If you are not spending time developing your staff, then you are probably not leading as effectively as you could be. Staff development improves engagement, makes people feel valued and, maybe most importantly, frees leaders up to get out of the weeds and start working on the big picture items that need their attention.
But most leaders have no real plan for developing their people. They might have some specific programs that are set out by HR, or they might have some general ‘macro’ development needs that their staff members have. However, if you want to develop your staff as fast as possible, then you have to be deliberate about one particular thing.
Staff learn at their peak, when we manipulate a perfect balance of Challenge and Support.
It’s a pretty simple equation:
- When we provide too much Challenge and not enough Support, people flounder and don’t develop. They get overwhelmed.
- When we provide too much Support and not enough Challenge (ie when we coach too much and don’t move people to the next stage), people aren’t stretched enough, and they stagnate.
Here are four things you need to know to manage this balance effectively:
1) Everyone is different
The right levels of support are different for everyone. Some people get less overwhelmed than others, and some people get less overwhelmed for various types of tasks as compared to other types. The bottom line is that everyone is different, and we need to know people’s limits and preferences in order to maintain the perfect balance for them.
Also, people learn differently. Some are cautious and want some hand-holding early on to make sure they are not overwhelmed, while others will want to jump in the deep end, make mistakes, and then get some feedback and help. Know what your people like and what their preferences are for learning.
2) Keep track of where you want people to go
This is the most important thing you can do for people’s development: have a plan. What is it that you want people to be able to do? Once you understand this, you can create some stages or milestones that you need people to move through in order to develop them to the level you want. Keep a regular check on this 'plan' to work out if people have been at one particular stage in the process for too long - and determine if it’s time to move them on to the next stage.
You will have to be creative to do this well. Don’t just think of the end result for each team member’s development, also think of the small incremental steps that they can take to get there. You should know, week to week, the next little stretch that each person can make and while this seems like it will be a long and involved process, I guarantee that it will get your to the end state a lot faster.
3) Apply this to behaviours as well as technical skills
Don’t just use this ‘Challenge and Support’ method for technical skills. It applies to all the soft skills as well. If you want your team to delegate more, contribute in meetings, manage up or hold each other accountable, this same philosophy applies.
4) Be Patient
Like most leaders, you want your people to have all the skills right now. But the real development isn’t going to come from a quick course or workshop, it is going to come from long-term development made in incremental steps. This type of learning goes deep and bears amazing results.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.