One of the key roles of first-line leadership is to assist team members with their growth and development. Jim Rohn noted: “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better”. This involves the mind-set, skills and knowledge that enable employees to understand the organisation and their role in its possible success, make them more capable of contributing their best and help them effectively support each other to sustain and grow the organisation. With this focus on company growth, employees start realising their own need to rise to the expectations, to keep abreast with the knowledge curve that is shaping the way ahead for the company and to make their respective contributions count. At the same time, employees want to understand that their applied effort is adding value – first-line leaders thus need to link effort to real results to develop pride in the ongoing learning and its application and accelerate the overall learning quest.
The above requires intentional leadership – a deliberate strategy to grow the collective intelligence and business acumen of the shop floor. What you get from your people as a first-line leader is determined by what you put in. There is no short-cut to being a sponsor of your peoples’ learning and development – this aspect of leadership demands focus, time, and energy. The following focus areas will assist the acceleration of the learning process:
- Create awareness – link employee development to company strategy and growth intentions. Brand the project and illustrate how both the company and its employees will benefit. Show how the lives of people will improve, how their contributions to success will benefit the teams and how success will be measured. Using a multi-pronged communication strategy is essential here – don’t just rely on posters and notice boards as these soon become just another part of the décor. Communication attempts should be diverse and usually achieve best results when face-to-face.
- Lead by example – support your employees by constantly and consistently living and demonstrating what they are being taught and the behaviours you are expecting from them. Your credibility as a leader is at stake here – remember that you create the environment for new behaviour to take root.
- Sustain the learning – change doesn’t take place overnight. Anticipate the gap between formal learning and taking action by designing exercises to reinforce expected new behaviour. Get everyone participating in role plays and/or practising new skills.
- Remove obstacles – human (often surfacing in attitude or control issues), system (inefficient or ineffective equipment or resources), process (too bureaucratic) and environmental (cleanliness, ergonomic and workflow issues) obstacles should be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Correctly aligned messages must be sent to everyone in the company that work, and the very future of the company, are being approached differently now.
- Take special care to notice employees doing things right – appropriate recognition should be given to attempts and successes. Praise should be specific and linked to company values and goals. Sincerity is crucial here.
- Provide regular constructive feedback – facilitate developmental feedback in such a way that you are not ‘telling’ but rather drawing on employees to come up with better ways of doing things. Focus on behaviour, being careful not to make assumptions about motives or attitude, and do not attack people. Balance suggestions for improvement with positive comments.
- Use the performance management system as a developmental tool – the performance management system should support the expected employee learning, growth and new behaviours and should be utilised to encourage development. If any bad behaviour is addressed immediately, then the performance management system need not become a ‘big stick’ to police performance.
- Close the performance feedback loop – give regular updates as to any improvements that teams, or the company employees, have accomplished and reward people appropriately. Pride needs to be developed in ongoing achievements.
Whilst employee development is a key first-line leadership role, it should be seen within the broader ambit of strategic company growth. The link between the growth and contribution of the individual to the success of the company cannot be ignored and, in fact, should be emphasised for collective effort to be realised.
Free To Grow offers the first-line leader development process, LeadQ, to lay the foundation and provide the skills to assist first-line leaders with growing their team members – for more information, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org