by Noor Rizvi

Noor Rizvi is the Executive Director at RIZ Consulting, a management consulting and training firm

headquartered in Islamabad, Pakistan. (www.rizconsulting.biz)

 

There was an era when employees went to work just to work, when those who were determined, driven and devoted were promoted to higher positions of responsibility, and no one mulled over the effectiveness of the team as a whole and the impact on organizational productivity. Those times are changing though. Organizations today, whether large or small, are beginning to recognise the importance of empowering their staff in order to bring about better results.

Skilled employees have never been more vital to the success of firms, organizations and companies than they are today. It is not because employees cannot function without direction, but because management play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the days of comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment, that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee contract.  In their place, the manager-employee paradigm is the new building block of learning and development in the ever changing corporate landscape of today.

Effective managers attract high talent candidates, drive performance, engagement, retention, and play a key role in maximizing an employee’s contribution to the organization. In contrast, poor managers are a drag on all of the above - they cost an organization too much money in terms of costs and missed opportunities for employee contribution, and they do more damage than good.

Job seekers today, from entry-level positions to executives, are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job – some evidence even suggests more so than monetary or fringe benefits.  This makes complete sense and is more and more evident in today’s job market, as continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career.  The vast majority (some sources suggest 90%) of learning and development takes place not through formal training programs, but rather on the job training - through new challenges and developmental assignments, feedback, conversations and mentoring. As a result, it is often that the employees’ direct managers are their most important developers. Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidates’ viewpoint, their prospective boss is the single most important individual in the organization as they have a direct impact on their career progression and work experience quotient.

Managers also play a massive role in terms of influencing turnover and retention. One of the most common reasons employees quit their jobs is because of a poor relationship with their immediate manager. No one wants to work for a manager who does not take an interest in their personal development, does not help deepen their skills, teach them new ones, and does not validate their contributions on a regular basis in the correct forums. However, this is not a reason which is often identified by departing employees during their HR exit interviews, of course.  This is partly due to the obvious reason that no one wants to burn bridges with a previous employer, as karma can rear its ugly head at any time. Instead, they often say they are leaving because of a better opportunity elsewhere.  Due to this propagated falsehood, organizations remain in the dark regarding how much damage their inept managers are causing and where they need to improve.

Regardless of what else you expect from your managers, facilitating employee learning and development should be a non-negotiable competency and form an integral component of the appraisal mechanism from top to bottom.  Research from Google which examined data from thousands of employee surveys and performance reviews, discovered that the behaviour that employees characterized as the most effective was that of coaching. When a manager cares about the employee as a person, less as just a small cog in a large machine, and takes a strong interest in their development by providing opportunities to learn and grow, there is an immediate impact which results in lower turnover, higher growth, more productivity, and better customer loyalty.

The ability to systematically link organizational performance and individual development goals in the search for learning opportunities and better ways to work is a hallmark of organizations where sustainable careers flourish. Managers in today’s globalized world need to start expanding their focus away from “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members?” to instead posing the question of “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members while helping them grow?”. This subtle shift in mind-set can be the defining factor of determining a good developer of people. Savvy managers today know that doing well on the second part of the last question helps to answer the first and the results are undisputable.

 

Below are some quick steps one can take to stimulate learning and development in an organization:

 

Be transparent - Share detailed information with your team about current operations across the organization. Be honest about the firm’s challenges and direction, including such things as changing customer expectations and potential impact of industry trends and economic conditions. Be inclusive and invite their questions, thinking and suggestions on these issues as well.

Be innovative - Support and facilitate the development of internal social networks that span functions and divisions in order to give employees broader understanding of the organization and help them identify opportunities to learn and to add value.

Be consistent - Replace the ‘once a year’ conversation at appraisal time about career objectives and instead have frequent short conversations throughout the year regarding employees’ career goals and interests, which may not be self-evident. Regular career conversations help employees to refine their goals, which will in turn enable you to identify development opportunities more proactively.

Be inclusive - When conducting work planning, ask employees to identify how they can contribute and what they would like to learn. This gives employees the primary responsibility of clarifying what they want to learn and for proposing ways to incorporate on-the-job learning. It also helps to avoid having employees volunteer to perform only the tasks that they are already highly skilled at.

Be accountable – Create a system of reporting back where employees periodically inform you and fellow colleagues on what they have been learning and how they are applying the new skills and knowledge.