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Ditch the annual review: Keep your staff happy with regular feedback Add to ...

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

By Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni

(Berrett Koehler, 126 pages, $19.95)

Helping employees to develop and grow is like eating properly and exercising regularly – they’re all worthwhile activities that many people are inclined to postpone or avoid entirely.

As consultants Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni note in their new book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, the term “career development” often strikes fear into managers’ hearts. It suggests an overly bureaucratic, formal, and potentially confrontational process that offers considerable unpleasantness for few benefits.

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But they argue that managers can be surprisingly successful if they take career development off their calendar as a specified annual or biannual burden, and instead move it into everyday life. You should view career development as nothing more than regular, ongoing conversations with your staff to help them develop.

“Genuine career development is not about forms, choreographing new assignments, or orchestrating promotions. It’s about the quality of the conversations between a manager and employee,” they write.

These conversations should lead the way to new insights and awareness; explore possibilities and opportunities; and inspire responses that drive employee-owned actions.

The interaction doesn’t have to be long, the authors stress: “You don’t get points for length. You get more points for stimulating thinking.”

In today’s hectic business environment, it’s better to opt for shorter conversations that fit the cadence of your daily routine.

They suggest you’ll fare better with a dozen, 10-minute conversations over the course of a year than the equivalent two hours spent in one session mapping out goals for the coming months.

To be effective, manager should see their employees doing 90 per cent of the talking in these conversations.

“If you’re talking more than that, you’re likely taking on too much responsibility for their development and robbing them of ownership for their careers,” the authors warn.

When the manager speaks, it should be in the form of a question, designed to promote reflection and keep the focus squarely on the employee.

Properly phrased, the questions will show that you respect and value your employees, and will reinforce the idea that each person is responsible for their own career development, though you are willing to help, as their supervisor.

“You don’t have to have all the answers. But what’s not negotiable is that you have the questions,” they stress.

The conversations should promote exploration of three key areas:

1. Hindsight

Looking back, so the employees can reflect on where they have been, what they love, and what they’re good at. That self-perception should help them to move ahead.

2. Foresight

Looking in a big-picture way at the business so the employee understands what is changing and the implications for the organization and each member of staff. “Since nobody wants to pursue a career direction for which no need exists, foresight is critical,” the authors note.

3. Insight

This is the sweet spot, where hindsight and foresight combine into organizational needs and opportunities. This is where the manager and the employee jointly determine how to successfully move ahead.

One of the worries managers often have about career development is giving feedback. Managers often feel on tenterhooks, afraid to utter the words they have been carefully framing in their minds. But the authors insist that employees crave feedback – indeed, studies show they are starved for it.

“We spend 40-plus hours each week at work, dedicating our bodies, minds, and souls to the cause. A little attention is not too much to ask,” the authors note.

“Managers, beware. A low-feedback diet may be harmful to the health of your business,” they add. Side effects include disengagement, stunted growth, lack of clarity, lost opportunities and loss of talent.

Feedback works best when employees seek help in developing a complete picture by asking co-workers, family and friends about their strengths, abilities, interests and opportunities. Employees need to be coached to not only discuss their greatest strengths and most valuable skills, but also their blind spots – the behaviours that get in the way of success and moments when they have fallen short of expectations.

When you, the manager, provide your own feedback to staff, make sure you don’t just give them the “what” – the specific behaviours and results that bear on their career development – but also the “so what,” showing them the impact of the behaviour and results you focus upon.

Although this is a slim book, it packs a lot of useful material in its pages. If you would rather spend time at the dentist than developing your employees, this book may help you to figure out a better way to do it that doesn’t fill you with dread.

Postscript

The producers of television’s Dragons’ Den have combined with business analyst John Vyge to produce two books: The Dragons’ Den Guide to Assessing Your Business Concept (John Wiley, 324 pages, $29.95) and The Dragons’ Den Guide to Investor-Ready Business Plans (John Wiley, 278 pages, $29.95), which can help entrepreneurs achieve their goals.

Managing for People Who Hate Managing(Berrett-Koehler, 162 pages, $19.95) by Devora Zach, a Maryland-based consultant, aims to help you be a success by being yourself.

The second edition of The Business Style Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 185 pages, $19.95) by Helen Cunningham and Barbara Greene offers tips on business writing, including an A-to-Z guide on words that might be confused with others, or whose proper usage may not be clear.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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