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Time Management: The Managers Role in Employee Development

There are a number of articles on time management and a managers role in employee development and most focus on the tasks a manager should complete.  I want to take a different view and look broadly at where a manager spends their time in employee development.  As we discussed in Investing Wisely in Coaching, Managers have a finite amount of time and need to be strategic about how they spend this very precious commodity.  We will discuss the managers role in employee development, the phases of employee development, how you can determine where to spend your time and on what activities, and then cover tools that are useful in employee development in the various phases of development.

The Managers Role in Employee Development

As a manager there are many hats you wear.  The most important hat is the Coach and Development hat.  Coaching and developing employees is integral for any business to move forward, make improvements in processes and productivity, and continue up the Business Life Cycle curve.  The manager role is critical to Effectively Managing Change and businesses will not succeed long term without change.  As I think about change I can’t help but notice how employee development and training is always involved.  So we get to why we need to develop our folks and what the managers role in employee development will look like.  The managers role in employee development is

  • Helping employees identify their development needs
  • Providing positive reinforcement and re-directive feedback
  • Goal set and Development Action Plan
  • Allocate manager and employee time for coaching and development activities
  • Communicating organizational related information and helping them see how they fit in the picture

The manger as coach role is robust and time consuming considering how many employees they typically manage.  Let’s begin putting this together by discussing the phases of employee development.

Phases of Employee Development

As I see it, there are two phases of employee development:  new employee in their first 90 days and the employee that is 90 days plus.  It is important to make the distinction in were your employees fall as your focus on their development will differ.  The managers role in employee development is to identify the phase in which the employee falls so you are focusing on the right development activities.

For the employee new to role, and I define that as first 90 days, the manages role in development will focus on reinforcing what the individual learned in training, assuming you have some form of formal or informal training program.  Action plans and manager activities will be designed to monitor adherence and understanding of company polices and procedures.  The more detailed, documented and communicated the plan is to the individual, the better.  There will be more time spent with the employee providing positive feedback on adherence to procedures and clarification on non-adherence to the procedures.  The more time spent coaching the employee at this phase, the better the development and performance results the manager will realize.  Development time is spent watching the employee work and providing real-time feedback.  There may be some re-training you identify as necessary.  Some time should be spent alone with the individual providing them feedback and developing a relationship with them; feedback is best received from a manager the employee believes knows them and has their best at heart.  So, how much time should you spend per employee at this phase?  I would recommend a minimum one hour per day.  Before you balk and say you don’t have that much time ask your self, what is the cost in time and productivity if you do not ensure the employee get’s it right from day one?  If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over, and at what cost in lost productivity and/or poor quality?

Phase two is 90 days plus.  Why this timeline?  You have now spent a significant amount of time ensuring the employee knows the role.  You have a relationship with them and you have identified their strengths and opportunities, you know their skill and will, see High/Low Matrix.  At this point you are ready to determine their performance and potential and bucket them in the four categories of Poor Performer, Under Achiever, Solid performer and Star Performer.  First, don’t hesitate to categorize your employees.  Many managers feel it is harsh to bucket their folks.  I will argue you must do so in order to strategically allocate your time spend and to know how to develop your employee.   If you don’t know the employees will/skill or performance/potential, how will you know whether to coach or counsel or how to invest your time in the right development activities for the right amount of time? 

First start by using the Performance/Potential matrix (remembering performance is numerical and competency based), determine where each team member aligns.  Are they a Poor Performer (low/low), are they an under Achiever (low/high), a Solid Performer (high/low), or a Start Performer (high/high)?  After this, think about their goals, strengths, and performance opportunities.  For the Poor Performers, are they there because of a will or skill issue or both?  As you think about their development you must consider counseling for will issues and coaching for skill issues.  This is an integral step and will be the same for the Under Achievers.   The Stars and Solid performers will typically fall in the skills/coaching category otherwise you have likely put them in the wrong category.  A common mistake we make is considering employees that have very high results as Stars even though they have competency (behavioral) based issues.  With these folks the ends typically justify the means; this does not make for a good long-term prognosis for your company.  If you have someone you categorized as a Star, and their behavior’s to attain the results are not something you want your new folks to model, you should re-categorize these folks as Under Achievers and create their development plans accordingly.  The best example I have of this is my friend Mike.  He is the Number 1 Regional Sales Manager for a company year over year and most of his employees love him.  They love him because he is great at teaching them to cut corners and get short-term results; he also knows how to “fill their emotional piggy bank” so they owe him one.  Until the negative behavior stops, he should be categorized as a Solid Performer needing to change his competencies.

Allocating Time in Employee Development

The managers role in employee development begins by categorizing their employees in the Performance/Potential categories then to determine the will/skill of each.  At this point you can determine how to best facilitate assisting your employees in determining their strengths and development needs and the time you will allocate to each individual in their development. 

Let’s begin by discussing the Stars.  The Stars have high potential and performance and do not typically have any will based issues.  For these individuals the manager will assist them in writing a development action plan directed at helping them improve on behaviors that are already strengths and in identifying any lower level skills necessary to make the step into their next potential role.  When managers provide a few good ideas and continue to challenge these folks, they can see an increase in their performance, as discussed in Investing Wisely in Coaching, by 10% plus. You want to spend 20-30% of your coaching time with the Star performers working on their development toward their next role and on providing feedback on their current skill set.  Time is wisely spent discussing progress on their plan, asking questions about their development with minimal time needed observing behavior.  Time spent observing behavior will be when you have delegated a higher level task, presentation, or have asked them to peer coach someone.

The managers role in developing their Under Achievers is very different than with the Stars.  This group needs more coaching and development in the skill area and the manager should spend 50-60% of their time here.  These folks, with your coaching and development, can gain you another 15-19% gain in productivity.  So how do you develop them?  Help them focus on tactical and behavioral skill development.  Their Development Action Plan will be designed to improve their skills specific to your industry (Job Specific Knowledge), sales, collection, finance, manicure, customer, project, process, or whatever skills.  You will also want to focus on what behaviors they need to change or increase to drive the results you need them to achieve and they will do so because these folks have the potential and the desire.

The Solid Performers, god bless their souls, have high performance and have about reached their potential.  They are often called the “steady eddies”  because they meet and exceed day in and day out but aren't moving up the ladder, if you will.  The managers role in employee development here should concentrate on motivation and incremental improvement.  These performers will has a Development Action Plan will that focuses on skill development designed to try and gain a little more performance with limited interaction by the manager.  The manager should spend approximately 20% of their time in coaching and development with the Solid Performers.

Last, but not least, the Poor Performers.  Here are a few assumptions to be made with the employees in this category:  1.) someone has spent the necessary coaching and development time to give them the basic skills needed to succeed in the role, and 2.) they have received all the coaching and feedback needed to increase their skill set and behaviors.  Given this is true, the managers role in employee development for Poor Performers is somewhat limited to skill development and documenting coaching and counseling.  The time allotment is a maximum 10% because you will not gain much in performance since they do not have the potential.  Manager/coaches often spend a significant amount of time here because they “think” they have the most to gain.  If you have categorized these individuals correctly, you will spend too much time and get way too little from them.  The DAP should focus on skill development and the majority of the time spent documenting coaching/counseling so you can make the right decision on their tenure with your department or group.  Use of the IGROW Model will help these conversations be more specific and directional for these employees.

Tools for Managers to Use in Employee Development

There are many tools managers can use in developing employees.  Management By Walking Around  (MBWA) is highly effective for informal development.  This allows the managers to identify skills being used and allows the opportunity to provide positive feedback on the spot.  MBWA also gives the manager and opportunity to identify skills not being used so the manager can provide immediate re-directional feedback.  In this case, the manager will want to provide the feedback and give the employee an opportunity to use the feedback immediately so the manager can see the skill being used.  In this way, the manager can provide immediate direction and will be able to address this skill in a more formal setting at a later date. 

Formal development can utilize a Development Action Plan.  As discussed previously, action plans are used for individuals with development opportunities and for employees doing well but still needing skill growth.  In either situation, a plan can, and should utilize Peer Coaching, learning opportunities, delegation, and for the employee being prepared for the next level, exposure to senior leaders.  Remember, development happens in many ways so use many different learning opportunities.  Use reading material, courses, events and the like to train skills.  The managers role in development is to help identify the behavior or skill to improve or enhance and to provide the opportunities to do so.

The managers role in employee development is to first identify the phase the employee is in and then to categorize the employee into one of the four categories.   The next step is to assist the employee in identifying their development opportunities and assist them in writing a Development Action Plan; this step is integral in a formal development plan.  Then give the employee the learning opportunities they need and the feedback necessary to know where they are in their development.

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