1. “What’s in it for me?”

Employees are more likely to feel invested in learning and development programs if they know how the training actually applies to their daily responsibilities and how it will help them progress in their careers.

Clearly define the purpose and intended benefit so employees understand why they’re there, what the concrete benefit of the training is, and what the impact will be—on the individual, their team or department, and the organization as a whole.

Employees also need to see that the higher-ups are taking this training seriously and making it a priority in their own calendars, not just mandating it for others. When executives and higher-level management aren’t physically present at training activities, a message is sent. The professionals who are present at the training start to wonder: “Well, if this isn’t important enough for them to be here, why do I need to be here?”

Source: “Pitfalls To Avoid When Developing Your Workforce,” Chief Executive, May 19, 2023

  1. Find an investor.

Mentors serve an important role in professional development. They listen, provide support and trust, offer guidance, coach, and share advice based on their experience. But what mentors can’t always offer is opportunity.

To ensure that high-potential employees have the chance to showcase their talent, ambition and development, they need a career investor—someone who not only recognizes their potential but is willing to put something of value on the line (e.g., their own reputation, client relationship, future business chances) to give that person an opportunity. These well-respected leaders leverage their own status, network and influence to provide a platform where high-potential talent can shine.

Career investors can be particularly useful for individuals who are typically overlooked for leadership opportunities, such as women, minorities and members of the LGBT+ community.

Source: “Mentors Aren’t Enough: What Women Need to Advance,” Gallup.com, March 8, 2023

  1. Balance hard and soft skills.

Establishing a balance between hard and soft skills is essential if you want an effective, adaptable workforce.

Hard skills give employees the job-specific knowledge required to do their work. Examples in the insurance industry include data analytics, underwriting, risk modeling, marketing and brand management, accounting, etc. Providing training for these skillsets keeps employees current and compliant with best practices for the industry.

Soft skills relate to how people interact and work together—think empathy, leadership, active listening, problem-solving, time management and communication. Even the most technically adept employees need strong soft skills to build positive relationships and thrive within a team or organization.

Identifying organizational goals and mapping out your team’s current abilities can help identify which skills can be improved upon.

Development programs can include self-paced learning, on-the-job practice, certifications and peer-to-peer mentoring. When adding soft skills training to the mix, consider layering in experiential learning and interactive elements such as hands-on workshops, group learning and cross-training designed to upskill while also building relationships with co-workers. It’s not enough to simply teach employees about critical thinking, time management and communication. People need to practice and apply those skills before refining them.

Source: “Balancing Hard and Soft Skills in Learning & Development,” Reworked, May 15, 2023

  1. Shift your mindset.

New manager training programs often neglect the critical need for inexperienced managers to understand and change the underlying mindsets that shape their behavior. What helped an employee succeed as an individual contributor may hinder their success as a manager.

Self vs. team: Individual contributors operate with a “self” orientation. They regard work as a chance for self-advancement, and they strive for the recognition associated with personal success. In a leadership role, the focus must be redirected from succeeding as an individual to fostering the success of the team. A new manager that seeks an “I” in team will not be successful in inspiring others to follow them. The team they lead has a much greater chance of being dysfunctional, non-collaborative, and lacking in motivation and connection.

Problem avoidance vs. solution engagement: Most individual contributors actively avoid situations where they might make mistakes. They are often reluctant to take on ambiguous challenges or risky opportunities out of a fear of failure. They know that they are not in control of the resources, support and even knowledge they might need to succeed, so they’d rather not risk it. Leaders cannot afford to be afraid of risk. They need to be adaptable and flexible, ready to pursue innovation and challenge the status quo.

Rigid execution vs. flexible adaptive: Individual contributors are focused on execution—getting the job done right and on time. But this laser focus may cause them to miss information and signals that might suggest a different course of action. Leaders need to be open and flexible, willing to seek out new ideas and perspectives before creating a plan, making a decision or drafting a strategy. They need to easily adapt to new situations and changing circumstances if they want to remain responsive to the needs of their customers and stakeholders.

To help individuals make a successful transition, new leader development programs should prioritize training on these critical mindsets. Through online courses, role-playing exercises and coaching sessions, managers can receive targeted interventions to shape their mindsets.

Source: “Increasing the success rate of first-time leaders: Training the three key mindsets,” Chief Learning Officer, March 6, 2023

  1. Try ‘quiet hiring.’

Smart organizations consider internal talent when new skill sets are needed. This means strategically assessing current employees and making trade-offs on where talent is most needed, and where the organization can afford to slow down work or reduce headcount. It’s about focusing on skills rather than credentials.

Quiet hiring provides employees with the opportunity to work stretch assignments, grow their current skills, learn new skills, extend their careers—and ultimately become invaluable to their current organization and more marketable to others. To keep employees from feeling exploited, organizations should expect to offer incentives, such as additional compensation, one-time bonuses, extra personal time off, flexible hours and working conditions.

But organizations need to make sure they don’t expect too much from employees, leading them to feel overwhelmed or burnt out. It’s important to strike a balance between building employees’ skills and protecting their well-being.

Source: “Why Quiet Hiring is a Win-Win for Employers and Employees,” Gartner, Jan. 25, 2023

  1. Upskill or reskill.

A business is only as strong as its people. The two main schools of thought when it comes to employee growth plans are upskilling and reskilling.

Upskilling is the process of connecting effective, engaged, high-potential employees with the proper tools to improve their business skills so they can begin moving up in the organization. This vertical growth philosophy involves going back to the basics or improving the fundamental skills required for the employee’s current role. Upskilling aims to improve both the soft skills (e.g., leadership, public speaking, people management) and technical skills required to become leaders within the current department or function of the organization.

Reskilling is when an employee is moved to a different part of the business or a new role that may be better suited to their personal skills or the needs of the organization. This horizontal growth method is a great option to keep an effective employee engaged or put them in a better position to be upskilled in the future. Reskilling almost always requires learning new functions, processes or skills that are applicable to the new role.

An effective way to break down employee performance and potential is through a nine-block exercise. This ranks employee talent through a 3×3 grid based on both performance and potential. High-performance and high-potential employees will be a great fit for upskilling, while high-potential but lower-performance employees may be good candidates for reskilling.

Source: “Maximize Employees’ Reskilling And Upskilling Power,” Chief Executive, 2013

  1. Be a STAR.

In the absence of more formal leadership training, a simple four-step management framework—stop, think, ask, result (STAR)—can help managers adopt coaching-related behaviors that foster collaboration between team members rather than jumping in to fix every problem themselves.

Stop. Resist the urge to immediately solve your team’s challenges.

Think. Why has this person approached me? What do they need from me? Do they want me to help them brainstorm, or are they simply seeking validation? Will my feedback make things better or just different?

Ask. Asking questions will help stimulate the individual to do their own thinking. Plus, giving people the chance to contribute to a solution—as opposed to presenting it to them—shows that you believe in their potential and trust their ownership.

Don’t ask “why,” which can sound accusatory and make the employee defensive. Replacing “why” with “what” refocuses the conversation on the facts of the situation you are enabling them to solve. For example, instead of asking, “Why did you assume the market size was small?” change the question to, “What factors led you to assume the market size was small?”

It’s important to avoid distractions and resist the temptation to interrupt with your own input—practice active listening.

Result. Your goal is to draw out the talents and logic of the other person, helping them to determine a clear next step. Remember that there is more than one way to reach a solution. You need to help your team member find their own path if you want them to build resilience and tackle similar situations on their own in future.

Source: “Are You an Accidental Manager?” Harvard Business Review Ascend, May 23, 2023