Leaders Don’t Pick Winners: Develop All of Your Team Members
A key theme for us in 2014 is “aligned, passionate action.” Our mission within every client engagement is to foster greater alignment between effort and objective, and motivate employees to dedicate more energy to achieving objectives (“passionate action”).
Alignment comes from clear communication, and a dedication to sharing and valuing the truth. Closing communication gaps and reducing the chance for misunderstandings (of motives, behavior, or whatever other hurdle might stand in the way of more productive interpersonal relationships) moves everyone along a unified path towards shared goals and appreciation for the value of talent and personal diversity.*
All of which is a long introduction to a neat quiz we found on Strategy&Business.com that can helps frame a manager’s self-diagnosis about how he or she might be developing talent. It is an intriguing if superficial quiz that can get you thinking about how consistent your talent engagement and development program is, and how well it ties to corporate goals.
- Is it aligned?
- Does it spark passion?
- Does passion lead to action?
- Can you direct that action productively?
Take the quiz and let us know how you did. We expect that there are elements of leadership development that you are already doing well, and areas that need improvement. Simply copying out the questions asked in the quiz and giving each some thought (perhaps discussing them with fellow managers) will help you focus your thinking about what action you can take to raise the productivity of the talent under your stewardship.
The article S&B promotes at the end of the survey, Align With Your Star Employees, also has good food-for-thought to apply to your own situation.
Caveat: As always, we take exception to the idea embedded in the article that there are “star employees.” Given that you always hire and promote people who exhibit talent or potential, every one of them has the capability of performing at a “star level” if given the right support.
Let’s pick on two sentences right next to each other on page one in the article (in reverse order):
“They consider talent development one of the most important—and satisfying—parts of their job, and they invest their time accordingly (on average, 20 percent of it, according to research from Aon Hewitt).”
This makes us smile: Talent development is a manager’s top priority. It has all sorts of material benefits, including raising contribution quality and quantity, and liberating the manager from some hands-on work so that he or she can dedicate 30-40% of their time on development. But this thought is qualified unnecessarily:
“These leaders invest time to help their most valuable contributors understand their capabilities and career goals, improve their performance, and get the necessary sponsorship and support.”
This sentence can lead you down an unproductive path. Before you start picking “most valuable contributors,” you must understand what is driving their relatively good performance, and what may be hindering their peers from hitting similar metrics. You cannot consign “less valuable” employees to getting less of your attention. Indeed, investing more time developing employees who need help may pay off more handsomely than pouring your time into someone already humming along satisfactorily.
Let’s examine one more sentence that pops up late, on page 3:
“From time to time, high potentials will stall or fall short of their goals. When this occurs, increase the frequency of your interactions, extracting learning from their experiences and revising goals and plans accordingly.”
Could this not apply to everyone on your team? We suggest that they might all benefit from “increased frequency of interactions!”
Do you also see the hazard to team cohesiveness? If you want to foster a fully engaged team of passionate participants whose effort is fully engaged (and aligned) with corporate goals, you cannot upset a productive team’s culture by starting to pick winners, giving one or two people preferential treatment.
There are times when you must choose: When a promotion becomes possible, you must assess relative talent and “pick a winner” to get the job. But you telegraph the terms for landing the job well in advance through consistent, clear communication about job expectations. Everyone knows the rules, and everyone understands why one person got the job.
Your underlying leadership philosophy has to be that everyone on your team has great potential, and that there are environmental issues that are holding them back from hitting their stride and meeting your need for “aligned, passionate action.”
Challenge yourself to find out what those hurdles and hindrances are, and remove them!