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Quick – what’s your company’s most critical asset? While the answers may vary depending on your market, your goals, your brand’s vision, etc., John F. Dini says that your employees should be at the top of the list.
Dini makes the case that it’s incumbent upon companies to take the initiative to foster and nourish talent, but that too many believe it is a one or two-step process. The consultant, speaker and author of the award-winning book "Hunting in a Farmer’s World” says that reaping the benefits of a highly-skilled and talented employee requires a carefully crafted strategy – one that every company should learn to master.
“We all say that, but it is easy to fall into a mindset that takes for granted [employees’] arrival each day and willingness to perform to the best of their ability,” Dini says. “Like any other asset, maximizing the value of employees requires maintenance.”
Dini says that many factors are included in optimal employee performance, citing research from best-selling author Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” as a perfect example. Pink asserts that in the workplace, once compensation satisfies an employee’s financial needs, performance then is based on his ability to enjoy three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Autonomy requires employees be trained well enough to make independent decisions within the scope of their responsibilities. Mastery is employees’ ability to see progress toward a better self-image, and the confidence that they know what to do, and then doing it well. The third prong, purpose, is the use to which those skills are applied.
“All three [of these principles] are planted and nourished by training and mentoring,” Dini says. “The harvest is stronger employee performance.”
Magi Graziano, CEO of KeenAlignment, says when an employee’s natural abilities are combined with the right attitude for the job and aligned with the company’s mission and vision, that person will be positioned for success.
“Everything becomes easier,” says Graziano, whose talent-management consulting firm offers solutions for every stage of the talent life cycle. “There is less resistance, management is more akin to coaching and there is a fundamental agreement on what [the employee] is there to do.”
A particular mindset – on the part of employees and employers – is required to foster development. Dini says continuous learning should be ingrained in the company’s culture; that being the case, employees will adapt with a greater understanding of how to advance.
“Employees should understand that they will not get wage increases just for ‘treading water,’” Dini says. “They have to grow in their abilities to make more money. That said, the employer is responsible for giving them the tools or opportunities for that growth.”
Graziano says both parties must have a talent mindset, in which people and culture are the competitive advantage allowing the organization to thrive. Managers, who are directly responsible for coaching, developing and mentoring their people, can foster such practices. But the onus also is on the company, including the human resources department or those responsible for talent optimization, to provide the resources for managers, coaches or trainers to identify competency gaps and use mistakes and failures as learning opportunities.
“Fundamental training for managers in how to unleash the human potential in people is required,” Graziano says.
ALL IN THE APPROACH
While the responsibility for development is shared, it’s important to remember another adage: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Translation: Though the onus is on employers to make learning opportunities and training resources available, the employee must bear the brunt of the responsibility in pursuing them.
What’s more, Dini says learning opportunities shouldn’t be limited to before or after working hours, or on weekends, or even when employees are “all caught up” with regular work. Rather, there should be mutual investment to realize mutual reward.
Identifying the importance of training in grooming talent begs the question: What’s the best training approach? Dini says to ensure it’s taken seriously – training initiatives must be ingrained in the company’s culture so that it’s not simply viewed as a commodity. He recalls attending a training workshop years ago in which attendees complained they had experienced a perpendicular approach to the ideal training approach.
“All the corporate trainers in the room kept complaining that their colleagues refused to release employees for continuing education,” Dini says. “Either those other managers weren’t incentivized for employee development or the training didn’t produce any result with identifiable value. Either way, the message from the top clearly was, ‘Training is something we have to have, but it isn’t all that important if you make your numbers.’”
KeenAlignment fulfills its mission of empowering leaders through a multi-pronged services package that includes values-based training, tools and resources that help companies make the most of their “people investment,” according to the company’s website www.keenalignment.com.
The company’s suite of services includes talent strategy consulting, leadership development, team and organizational effectiveness programs, employee engagement and retention programs, and more. Graziano lists a number of characteristics contained in the ideal training approach, including targeted competency development and knowledge transfer, hand-picked subject matter experts, adult learning principles, coaching, mentoring and regular feedback.
While training program implementation can be pure in its intent, it’s inevitable that roadblocks can arise. To remove them, Dini says training should be integrated into performance evaluations – including employee goals. “Set a roadmap for what the employee is expected to learn each year, make certain he or she knows where to access the training needed and follow up regularly to see if they are on track,” he says.
Graziano says the best way to remove training roadblocks is to create a talent capacity index for each employee, department and the organization overall. “Most people resist training that they do not think they need,” she says. “When sound and correct data is collected from the employees responsible for doing the work and the managers who lead them, and that data and the overall business strategy is taken into consideration, better – more targeted – training can happen.”
On the other side, development also should be part of evaluating managers and supervisors. It’s important, after all, that they understand their job goes beyond ensuring their subordinates simply accomplish the jobs they are assigned. “Measure performance improvement by department or division,” Dini recommends. “And, of course, the commitment to training doesn’t stop at any level of the organization, but continues to the top.”
A positive, supportive environment that includes commitment and enthusiasm may be one of the most important underlying factors in fostering talent in employees. This all starts with alignment, or hiring the right people for the right jobs. Graziano says that from there, promoting the right people into management roles – those with the natural ability to lead and develop people into who they can be – is important.
As technology is enabling companies to do more with fewer people, the quality of each employee becomes increasingly important. Thus, an environment where the employee sees a clear path to being better is paramount. Says Dini, “The best employees need – and deserve – a workplace where they are excited to show up in the morning and enjoy performing at their best each day.”