Let's face it: It's easy to focus on the high achievers -- some might even call them the "all-stars" or "rock stars" -- of your organization. They're always the ones whose hands go up first in meetings. They're the ones with the highest sales numbers or the ones with a work ethic that always pushes them to go the extra mile for prospects, customers, colleagues and, most likely, you. These employees seem to be single-mindedly focused on the job, and the results are there. They want to succeed and you probably give them all the tools they need to do so.
But what about everyone else?
The "middle of the pipeline" is rich with depth and talent, and it's where a lot of gains can be made within your organization. It's important to build different tracks for different people, taking into account personality styles, confidence, professional background, and culture (including social, economic, gender, etc.).
What about the shy or introverted? The team member who needs a lot of direction? The aspirational entry-level employee who has already outperformed the people they grew up around? The ones who took an alternative career path and might not have the confidence of a "rock star," but have the underlying talent?
How are you cultivating these employees, making sure they're living up to their fullest potential? Chances are, you're not doing much. By definition, they're not a "squeaky wheel," but great leaders find and pursue growth rather than waiting for it to be revealed. Truth is, you're letting your company, your team and yourself down by only focusing on the apparent and vocal star employee and leaving the rest of the team to their own devices.
Here are five ways to make the most of all your employees, not just the top producers.
Understand people as individuals
Start by looking at yourself: Are you supporting and empowering your mirror images, or are you looking at folks from all walks of life?
By learning and understanding differences in employees' personalities and work styles -- especially differences from yourself, which are natural blindspots -- and to see they fit into your culture and how you can help people shine. Consider how this matches up with your processes, structure and performance culture.
For instance, my brother (and Co-CEO) Nick and I were raised in an entrepreneurial home, so we were encouraged, from a very young age, to dive in head-first and fully embrace challenges. And we owe much of our success to this advice. But we also recognize that many of our employees don't have our experiences, habits, and perspectives. We know not everyone who works with us was raised that way, so we have to learn how to make them feel comfortable to succeed in our company's culture and take risks to learn and grow.
The truth is that the culture and personality of your leadership team shapes your culture at-large. What tone are you setting? Have you created -- intentionally or by circumstances -- a culture that only rewards the "rock stars?"
Make opportunities broadly known, invited and available
When there's a job opening, what's your processes for recruiting internally? Are employees encouraged to apply? Do they even know what opportunities are available?
You're likely tempted to impatiently answer yes to the questions above, but stop and consider.
Does everyone know about every job at the same time, regardless of their current position? Or do you give the "shoulder tap" only to the obvious stars? You're probably already managing around an efficient and high-probability interview schedule, but don't assume someone from customer experience won't be good at sales, or that the IT director couldn't possibly be interested in a senior management role. Only the best cultures can count on those people jumping in, and they probably still encourage them directly.
So, again, do your employees know when a new job is opened up, and are they all given an opportunity to consider putting themselves forward for it?
It's important to build a consistent process for announcing and inviting applications from all divisions within your organization and seniority levels. We had a sudden opening at the director level in our support and client success team. As a standard practice, we hired an external recruiter to look for a replacement. Beyond that, we posted the job internally to all of our employees and invited specific people on our team (even the ones for whom this would be a stretch) to apply for the position. We interviewed a couple internal applicants, and gave coaching to the ones who didn't make the interview screen about the things they need to develop to be qualified for a role like that. We ended up finding an excellent candidate internally and built clear paths to advancement (based on the conversation kicked off by their application) for several other people on our team.
I suggest you start with a strong, welcoming cultural message both formally (through email and official job postings) as well as informally through management encouragement or nominations. Make it clear that all employees are encouraged to apply for new positions. Make it clear that leadership wants to know who's interested in positions even if the employee is unsure if they meet the job requirements. This is especially relevant when promoting gender equity in the workplace (which, for the record, everyone should be doing) and there's data to support it -- women don't apply for jobs unless they're 100% qualified.
Use the internal interview process to build a path
Now, it is important to say: every internal applicant can't always get the new job. Obviously. But, the process itself can create a new opportunity.
Encourage managers to use the tools and resources (and time) to help their employees prep for a job interview, and reward those managers who have successfully sourced or helped internal promotions. Task them with tracking when people on their teams apply for internal roles.
Provide thoughtful, transparent feedback -- especially after rejections -- to managers and applicants (when prudent, of course, and without violating any confidentiality) about the interview, the candidate's experience and most importantly, what they need to secure the same or a similar role in the future. And, don't just let it stop there.
Incentivize managers to proactively help people on the team fill those gaps by building a culture that celebrates people who have been promoted or successfully landed new roles within the organization.
Engage with all employees to build their career plans, even if they haven't applied for another internal position.
Offer individualized coaching I've seen first-hand the powerful impact of dedicating time and dollars to offer individualized coaching to employees who need it. It may seem that this time spent "sharpening the saw" isn't directly productive, but it builds capacity (and profit!) by building up your people.
Strike a balance between the coaching being initiated and informed by the coach, but owned and driven by the employee.
Make it easy for managers to coach or to point employees to places where they can get mentored. Provide ideas for coaching tips, a template for conversations, and a list of professional development opportunities within the company, the community or trade associations. Once the momentum begins, listen to feedback on what training, budget, role or organizational tweaks are needed.
Better utilize managers The best way to make sure all employees in your organization grow is for the managers to be directly involved. Talk to them, listen to them and leverage what they've seen employees accomplish to help push employees out of their comfort zones (while recognizing how difficult this might be for some of those burgeoning stars).
Have managers encourage their team members to apply for something that they might not have otherwise considered without the nudge. Also, proactively counter the inaccurate notion that this means managers might "lose" their best people. Make it known that everyone deserves an opportunity to shine in whatever role that may be, not just for what they were initially hired. Losing them on one team can add more value to the organization and culture, and demonstrate to others the opportunities available within their own company.
So, who am I to suggest that you rewire your entire employee success program? I'm just the co-CEO of a 50-person company in Charlotte, North Carolina serving 1,000 companies and 6,000 employees around the world. But I'm proud of our results. We have 78% and 57% representation of women and under-represented minorities (URM), respectively. A recent internal study showed a negative female pay-gap, 100% representation of women at the manager level, and consistent URM representation at all levels of the company.
And, we have the hand-down, across-the-board, best team in our industry. Why? Because we walk the walk, and we've implemented every one of these practices in our own business.
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