Skill gaps—the ones that keep teams and individuals from accomplishing goals—need a critical eye. As a leader, your job is to decide which skills are most important to your business objectives and how best to develop them. That’s pretty obvious.
What may be less obvious is how to foster your employees’ intrinsic motivation to invest in improving. They may have different ideas about how to spend their time, resent being told how to work and either passively or actively avoid the deliberate practice required to develop the skills your company needs to succeed.
Guiding the strategic development of skills while supporting an employee’s own learning objectives is critical to your ability to lead well. Though it may seem convenient and efficient for a leader to develop prescriptive training experiences for the team, nothing works as well as empowering the employee to take the initiative and follow through. The more say an employee has in creating options for how to close the gap—for example, through on-the-job experiences or projects, courses or training, teaching others via a “lunch and learn,” etc.—the more invested they’ll be in fully committing to the upskilling effort. To that end, when discussing skills or knowledge gaps with your team, it helps to ask the question, “How can I help you become even more effective in this area?”
If they choose not to follow through despite having your support, you’ll know they’re not committed to improving in that area. The effort and discussion at that point will focus on finding a different approach to their development, a role that’s more suited to their current skills and knowledge or a path to a different role that aligns with their career goals.
Figuring out how to help employees grow isn’t always easy.
3. Make continuous improvement a continuous expectation.
Too often, leaders conduct employee development conversations only during the annual review. Not only is that too infrequent but it can bring a lot of emotion and surprise into the evaluation and neglect the important teachable moments that happen all year long. Hold formal progress checks at least twice a year using a skill improvement report, and then add agreed-upon areas of development. Use this as the guide anytime you meet with the employee to check progress and identify where support is needed.
4. Determine how you’ll measure success.
Enabling an employee to improve on a skill or knowledge gap that they’re motivated to address is only half the battle. Often the step that is skipped is determining whether the employee has developed the skill or sufficiently addressed the gap. Perhaps a certification or test for a technical skill will suffice. Better yet is seeing that the newly acquired ability is becoming a habit the employee practices. That’s where self-assessment and manager-assessment tools can help measure whether the employee has improved in a specific area of development over time.
Self and manager assessments can provide qualitative insights into skill development. When these insights are coupled with quantitative data, the picture becomes even clearer. Not only will you feel aligned, but you’ll also be able to measure those skills in practice.
5. Make feedback a two-way street.
Seek ongoing feedback from your team about your company’s skill development programs. Annual employee survey feedback isn’t frequent enough. Conduct quarterly exercises for a fast and simple way to get a clear, prioritized to-do list that incorporates everyone’s unmet needs. Encouraging feedback more often will help your employees feel like they play a bigger part in their own skill development and the company’s success as a whole, rather than if you steamroll them with a strictly top-down approach.
By building a clear path to successful development and using simple, effective tools to check in regularly on progress, leaders can be more effective at growing their teams. And, as workforce shortages continue to grow, employee development has never been more important.
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