Keep Developing Your Best Workers

Keep Developing Your Best Workers

If your employees aren't feeling challenged anymore, they might begin to grow restless. Learn to create a work environment that continues to engage, educate and offer opportunity to your workers.

By Tara Remiasz

Good employees are the backbone of your business and the key to future success. But even the most committed worker might look for employment elsewhere if he or she isn't feeling challenged or doesn't see a way to grow with the company. Keeping your staff engaged isn't usually a matter of offering more money or bigger titles — but it does require a bit of thought and commitment on your part.

Cross-train Your Workers
"The career path that goes up the organization is much less common these days than a career path in which employees develop skills and knowledge that follows their interest and fairly often moves around the organization," says Mary Corbitt Clark, executive director at Winning Workplaces in Evanston, Ill. "One of the things that small organizations are doing is cross-training people to maximize the flexibility of their workforce. Employees are seeking opportunities to learn in their jobs, and as long as they believe they're learning, they believe they've got a future. It's when they stop learning and question whether they are valued by the organization that they begin to believe there's less future than they had hoped."

One of the most effective ways to cross-train employees is to create project-based teams, where employees work together to reach a single goal rather than working separately on their own little pieces of the puzzle, Clark says. For example, a design firm would bring together architects, engineers, interior designers and construction managers to work as a team from the start of a project instead of waiting for one part of the project to be complete before providing input. This also helps to inspire awareness about the project as a whole.

Encourage Them to Take a Larger Role
Asking for your workers' input on big-picture questions, such as the best direction to take the business, could open your mind to some new options while also making your employees feel valued. Giving trusted employees more interaction with clients, allowing them to develop initiatives and encouraging them to get involved in industry associations are all ways to empower your workers.

"Sharing power is one of the most effective ways to run and lead a business because when people are involved in the direction of the business, they become more emotionally and intellectually committed to the business," says Tom Northup, founder and principal of the Leadership Management Group LLC in Newport Beach, Calif.

Give Them a Financial Stake
For many people, there's nothing like a financial incentive to peak their interest. Cutting your key workers in on a small portion of your business can ensure that they stay engaged. They begin to see themselves as part of a team — sharing in the business's successes and feeling the sting of its losses.

It's a matter of asking yourself, 'What do I want to really be paying attention to: the larger business issues, or how the expense levels are? Are we getting enough customers?' All of those are things that you really need to be paying attention to if you want your business to operate successfully, says Martin Staubus, director of consulting, Beyster Institute at the Randy School of Management, University of California, San Diego.

Create a Dialogue
"The most progressive organizations are using performance discussions to talk about what the employee would like to learn and how they would like to develop, then looking at the organization's needs and together determining where there is a good fit in terms of assignments or career progression," Clark says.

Having frank discussions with your employees about their interests and aspirations will let you know if they will be a good fit for the company in the long term. It also ensures that the employees who do stay with the company are giving you their best work because they are doing what they love.

It's important to make an employee's future with the company an ongoing conversation, to ensure you're in tune with how he or she is feeling. "The formal performance discussion should never be a surprise, and it really should come from an ongoing conversation," Clark says.

Show Them How to Succeed
People want more than a paycheck from their jobs — they want a career that will teach them something, and enhance their skill set and knowledge in their particular field. Help your workers develop new skills and improve the ones they already have by establishing a good orientation routine and ongoing mentoring program. "People follow the leader not for what they can do for the leader, but for what the leader can do for them," Northup says.

Orientation and mentoring programs for new employees can also go a long way to help new employees feel ingrained in the company quickly. Workers who will one day assume leadership roles can also benefit from mentoring programs. "The role of the manager/supervisor is increasingly that of a mentor and facilitator and less a director of activity," Clark says.