A basic axiom of team development is this: Most leaders spend too much time on their problem employees, and too little time on their best. As Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, pointed out years ago, developing talent is often critical to success, but since it is not urgent, it never happens. The key word here is time. Let’s discuss two aspects of this four-letter word: thinking time, and talking time.
When it comes to developing your best players, thinking time starts with considering these questions:
What do I want for her future here?
- What talents and abilities does she have that she might not be aware of?
- What aspects of our business could she eventually be better at then I am?
- What responsibilities and tasks would I like to hand to her in the next 3 years?
- What are the most significant obstacles to my vision of progress for her?
- What other company relationships would be impacted if she progressed?
- How would I want to compensate her for advancement?
What do I think she wants for her future?
- How ambitious is she?
- What are her dreams?
- What would make her life better?
- What would make work more interesting to her?
- What are her most significant obstacles to success?
- Which of her company relationships would be impacted if she progressed?
- How would she want to be compensated in return for a greater role here?
These questions are not always easy to answer. For example, lets look at the one about other company relationships that would be impacted by progress. Often a promising junior employee will be hidden in the shadows of a loyal but average employee who they work for. In one company we worked with, there was increasing frustration with a sales manager who was steady but not innovative, reliable, nor passionate. He was helping the business sustain, but not adapt. When the general manager talked to the owner about his nagging thoughts that a change might be needed, the owner’s initial reaction was to shut him down. The owner and sales manager had grown up together.
Eight months later the business had a very slow season and concerns arose about laying some people off. The general manager re-stated his belief that the problem was at the head, not the foot of sales. He wanted to give a bright junior salesperson a chance at the job. They made the tough decision to move the sales manager to a different position. Two years later, everyone in the business was amazed at the new sales manager’s energy, talent and success. It was clear that without the courage to shake things up, they would never have known the junior salesperson’s true potential.
Once our initial thinking questions have been considered, a dealer owner will usually have some areas to explore with the talented player. The next set of questions prepares you to start the discussion with your employee.
- What am I currently doing that moves us toward the realization of this vision?
- What should I be doing more of?
- What should I be doing less of?
- What do I need to do to strengthen our mentoring relationship?
- Which aspects of my vision should I share?
- What is the best way to share the vision?
Having thought these through, as the business leader you’re about ready to talk. A big hurdle to success here is mistrust. Owners are frequently hesitant to raise expectations of advancement out of concern for possibly not being able to deliver and losing the employee out of bitter disappointment. Some bosses relate to any personnel interaction as a tough negotiation and don’t want to show their cards. But the most successful dealer owners are not hamstrung by these emotions. They risk trusting their most promising people by letting them inside their heads and sharing their vision. This can include frank sharing of concerns about realizing that vision. The act of trust typically inspires trust and loyalty in return.
We recommend the progressive owners have an open minded, hour-long, closed-door discussion about development with the best employees at least twice a year. Many owners like to lead such discussions with questions, but remember when a talented ambitious future leader is treated like a partner, they open up more readily, allowing the owner to have a fuller picture of their shared future.