Developing Top Guns

In order for contractors to produce the next top gun, they need to have a plan in place to develop their employees.

According to a recent poll of HR professionals only 10 percent of managers are fully prepared for promotion. Further, a Corporate Leadership Council survey indicates that approximately 50 percent of promotions fail. So it would seem that in order for contractors to produce the next top gun, they need to have a plan in place to develop their employees and move them up through the organization.

Although talent development should be part of a company-wide initiative, most of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the supervisors. Unfortunately, development coaching doesn't come naturally to many supervisors. To help supervisors and managers with development follow the simple steps below:

  1. Create a plan. Help your employees establish goals aligned with their strengths, interests and experience, and then create a plan to get there. A development plan serves as a roadmap. It can be simple or complex but it must include action steps, resources and deadlines. Not sure where to focus your attention? Ask your employees to describe their ideal job or where they would like to be in 1-2 years. Then work with them to develop a plan to get them there.
  2. Know when classes are better. Take the attitude that training is really employee development. That will help you think more strategically about what your employees need to learn. Use classes to supplement on-the-job training. You might also find e-learning can teach the basics of a topic and classes teach ways of applying knowledge to real-world situations. To reduce training costs some companies are using recently retired employees to step in for on-the-job and/or classroom training.
  3. Emphasize on-the-job training. Recognize that formal training programs are only part of the picture. Most real training occurs on the job. Help employees develop problem-solving skills, technical skills and the ability to think by giving them on-the-job training with additional work and assignments that will stretch them. Cross-training can also enhance relationships throughout a department or organization while building skills.
  4. Set an example. Your own attitude and good work habits will influence your workers. Understand that when you give employees an opportunity to grow, their job satisfaction and your ability to retain them as employees both increase substantially.
  5. Build Accountability. Hold current supervisors and managers responsible for developing future leaders or it won't happen. Tie accountability to their bonus' and salaries.
  6. Use internal resources. Mentoring programs in which staff members are paired with others in the organization, who are experts in a particular area, are an excellent method of training. These programs can be used to supplement online training, classroom instruction and on-the-job training, or be used as the sole method of imparting knowledge on a topic.
  7. Maximize your investment. Be sure to track the success of your professional development program to ensure the organization is receiving a quantifiable benefit. You might, for instance, have a staff member complete a test in an application prior to training and then retest him or her afterward. Also ask employees what they think of the program offered. Are they satisfied with the quality of training? Do they feel it enhanced their knowledge or abilities? How do they feel it helped them? Tie pay to their performance results.
  8. Invest in your top guns. Differentiate pay for those with high potentials over average performers. Furthermore, ensure they have more developmental opportunities, training and cross-functional experiences than other employees.
  9. Get rid of bad managers. Remember that most top performers don't want to work for bad managers who are insecure, not challenging or developing them. While money is never the only reason that people leave a company. Generally leadership screws up something first...then money begins to get their attention. If an employee threatens to leave, address their concerns and never give them more money without tying it to their results. You do not want to keep employees who end up staying and are well paid but dissatisfied and uncommitted. If you have managers who are not good at developing, inspiring or supporting top talent, get rid of them. At a minimum move them to a new assignment where they don't have to develop people.

Taking an active role in the development of your employees demonstrates confidence and concern for the future of the organization. This is especially important when trying to find individuals who can lead the organization as you grow. Seasoned managerial and leadership talent from outside the company are scarce so it is best to develop your current people as much as possible. Companies who do this well have better financial returns than those who do it poorly.

Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.