What do employees want these days? Growth and education

When I’m coaching executives, I always ask them the same question. “How can your company grow if your people don’t?”

The most effective leaders always understand what I’m getting at. So they actively invest in the growth and education of their people.

The least effective leaders look at me, somewhat stunned because they never gave that question any attention. I had to tell one executive, “Most of your employees, if they saw you in the parking lot, would speed up to hit you.” The CEO was shocked because he thought he was doing everything he could to benefit the shareholders. Unfortunately, he was forgetting about the people who worked there.

In a time where it is very difficult for many companies to get enough employees AND keep the ones they have, one of the best things you can do to overcome that problem is offer your employees 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 try some of these ideas.

►1. Assess your work environment.

When I go into an organization, I ask several employees the same two questions:

1. Is this company giving you enough educational opportunities?

2. What have you learned in the past year?

You can do the same thing in your organization.

You’ll quickly get this insight. If they’re unable to answer, it’s obvious that the company and its leaders are not doing enough to keep their employees fulfilled and chances are they’re looking for another employer who will.

Abby Lewis, Senior Product Manager for Harvard Business Review Corporate Learning, says one of the most common missteps made by organizations is not prioritizing employee development. As she puts it, “It is not enough to send people to training once a year. Learning is now part of the modern workplace contract and it should be a part of workplace culture, as workers expect investment in the skills, knowledge and experiences that will keep them productive and employable.

Take an assessment of your organization. If your organization is somewhat lacking in the growth and education you provide your employees, do some of the following.

► 2. Give people the tools they need to succeed.

After all, you can’t expect your company to grow if your people aren’t. You can’t expect them to accomplish tomorrow’s goals with yesterday’s skills.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what our team at the Zimmerman Communi-Care Network has seen 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 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.

By contrast, the Daryl Flood Logistics, got proactive about giving their people the tools they needed to succeed. They recently hired me to come in and spend a day with them on the soft skills that ensure greater business success. And the results were extremely satisfying. Wayne Russell said, “I have personally increased my sales this year.”

And Kelly O’Connor, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, said, “Your ‘11 ways to increase the impact of positive feedback’ have given me a practical resource to recognize not only employees but family members as well. It’s working wonders.”

What about your organization? Are you giving your employees all the tools they need to succeed? And take it to 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. Get your leaders involved in some of the training.

Outside speakers and trainers 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. So outside experts must be involved in your overall education program.

But your leaders know your culture, vision, purpose, mission, values, and goals better than any outsider ever will. So get your best leaders involved in your education programming.

Exceptional leaders do it all the time. 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.

► 5. Don’t overlook the people skills..

If you’re training people in your products, policies and procedures, internal trainers work best. But if you want your people to be better personally and professionally, able to move up to higher and higher levels of performance, soft-skills training from outside professionals has proven to work best. Indeed, these soft skills are a better predictor of success than the old traditional I.Q.

Gary Shumway talked about the importance of these softs skills in his story of 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, and encourage respect for the cultural diversity of others.”

“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.”

“And I am to communicate regularly with the parents by email, telephone calls, and report cards. You want me to do all of this and yet you expect me … NOT TO PRAY?”