10 Ways to Develop Your Employees

Employees brainstorming together with ideas on sticky notes
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Investing in the development of employees is the most important and rewarding thing a manager can do. For some reason, though, it’s often the last thing on a manager’s “to do” list.

From a purely selfish perspective, when you develop employees, they become smarter and more productive, they perform at a higher level, and ultimately, make you look like a rock star. Developing employee skills also helps with recruiting and retaining the best employees, and it allows you to delegate so you can focus on your other roles as a manager. Most importantly, it’s rewarding because it’s what leadership is all about: making a difference in the lives of others.

If you're unsure how to become a mentoring and motivating manager, these ten steps will help you. 

Start With Yourself

Before you can credibly and effectively develop others, you should develop yourself. Otherwise, you may come across as a hypocrite, rather than a genuine mentor. Shaping good behavior starts with role modeling, and learning good self-development will also help sharpen your skills in developing others. 

Lay a Foundation of Trust and Mutual Respect

Employees need to know that discussing their development isn’t just a sneaky way to get them to admit their weaknesses. To inspire them to take ownership of the process, you have to start by building trust. Help them to see that you're invested in their success and on their side.

Turn Weekly Meetings Into Learning Opportunities

Employee development isn’t something that happens only in an annual review, nor something you can just pass off to the HR department. All of your regular interactions, from reviews, to project check-ins, to weekly meetings, are chances to develop your team. Consider ways to integrate a development mindset into your regular meetings.

Ask Questions

Few people respond well to simply being told what they need to do. Instead of dictating the process, involve your employees by asking good questions. Coaching questions force employees to figure things out for themselves. Those queries can also be revisited after an assignment is completed as a way to reflect on lessons learned and cement the new knowledge or skill.

Learn How to Delegate

A lot of managers will spend time on work that, while comfortable, they shouldn't be doing. Letting go of the responsibilities you enjoy will help you develop your employees' skills and free up your time, so it's a win-win. But don’t expect your reports to do things the same way you would do them. They may fall at first and need additional instructions, but that’s how people learn. They may eventually do the job better than you.

Give Stretch Assignments

Other than a job change, stretch assignments are hands down the best way to learn and develop. As a manager, you’re in a position to look for opportunities for your employees that are aligned with their development needs and career aspirations. Don't think about picking the most qualified person for the assignment. Instead, think about picking the right developmental assignment for the person.

Make Networking Introductions

Managers are often in the position to make introductions, open doors, and connect employees to role models, subject-matter experts, and mentors. Expanding an employee's development network will reinforce their personal ownership in the process and remind them that you're not the one that's ultimately responsible for their professional growth. Besides, most likely someone helped open doors for you, so pay it forward whenever you can.

Feedback

We all have behavioral blind spots. A manager is often the person who can tactfully help an employee see a weakness that’s getting in the way of their effectiveness or advancement. Be prepared to give feedback not only at performance reviews, but throughout the year.

Help Navigate Organizational Politics and Culture

Although “politics” is often viewed as a dirty word, it’s the way things get done in organizations. Your staff needs to know this and learn to navigate the office culture. Job shadowing and role-playing are two ways to educate employees about the ins and outs of being politically savvy.

Spend Real Money

Lastly, whenever possible, enrich your employee’s developmental goals with training, conferences, coaches, and other tangible resources. A good training program, while not a substitute for what you can accomplish as a manager, will enhance your efforts and show your staff members that you're legitimately invested in their growth.