure that employees develop the appropriate skills to meet the changing needs of their jobs
  • Focus on areas critical to improving job performance and keeping employees engaged and growing
  • Promote ongoing dialogue between the manager and employee about key development areas
  • Motivate employees with an opportunity for career development
  • Help employees achieve their professional goals 

And what about your own development? As a leader, what actions are you taking to keep pace? What changes will you have to respond to in the coming months and years? How are you developing today to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow? What will you do to continue adding value to the organization in ever-increasing ways?

A world of constant change requires constant development. And not just in the technical aspects of our jobs, but also in the way we think, process information, and make decisions. For business leaders, professional development is often less about acquiring new technical skills and more about learning to overcome the human brain’s natural tendencies that frequently lead to muddled thinking (or no thinking at all) and low-quality decisions.

For example, the ingrained assumption that what made us successful in the past will continue to make us successful going forward. The tendency to see what we want and expect to see rather than what is really in front of us. The need to have all the information before making a decision. In a slower, less complex world, we could get away with these leadership foibles. In today’s hyper-paced markets, not so much.

Developing employees doesn’t necessarily require a formal program, and it doesn’t have to involve a lot of time and effort. But it should be a priority. Your customers, your market and your industry will likely be in a very different place in a few years (or even months!). Will you be there with them?

Call to action: Pick one person who is key to your company’s success and create a plan with them to develop.

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