When Employees Are Able To Grow, So Is Your Business

“How can your company grow if your people don’t?”

It’s a great question to ponder: “How can your company grow if your people don’t?” It’s a question often raised by Gary Hamel, a distinguished professor at the London Business School.

Yes, every company wants to grow. But how do you grow a company in these highly competitive, rapidly changing, pressure-filled times?

The answer preached by many companies is “do more with less.” And to some extent, they’re right. Every company has some unnecessary costs that need to be eliminated, and every company has some time-wasting procedures that need to be modified. Every company has some non-productive employees that need to be motivated, coached, or fired.

On the other hand, there comes a point when “doing more with less” is just plain ridiculous. You can’t get more and more out of your employees if you’re not putting something into them. As my Grandma Grace used to say, “You can’t get water from an empty well.”

And I would suggest that one of the best things to put into your employees would be top-notch education. Oh sure, everyone wants a decent paycheck and good benefits, but they’re also looking for opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

So ask your coworkers a couple of questions. Ask them, “Is this company giving you enough educational opportunities? And what have you learned in the past year?” As Joan Lloyd says in her “Joan Lloyd At Work” web site, “If they’re unable to answer, you’re not doing enough to keep them fulfilled, and chances are they’re looking for another employer who will.”

Noel Tichy, the author of “The Leadership Engine” takes it one step further. He says, “Winning companies deliberately and systematically develop people to be real leaders.”

I agree. I speak in dozens of organizations every year, and I can tell almost instantly if an organization is giving its people enough of the top-notch education they need. There’s a noticeable difference in the people’s spirit, commitment, and effectiveness.

If your company needs to do more in the education area, if your people need to grow more, here are a few things you can do.

=> 1. Get your leaders involved in some of the training.

Exceptional leaders do it all the time. They lead through the development of other leaders.

At Ameritech, Bill Weiss personally spent more than 70 days every year developing his leaders through various learning activities. At Pepsi, Roger Enrico devoted more than 120 days over 18 months to running workshops and mentoring his leaders. And at General Electric, Jack Welch taught management classes every two weeks.

Yes, outside speakers and consultants are critical. They bring a wealth of experience from a host of companies, and they bring a fresh perspective that an inside leader cannot match. But your leaders know your culture, vision, purpose, mission, values, and goals better than any outsider ever will. You need both perspectives. So get your best leaders involved in the educational opportunities.

=> 2. Train your people for another job.

It sounds ridiculous, but younger employees realize that the old “employment contract” no longer exists. They know they won’t stay with one company for their entire career.

So, ironically, the way to keep them is to help them acquire skills that will make them more marketable later on. The more they can learn from you, the more they’ll want to stick around and give you their best.

Of course, when I suggest this strategy, someone in my audience always objects. They’ll ask me, “What if I train these people and they leave?” I tell them, “Big deal. How much worse would it be if you didn’t train your people and they stayed?”

Booker T. Washington understood this leadership paradox back in the 1800’s. He said, “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” Exceptional leaders and winning companies pull their people up to the next level by training them for the next level.

=> 3. Use special assignments as learning opportunities.

In his book, “Good To Great,” Jim Collins says you should “Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.” It’s highly motivating and extremely educational. And your people always “grow” from the experience.

You may have some plum assignments to give out, assignments that offer a welcome change of pace and a chance to learn. Maybe there’s a special task force to be put together or a new customer service program to pilot. Don’t randomly assign people to these projects. Think about what would be best for the employee, the rest of the team, and your customers.

=> 4. Give people the tools they need to succeed.

If you’re trying to grow your people, then you’ve got to make sure they have what they need … so they can grow. And yet I see just the opposite in many organizations. For example, one organization may promote a person into a supervisory position based on the fact he excelled at his technical job. But the organization fails to train that person in HOW to be an effective supervisor. And so he fails as a supervisor instead of GROWING into his new supervisory role.

Another organization spends hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising their great customer service, but they don’t spend a cent on training their people to become great customer service providers. I think they’re hoping their employees will see the commercials and will somehow “get the idea” that this is how they should behave.

On the other hand, you can’t expect an organization or a manager to know all the needs of each and every employee. Sometimes the employee has to ask for the education he needs. Or at the very least, the employee has to clarify what the organization is providing and not providing when it comes to education, training, motivation, and support.

That’s what Gary Shumway talked about when he wrote the story called “The Teacher Applicant.” He’s the author of “Winging Through America.”

“The Teacher Applicant”

After being interviewed by the school administration, the eager teaching prospect said, “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to go into that room with all those kids, and fill their every waking moment with a love for learning. And I’m supposed to instill a sense of pride in their ethnicity, modify their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse and even censor their T-shirt messages and dress habits”

“You want me to wage a war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, check their backpacks for weapons of mass destruction, and raise their self-esteem. You want me to teach them patriotism, good citizenship, sportsmanship, fair play, how to register to vote, how to balance a checkbook, and how to apply for a job.”

“I am to check their heads for lice, maintain a safe environment, recognize signs of anti-social behavior, offer advice, write letters of recommendation for student employment and scholarships, encourage respect for the cultural diversity of others, and oh, make sure that I give the girls in my class fifty percent of my attention.”

“My contract requires me to work on my own time after school, evenings, and weekends grading papers. Also, I must spend my summer vacation, at my own expense, working toward advance certification and a Master’s degree. And on my own time you want me to attend committee and faculty meetings, PTA meetings, and participate in staff development training. I am to be a paragon of virtue, larger than life, such that my very presence will awe my students into being obedient and respectful of authority.”

“You want me to incorporate technology into the learning experience, monitor web sites, and relate personally with each student. That includes deciding who might be potentially dangerous and/or liable to commit a crime in school. I am to make sure all students pass the mandatory state exams, even those who don’t come to school regularly or complete any of their assignments. Plus, I am to make sure that all of the students with handicaps get an equal education regardless of the extent of their mental or physical handicap.”

“And I am to communicate regularly with the parents by letter, telephone, newsletter, computer and report card. All of this I am to do with just a piece of chalk, a computer, a few books, a bulletin board, a big smile AND on a starting salary that qualifies my family for food stamps! You want me to do all of this and yet you expect me … NOT TO PRAY?”

I’m sure you get the point. I’m saying it is ridiculous to expect people to grow if they don’t have the tools to grow. So once again, I ask, “How can your company grow if your people don’t?” Simple answer: it can’t.

Action:  Take a few minutes each week to ask your employees what they need to learn to become a more effective person or professional.