Any person who has participated in sports knows that an exceptional coach can make all the difference. Great coaches take teams from good to great, winning to undefeated, and most of all they invest in developing their team beyond the goal at hand because they understand they are a stepping stone in each player’s journey to success.
Warren Buffet, the multi-billionaire investor and philanthropist, met Bill Gates, co-founder and CEO of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at a dinner on July 5, 1991 arranged by Gates’ mother that neither Buffet nor Gates were thrilled about attending.[i] Despite their initial poor assumption of one another, that day sparked a remarkable mentorship that would serve to be one of the most significant relationships of Gates’ career and life. In a LinkedIn post by Gates, he explains three of the most valuable lessons that Warren has taught him over the years: It’s not just about investing, use your platform, and know how valuable your time is.[ii] In each of these areas, Gates’ explains how Warren challenged him to think from innovative perspectives, align his priorities for the people and objectives that matter most, and to use one’s success and brilliance to attack the suffering in our world. There’s no doubt that Warren has significantly contributed to the leadership development of Gates in numerous ways, and together, they continue to succeed in serving organizations that change the world.
Employee development and coaching is frequently the determining factor in employee retention and overall success of an organization over time. Whether an organization takes the time and energy to facilitate and support the professional growth of others shows the extent to which they value their employees and their future career path. A mentor and friend of our organization, Ronnie Andrews, encourages employee development with the mantra, “Train them to go and motivate them to stay.”
It’s worth reiterating the point that great leaders produce great leaders, and effective employee development and coaching does just that. In the current work climate high potential employees of every age are seeking organizations that invest in their future. According to Harvard Business Review, “Job seekers from entry-level to executive are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job.”[iii] Thus, it comes as no surprise that well-done employee development and coaching increases retention rates and employee satisfaction.
Coaching and development means meeting employee needs for growth and fulfillment with organizational needs for expertise, continuous improvement and innovation. Coaching focuses on strengths and people’s potential, identifies where gaps exist, and leverages the strengths of team members to minimize the gaps.
In order to begin the process of development one must understand the employee’s readiness level in order to gauge how proficient they are in the skills they rely most on for confidence and success in their role. By asking quality questions that probe the employee to think creatively and introspectively, they will grow to become more self-sufficient within that skill area and be able to make decisions more independently, while maintaining a level of accountability to ensure projects are progressing effectively.
One of the most critical components of this process is taking the time to mentor and communicate with the individual in face to face settings on a regular basis. By doing so, you show that you value the employee and are genuinely interested in their career development. In addition to meeting with them, be forthcoming with challenges that push the individual in new projects and offer more responsibility to strengthen their abilities and keep them on their toes.
Encourage the individual to take risks and view their mistakes as learning opportunities. In conjunction with this encouragement, provide them with experiences, training and valuable feedback to further their growth and development. Above all, exhibit your confidence in their potential to perform and grow within the organization.
Be aware of the barriers that get in the way of successful employee development and coaching. Avoid over-emphasizing the day to day tasks which can lead to a “right here, right now” mentality resulting in less long-term development. Many people argue there aren’t enough hours in the day, but this simply shows that employee development and coaching is not a priority. If something is important, we make time for it; it’s that simple.
Great employee development leads to great organizations. SAS, a software suite developed for advanced analytics, is the largest market share holder for advanced analytics and is second on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work for in 2014. Fortune says about them, “SAS’ employee turnover rate remains extraordinarily low: 3.6 percent versus an industry norm of more than 15 percent.”[iv] The philosophy adopted by CEO James Goodnight centers on investing in the employee’s well-being and their future while encouraging risk taking, which has led them to develop an organization known for great success.
Ask any successful business person how they got to where they are today, and chances are there was someone in their life who has believed in their potential and invested in their journey toward greatness. Everyday leaders have the opportunity to be the person that believes in their potential and helps them reach it.
Great leaders develop leaders. Who are you developing?