During a coaching session last week, a client was worrying about how little attention he’s given to the formal development of his team members in the last year. He wants them to progress, and he has some ideas about the ways they need to grow, but he feels so stretched that he doesn’t have the time to invest.
But it’s not helpful to think of development as something extra you do for your people. And it’s not motivating to treat it as an extra requirement from your HR department because they want to position your company as an employer of choice. Instead, consider development as a tool to ensure the work gets done and your team generates the best possible results.
Add questions to your scheduled meetings
It’s hard to keep development front of mind all the time. However, if you shift your approach to your ongoing management processes just slightly, you’ll be able to integrate developmental conversation into your standard interactions about progress.
Putting this into practice in each one on one meeting, explicitly ask yourself two questions before you start: “What does this employee need?” which is a very general question, and “What do I need to change in the way I work with this employee so that they have what they need?” which is much more specific, and more within your control. Think of all the practical options you can. Then during your meeting, after you’ve asked about work progress and how projects are going, ask, “What do you need from me to get that job done?” or “How can I help you to handle that more easily?” And then listen. Give them general prompts, from “Please tell me more” to “Mm-hmm” and “Uh-huh.” If there are details or items that they don’t touch on, ask about those more directly.
Ensure employees feel understood
The important thing is to be encouraging and supportive in both language and tone so employees feel comfortable enough to tell you what they need. Your goal is to increase their trust and confidence so that, over time, they will start asking what they need from you, whether it’s resources, moral support, or a sounding board. Acknowledge their concerns and preferences with language like, “I can see why you would think that,” or “It’s clear that you feel strongly about that,” so they know you can tell what they think is important.
That doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to give them the resources they’re asking for, or that you’ll always agree with their requests for support. Sometimes the best thing is to encourage them toward trying to handle things themselves after discussing a situation or rehearsing a solution with you. You can ask leading questions like, “How would you deal with that if I weren’t here to discuss it?” or “What’s your instinct about what to do next?”
Keep a focus on the big picture
From time to time, you’ll still need to share additional context on goals, coach them on their behaviour, and give them feedback on their mistakes. And you’ll still need to put some effort into helping them plan their career trajectories and consider their options. However, if you keep asking the right questions to help employees grow and do better in their jobs, they will expand their capacity for responsibility and impact.