2020 has been widely recognized as the year of change, uncertainty and growth. With each of those, often comes the search for personal value, stability and career development.
Unfortunately in the United States, most Americans work 40+ hour weeks. So it shouldn’t come as a shock when talent is seeking new opportunities, or at least enjoy most of what they do. In fact, they should be encouraged to pursue whatever sparks a light within them.
Whether you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a start-up, a team manager or the head of recruitment, you’re a leader. And the role of a leader is not synonymous with boss. The roles and skills of people in leadership are fundamental to the talent they currently have, and the talent they attract in the future. That means leaders have to invest mentally and financially into the growth of their team — especially if they want them to stick around.
To lead is to help move forward.
Employees know when they’re being supported, and when they’re not. As people, we want to feel invested in. We expect it.
If you’re a leader, you should be aware of exactly how you are actively supporting your employees’ overall success. Whether it be to thrive in their current role at your organization, or build up their value to prepare them for their next career advancement, here are five steps you should take to ensure these progressions happen, increase talent retention, and prepare for a successful annual review.
1. Open communication and trust
This one may sound obvious, but how many times have you had an honest conversation with your team on what they’re looking to get out of their role? If the last discussion on this was during their interview, that’s a major problem.
In “Five mindset shifts to transform your organization into a networked powerhouse,” Scott Mason, founder and CEO of Life’s Work Associates, explains how management can get better acquainted with their teams’ aspirations and day-to-day output. “Leaders should start by listening to really understand their employees’ goals, motivators, and ideas. This combined with coaching and mentoring, assigning stretch assignments to learn new skills, and nurturing a work culture that attracts and keeps top talent, will empower your workforce.”
Goals change as we grow. If your employee(s) started five years ago, six months ago, or last week, consistent check-ins are needed to ensure they’re on pace to succeed in their role not only for the better good of the business, but for their own sake, happiness and professional growth.
Here are some opportunities for scheduled check-ins:
- Quarterly reviews: Key performance indicators (KPIs) and career goals should be set up within the first few weeks of an employee’s hire date to ensure they fully understand their newly assumed role, responsibilities and expectations. But this is also a great time to learn what they’re looking to get out of the role. This is the building block to a sturdy foundation with your team or organization. They should be continued each quarter to ensure goals are being checked off, address any concerns and set up new ones.
- Weekly one-on-one’s: I recently left an organization where I had weekly touch bases with my manager. Though they were often productive, they almost never addressed my professional aspirations. Once in a while the topic would come up, and I’d voice any thoughts but action plans weren’t made a priority. I suggest organizing and rotating one-on-one’s to discuss: 1) any business objectives or day-to-day tasks, and 2) utilizing the other to allow your employee to share any updates or progression in their role. Don’t always expect some groundbreaking revelation to be made, but approach the conversations with an open mind. If you find you two prefer to adjust the frequency of these check-ins, go ahead. Flexibility is key.
- Open door policy: Give your team the space to come to you when needed. If something isn’t working, you should want to know about it. And that doesn’t just mean work projects. If the social or professional dynamic is off within your team, or lacks team trust, that not only affects project productivity, but mental health which can hinder overall performance and long term career objectives. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides tips and resources on how to implement positive workplace programs.
- Establish a mentorship. As a mentor, you not only distribute your plethora of information onto someone more junior, but you’re given the opportunity to develop an organic relationship with someone on the foundation of mutual interests. With this comes the insight to understanding whether or not you yourself enjoy teaching, and opens the floodgates to more opportunity.
If you’re not confident you can effectively support your team in these areas, Forbes provides ways to enhance your soft skills in the careers-centered article, “Developing Your Employees Is The Key To Retention — Here Are 4 Smart Ways To Start.”
2. Invest in education
Now that you’ve (hopefully) asked your team what their career interests are and understand their professional goals, you can actually help them achieve them.
Providing educational tools and resources is a seamless way to ensure employees are getting access to opportunities that will support them in their current and prospective roles. Whatever the tool, it’s best that the employee(s) are able to access the resources on their own terms, at a time when it’s convenient to them. Some popular opportunities are optional Lunch-and-Learns (that take place during business hours), tools that are uploaded to a digital platform where they can accessed be 24/7, and my personal favorite — tuition reimbursement.
Tuition reimbursement plans
I’ve participated in two educational programs that my employer paid for, and found both of them to be the best use of my own time and my employer’s money; they supported my role at the time, the trajectory of it and the business’ goals.
Allowing your teams to identify educational resources themselves will help prevent wasted dollars on a topic that isn’t much help to the employee. As much as you want to believe you understand your employees’ roles, no one knows them better than themselves.
HR Daily Advisor reinforces that there is a mutually beneficial reward when employers provide tuition reimbursement programs, and see that education is also a personal development tool. “Educated employees are happier, have more confidence in their abilities, and make for better workers overall,” Joan Burns, EVP of HR, marketing, and communications and Chief Diversity Officer at IDB Bank explains.
Burns concurs that this added benefit also makes open roles more attractive to potential talent. She suggests that companies can show their support even more by covering the costs of textbooks, providing bonuses for high grades, or offering transportation reimbursements for school commutes.
Let’s not forget one more ROI — employers can offer up to $5,250 per employee annually in tax-deductible tuition costs; employees, in turn, are exempt from paying taxes on the same amount. Thank you, IRS. Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code.
3. Invest in training
Training shouldn’t just apply to the first two weeks of a new hire’s employment. It should continue throughout their tenure. Robin Sodaro, an experienced brand marketer and creative director, shares her take on staying sharp throughout her career. “The learning process does not stop at any age and nor do ideas, energy or the practical experience to get things done,” she explains in her Rosie Report article, “Cancelling ageism in the future of work: 3 age myths debunked.”
E-Learning site, Shift, emphasizes the importance of training and warns the dangers of avoiding it in their blog post, “The True Cost of Not Providing Employee Training.” “Untrained employees will, inevitably, lack the knowledge to use company resources properly, which will lead to waste, in a service industry; lack of knowledge about procedures will affect customer interaction and retention. Because of this, your employees, your company, and your clients will all suffer.”
I’m a big supporter of (now virtual) conferences that the employee identifies as relevant to their job. I’ve sat through a fair share of one’s that didn’t pertain to my role at the time. If irrelevant, they are not only a waste of admission costs, but of a payday if the employee attended during business hours. (Employees shouldn’t be required to attend a training or educational course if they are not being compensated for it.)
Training also shouldn’t be limited to the employee’s job description. If it supports their job performance it should be encouraged. Many organizations are implementing training efforts around Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, HR and workplace protocols, how to use softwares or programs that aid in productivity, improving management and team-building skills and more.
During this TED Talks, Career Consultant Greg Shirley, explains how our growth doesn’t stop, and should be nurtured throughout our career.
4. Be flexible
No one is perfect, so don’t expect your employees to be. Assuming expectations are set, there needs to be a level of flexibility that makes sense for your team, the business and you — as long as it’s within reason. Whether it’s being patient while they learn a new skill or topic, providing flexible working hours to attend to urgent or personal matters, or expanding their role to encompass new responsibilities, your employees will (hopefully) feel valued and will appreciate the gestures.
Expanding role responsibilities should be considered depending on their workload, experience and earned trust. If the team member is able to handle their daily tasks and has proven to be reliable and a good communicator, there shouldn’t be anything stopping them from taking on additional responsibilities if they seek out new opportunities. By volunteering to participate in new projects or lead initiatives they are showing you that they’re ready to establish relationships, up for new challenges, and likely feel comfortable and confident to make their next career move.
5. Invest in yourself
When leading a team, managing your personal life or putting yourself first can feel like a chore. Airlines remind us that we must put on our own oxygen mask first before attempting to assist anyone else. That’s for a reason. It’s critical to put yourself first so you can support your team later on. Don’t forget to invest in your own education, training and professional development to build up your own portfolio and resumé.
You are an asset, too. If you are on the quest for your next career opportunity, rest assured. It’s healthy to outgrow a role and should be encouraged to explore new opportunities. Before venturing off to new horizons, maximize your current resources by asking yourself these five questions to identify new career opportunities.