Ever visit a team where the whole department is pushing the bar higher every week; where the entire team is engaged in high action “learning while achieving” mode? You can just feel the electricity. Maybe you get that image when you think of Google or SAS (two of 2013’s winners for Best Places to Work). Wondering what it would take to replicate this in your company? Well, it doesn’t require a total organizational overhaul; rather think about it on a team by team basis. I discovered this when, along with my co-author Jeannie Coyle, we researched Exceptional Development Managers (EDMs). Their departments were beehives of both continuous learning and increased performance.
Exceptional development managers adopt an “enough for all” mind-set and assume that everyone has the capacity and desire to grow and be challenged. It’s an approach that is both democratic and generous. They stop thinking about development as a sidebar or special assignments for a few, and instead prioritize development every day for everyone.
Here’s an example. After receiving feedback that her high pressured team meetings were mostly focused on sharing information and little else, one of our executive clients worked on re-tooling her department meetings to become far more developmental. She introduced into these meetings short action-related developmental tasks and thought provoking questions. Then, she carried that into her on-going interactions with the team, even outside the meetings. At first, few people knew how to respond. But, it did not take long for everyone in the department to understand that further developing skills was now a standard requirement, and they loved it. They are in learning mode, whether or not the executive is there to spur it on.
EDMs tell their people it is a requirement to grow while they work. Then, they turn their talk into actions. It is not about big initiatives; rather they embed growth into the flow of daily activities. They aim for a high volume of developmental interactions with their team. These can be short, action-item related tasks or questions, including:
o - Asking thought-provoking questions at staff meetings.
o Insisting on learning debriefs at the end of projects.
o Having people share learning at meetings.
o Pairing up people on projects who have different skills.
o Acknowledging and praising team members, not just for a job well done, but also for what they learned.
o Creating miniature learning events such as brown-bag lunches.
Just like our successful client, EDMs provide many reinforcements to keep the development going. They willingly take risks, letting go of the reins while their people take on bigger stretch assignments. Yet, they are always just off stage, in the wings, to monitor and provide feedback and support if employees falter (which they are bound to do). They’ve developed a positive rapport with each employee which increases employees’ willingness to try new things and receive feedback. And, these managers are on a constant look out for assignments and people who will be developmental for their team members.
Managers who use this approach say it is not more work…it is just a different way to manage.
Published in ASTD Human Capital Blog, Sept. 16, 2013