Isn’t it enough for any manager striving for top performance to stay focused on what their own department needs to get accomplished? Not so for Exceptional Development Managers (EDMs) who are in a continuous mode of developing their people while they get results. Recognizing the huge benefits of growing their people by tucking development right into the work itself (and holding team members accountable for both); EDMs sometimes take on new challenges from outside the department. They assume these outside projects selectively, handpicked to give their people the development they need. For example, Sid, a project leader in product development, talked with his team about taking on a particularly broken project with a tight deadline. The team members agreed to tackle it because of the value in both further developing resilience under pressure, and increasing abilities to deal with distraught clients.
Want your managers to apply this approach? Here are some tips to share with them to get over the hurdles:
• Select assignments that require a combination of skills that your people already have (so they can be successful), plus skills they need to learn ( essential for upcoming opportunities)
• Discuss with your people not only what is to be accomplished for results, but also for their development, and how the newly expanded skills will get applied in the (near) future.
• Provide cover for your people’s ongoing accountabilities. Don’t simply make this new assignment a “pile on”, relieve some of the pressure they are already carrying (perhaps by assigning their work to others who can learn from doing it)
• Ensure there is support in place—a resource they can tap for advice, as they run into challenges.
• Stay close enough to monitor for major problems, and far enough to allow them to fend for themselves. Greatest development occurs when there are emotions at play—the fear of failure and the victory of independent accomplishment are significant for getting new skills to stick.
Managers will be pleasantly surprised at the new energy people display when they add some projects that extend their team’s collective frontier. Their teams will feel more confident and competent and be more involved. And by the way, these managers will develop a reputation for being willing to take on extra work to keep a sharp development edge for their staff, without overextending them.
Companies who help their managers to “create a wealth of development” as an ongoing dimension of the workplace garner great success. Their employees find new ways to contribute and feel turned on to receiving more complex assignments. The organization attracts new members who are eager to grow and take on challenges. And, managers not only get higher performing teams (every manager’s dream), but the satisfaction of developing others, a joy that goes well beyond productivity. One EDM told me: “After a couple decades of managing, once I found out that developing people was my main job, I had a whole new perspective on my career. I absolutely love doing this; I look forward to coming to work every day.”