Giving the best development to your high potentials? Think again.

If your management said “You are most definitely on our A team!”—how would you feel?

Now, suppose you were told that you are clearly on the B team or “the everybody-else team”—how motivated would you feel then?

Too often, management focuses on the high-potentials, providing them with targeted training and access to senior management and special career paths, while leaving everybody else to fend for themselves. If your development stops with your high-potentials; you are handicapping your potential, and your talent development efforts.

So, what is the solution to the problem of providing great talent development that advances the performance of all of your people? It starts with the manager. I have learned a lot by studying a group of exceptional development managers. These managers have departments that are humming all the time: their teams are constantly developing skills, feeling more engaged, and voluntarily staying extra hours to be part of the action.

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. If you think that this is not possible in your shop or that it would take too much time, try taking these three deliberate everyday steps to drive plentiful development into the work environment.

1. Adopt an “enough for all” mentality

Exceptional development managers adopt an abundance-for-all mind-set and take actions that reinforce that mind-set. They take a democratic approach and assume everyone can grow regularly.

Then, they do what helps people develop in their roles. In my research, employees identifying their most developmental managers described very specific behaviors and interactions—not speeches or memos. The sheer density of development-focused interactions with their manager created a deeply felt growth environment. Instead of big dramatic actions, it is often small ones that make the difference. For example:

  • Ÿ  Asking thought-provoking questions at staff meetings
  • Ÿ  Insisting on learning debriefs at the end of projects
  • Ÿ  Having people transfer learning at regular meetings
  • Ÿ  Acknowledging and praising team members not just for what they did but also for what they learned

2. Shift work around to refresh development

Exceptional development managers look at the total workload and find creative ways to shift it around for optimal collective learning. People get bored and feel hemmed in if they repeat the same types of assignments over and over. By mixing it up, instead of operating from a perspective of scarcity (no new budget for training, no turnover, no new jobs), you’ll be operating from a perspective of abundance.

3. Grow an abundant supply of development challenges from outside the department

I know, it sounds like an even bigger workload, but hear me out. If you take this approach and selectively take on new challenges, handpicked to give employees new experiences, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the new energy people display. You and your team will also develop a reputation for being willing to help within your organization.

For example: Sid, a project leader in Product Development, talked with his team about taking on a particularly broken project on a tight deadline. His team agreed to tackle it because of the value in further developing resilience under pressure and increasing skill in dealing with distraught clients.

You can create an abundance of development opportunities for your entire team without spending tons of money or sending people off the job. No more “A team” and “everybody-else team”—just one strong, unified team.

2 thoughts on “Giving the best development to your high potentials? Think again.

  1. Steve – Thanks for your comment. Many companies have mistakenly segmented the responsibilities of development (HR) and performance (the manager). When both are combined in the manager’s delegation, as you mentioned, it not only increases performance and development, it also drives engagement and retention.

  2. Thought provoking post, thanks Wendy. I see two main points here. First, managers need to drive the learning and development, and this is consistent with other research Forum has done. And two, managers should always think about the work or projects that could be delegated differently (even if it’s collaborating with other dept heads), as a way to infuse new energy and taking the mindset that, as one of our clients says, delegating is ‘developing not dumping.’

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