Have you ever been faced with staffing a project and knowing that the team members with the most experience do not have the bandwidth to complete the work? In these situations you are often faced with the thought of risking the quality of work versus risking the potential sanity and work/life integration of your team members. It is rarely an easy choice to make but there are ways to mitigate the risks while protecting the quality of work and the employee.
My intention is not to talk about how to completely avoid the hard decision. The bottom line is that there will always be someone on the team with more or less experience and subject matter expertise and there will always be projects where you simply cannot risk the mistake or delay in delivery due to a higher learning curve. The trick is to grow and develop your employees by providing them with learning opportunities in order to strengthen and balance your bench. Below are four considerations for ways in which managers can increase an employee’s knowledge, skills, and expertise.
4 Ways to Best Develop Your Direct Reports
- Consider External Development Sources: It is very easy for employees to avoid attending after-hours industry seminars and networking opportunities due to conflicting time commitments. Long commutes, family commitments, or a discomfort with the concept of networking. Attending one industry related seminar or networking event per month or even per quarter gives your team members access to new information and builds their confidence in reaching out to their peers for additional guidance and support.
- Trust the Risk: It can feel like a costly risk to put an inexperienced team member on a project. What if they mess up? What if we miss our deadlines? What will happen to our reputation? These are all fair questions; however, without the direct experience, how will they learn? Be sure to partner them with a more experienced team member for coaching and guidance, but don’t allow the risk to overshadow a high-potential employee just waiting for the opportunity to shine.
- Go Outside of the Comfort Zone: If managers feel anxious about the risk of putting a less experienced team member on a project, you can be sure the team member feels an even greater level of anxiety. People tend to remain in their comfort zone where they know they can succeed. Just like we did as children learning how to ride a bike; we often need someone to give us the final push and let go in order to show us that we can move forward, balance as we go and stop for help when needed.
- Communicate!: No amount of teaching will be effective without the necessary follow-up validating the approach. Talk with your employee and open the door to ongoing dialogue. Allow the employee the freedom to ask questions no matter how big or how small. Don’t forget that you had questions at one time. How would you have wanted someone to respond?
I was very fortunate to have had a manager in my past who, when talking to me about a large mistake I had made said the following, “Don’t misunderstand me. This is a very big deal. This is bad. But, it’s a learning opportunity and we are in it together. Now lets talk about how we avoid it in the future.”
This comment has shaped the way I encourage my team members to grab every opportunity they have for development in order to learn. I encourage them to push themselves; try new approaches; and communicate with me when they feel as though they are failing. The freedom they have to make their own mistakes through learning has pushed them to find their own success and increased their own accountability in driving their development and enhancing their subject-matter expertise.