Liz Weber
Manager's Corner 2006
by Liz Weber

Unhappy Employees Often Mean You Failed to Act

A client recently told me she believes one of her key employees may be looking for a different job. My client was nervous and a bit "defeated." Her employee is smart, efficient, organized, and articulate. She gets along with everyone, works on any project you ask her to, and is willing to try new things. However, she's apparently not happy.

When my client and I talked a bit more, I discovered, Sarah (not her real name), was the only full-time employee left in her department besides the department manager. All other staff had resigned over the previous year and their positions had not yet been filled. After a bit more probing, I learned that the department manager is very nice, but disorganized, not able to think strategically, and not a strong manager.

Needless to say, it was becoming obvious why Sarah wasn't happy. She was carrying the workload for an entire department and was being "managed" by a weak manager. Would you be happy if you were Sarah?

When you have unhappy employees, it may be an indication there are other problems facing your organization. When your "key" employees are unhappy, there are usually some serious issues facing the company that have been around for some time. Often their unhappiness is a result of your failure to address "known" issues. Your job is to determine what's causing your employees' unhappiness, so they don't leave and leave you unhappy. Sometimes the cause of their unhappiness is rather obvious; sometimes not.

After some strategy and reorganization meetings, my client restructured Sarah's department to ensure "busy" work was eliminated and only mission-critical tasks were still on the departmental To Do list. Sarah's manager is receiving coaching to help her become more organized and a stronger manager. Sarah has also been asked to become a key player on an company-wide project. She'll be operating within an aggressive team structure with specific project deliverables and deadlines. Sarah's excited, energized, and looking forward to the challenge. It sounds crazy but she was just handed more work -- and she's happy.

In reviewing the situation and talking with Sarah, we quickly learned she was frustrated with her manager and her current "mind-numbing" work. Sarah likes to challenge herself mentally as well as to "get things done." Her new work on the special project will help accomplish that, while the reduction in non-essential busy work will help her "get things done" quickly. In the meantime, her manager is now more productive and is reorganizing her department and aggressively seeking staff. My client has two employees who are now happier and more productive, in large part because my client finally took action.

If you have unhappy employees, what action do you need to take?

Succession Planning: Determine What You Need

The most common question I'm asked by new clients who are focusing on succession planning is: "How do I start?" It's a great question and its answer is one that many clients don't anticipate: Start by having a very clear, well-developed strategic plan.

Needless to say, when new clients hear that answer, their facial expressions often indicate they're thinking, "She's trying to sell us additional services we really don't need." No I'm not. I'm trying to save you money and a whole lot of unfocused, wasted work.

Think about it for a minute, what is succession planning? It's not what many organizations believe it is: it's not figuring out who's going to step into someone else's position when that person retires. Succession planning is really determining what skills, knowledge, behaviors,and values you'll need in key positions in the future to ensure your organization continues to grow and succeed according to your strategic plan.

Therefore, doesn't it make sense to have a very clear strategic plan in place so you know what skills, knowledge, behaviors, and values you'll need? Then you can determine what key positions you'll need. Once you know what positions you'll need, you can develop specific position descriptions that define what skills, knowledge, behaviors, and values the individuals who will fill those key positions must develop or possess.

By focusing on developing the skills, knowledge, behaviors, and values of individuals who may move into key positions, you'll by default create an organization that takes a more holistic approach to succession planning and employee development. Instead of the traditional succession planning process (i.e., plugging a person into an empty spot) you will create a pool of individuals that possess much broader-based skills and knowledge, and who also exhibit the behaviors and values held dear by your organization.

However, you can't develop your future leaders and key positions until you know what type of organization you expect them to lead. You can't plan for succession options until you plan your organization's future. Succession planning requires you to first determine what you need.

Helping Ourselves by Developing Others

This past month has been an amazing time. We have facilitated planning sessions and have provided management training programs to several clients on topics ranging from Strategic Planning to Enhancing Communications. Each group, without exception, voiced their concern over their organization's current inadequate training for new staff to those in management positions. Each group, of their own accord, acknowledged inadequate knowledge sharing from "veteran" employees to less-experienced staff. Each group independently stated their most important management role now was to focus on developing their employees and thereby ensuring the future of their organizations. In order to help themselves, they need to develop others.

What I find interesting about this is that each group understands this need and believes in it completely. Each group has made this a primary goal for their respective organizations.

Developing others and providing consistent, focused training is not just a feel-good idea they're putting on paper and then filing away. Each client group has determined without a concerted effort to provide better training, career growth opportunities, and an environment employees want to be a part of, their ability to attract, hire, and retain good employees will become virtually impossible.

Recent studies have highlighted the deep dissatisfaction many long-term employees in lower to mid-level management positions have stems from being over-looked and under utilized. New global studies are also showing that workers, at all staff levels, are most satisfied with their jobs when they see opportunities for growth and career development.

If employees are most satisfied with their jobs when they see future career opportunities for themselves and have opportunities to learn, grow and do more, what has held so many organizations back from focusing on and providing training and career development programs before?

A long-held belief has been that training and career development were the responsibilities of the Human Resources Department (HR) and not of every member of the management team. The Human Resources Department hasn't been able to do this successfully alone. HR should orchestrate the effort, but every manager and supervisor needs to be a key player in the overall training design, planning, and employee development process.

With the dedicated support of all managers and supervisors, how could a focused employee training and development program fail? With all managers and supervisors intently focused on enhancing the skills and career opportunities of their employees, how could employees not feel supported? With an organization focused on developing its entire employee population, how could it not help itself? If your organization needs help, consider developing your staff; they are your organization's future.

Why Don't They ...?

Have you ever gone into a store and had a heck of a time trying to find what you wanted? You finally had to have someone lead you to it because the store's signage was poor. Like me, you probably thought, "Why don't they just put up clear signage?"

Have you ever tried to reorder from one of your suppliers only to be put through the third degree because they're updating their Customer Service Management System. Like me, you probably thought, "Why couldn't they just upload my account history from their old system instead of wasting my time?"

Have you ever gone to one of your favorite restaurants for a relaxing dinner, only to find the menu has changed and your favorite entree has been "improved"? Like me, you probably thought "#&%^@#" - or more diplomatically - "Why did they have to mess with it? No other restaurant could prepare it the way they used to."

Why don't they...?
Why do they...?
Why is it so difficult to...?
Whatever happened to...?
Why don't they...any longer?
...was so neat. No one else did it the way they did.
It doesn't feel as if...any more.
Now when I call....
Now when I order....
Now when I stop in....

It's easy for each of us to identify what other businesses are doing wrong to make it hard, a waste of time, or disappointing for us as customers to do business with them. However, when was the last time we took a look at our own businesses and asked:

Why don't we...?
Why do we...?
Why is it so difficult to...?
Whatever happened to...?
Why don't we...any longer?
...was so neat. No one else did it the way we did.
It doesn't feel as if...any more.
Now when customers call....
Now when customers order....
Now when customers stop in....

If it's been awhile since you've thought about these things, it may be time.
Why don't you do it now?

Who Is Key?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a client. We were discussing her company's strategic plan and the next step: the succession plan. I was outlining for her the basic steps to identifying the responsibilities of key positions when she asked a great question: "Just what is a 'key' position?" Her question honestly stunned me for a moment because of it's simplicity and it's importance. If we as business owners don't know which positions in our company are "key", how can we ensure we've got those positions properly staffed, trained, and supported now and into the future? If we don't have our key positions solidly staffed and operating effectively, what might we anticipate about the rest of our company's positions?

From most consultants' and businesses' perspectives, key positions are typically those positions that sit in the "C-Suite": i.e., Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and chief of anything else, as well as other members of the executive and senior management teams. From my perspective, a key position is any position within an organization that has no double. Basically any position within your company that you only have "1" of - so this could be your CEO, your Director of Sales, your Office Manager, your Maintenance Supervisor, and your Mechanic Level 3.

My definition of key positions obviously creates more "key positions" but for any organization to do effective organizational and employee planning, you need to take into account all of those situations where one person currently holds all the knowledge of his or her position. If he or she leaves your company, you do not want your organization held hostage because no one else knows how to do that job -- be it the CEO's or the Maintenance Supervisor's.

Given this, it's crucial that all key positions be reviewed to ensure employees in key positions are:

  1. Documenting critical procedures (i.e., procedures that only this position handles or knows how to do).
  2. Identifying and training a handful of other employees on the critical procedures to ensure others know how to do or at least know how to access the information to do these critical procedures.
  3. Identifying and developing others who could step up or step into their position if needed and if/when promotions occur.

So, who is "key" to your company? It's obviously not just the people in the fancy offices. It's anyone who knows the key to running an area of your business.

Train Your Shrinking Labor Pool

According to an article in the July 2006 issue of Benefits & Compensation Digest entitled: Balance Short-Term Profit with Long-Term Investment in Human Capital: "The Labor Department...recorded by 2008 the growth of the U.S. Workforce is projected to drop to near zero and remain at that level for the next 25 years. This is the consequence of a vast exodus of 79 million U.S. baby boomers who will retire from the workforce between 2010 and 2015. Hiring new employees will become more problematic as wages increase for the fewer people with the right skills."

Pretty sobering isn't it? However, for anyone paying attention to the news for the past several years, this shouldn't be new information. Just a reaffirmation of more challenges coming our way as employers. So how do we confront it?

First, we need to provide an environment that our employees want to be a part of -- now and in the future. We need to continue to create business environments our employees want to come to and participate in on a regular basis, versus a job they dread coming to each day. If they dread coming to work, they certainly will stop coming when they can retire or some other company lures them away with more money. We can improve our work environment for our employees through any number of ways -- depending upon what our respective organization and employees need.

We may need to simply physically, clean-up the place. This sounds petty to many, but I can't tell you the number of times I've had to strongly recommend to clients that before they spend any money on consultants and other experts to "fix their employees," they'd increase their return on any such investment if they first cleared away the gathered clutter, bought filing cabinets, threw away broken equipment that was stock-piled in corners, organized their inventory and supplies, and hired a janitorial service to regularly clean the facility -- particularly the restrooms.

We can also improve our working environment for our employees by holding ourselves and all employees accountable to abide by the Values of our company -- day in and day out. Again, this sounds touchy-feely to some of you, but after working with various organizations for 20 years, I've seen the attitudes and focus in employees shift positively, when they know and understand what standards of performance and behavior they will be held to -- and then are.

Second, we need to provide continuous, serious training to our current employees to keep them engaged, in-step with technology, and learning new aspects of our business' operations. A recent study by Korn/Ferry showed that 51% of the executives surveyed indicated they were at least "Likely" to choose a different career field, because it provided the possibility of learning something new. Other studies are also indicating that more people nearing retirement are planning to continue to work -- at least on a part-time basis to keep engaged, learning, and "current." Given this, doesn't it make sense to provide additional opportunities for our employees to learn new and challenging skills with us instead of having a competitor hire them away?

Again, there are no easy answers. But if we start to prepare now for the serious challenges ahead, we and our employees will find solutions to work around the shrinking labor pool.

Directors Direct. Managers Do.

Recently a colleague asked me for advice to help him with one of his clients. My colleague's been working with this particular client for several years, but it's getting to a point of frustration where my colleague's ready to walk away. The manager -- or as my colleague now calls him -- The Teflon King, is incredibly skilled at deflecting responsibility and accountability. He's also amazingly skilled at bamboozling the board of directors by not bringing issues to their attention that would show mismanagement on his part, pushing work and decisions to the board that he and his staff should be addressing, and protecting his inadequately-trained and rude staff. Instead, he seems more comfortable in some type of peace keeper role -- i.e., he prefers to help keep everyone and everything appear smooth and efficient, while all heck is breaking loose with the customers because of his mismanagement and his staff's poor customer relations and work.

The board is comprised of volunteers -- all interested and well-meaning -- but not professionally skilled or trained in this respective industry either. The manager and the board were all given their respective positions by the organization's owner -- who, has limited day-to-day interest in the organization's operations. He trusts the management team and the board.

My colleague has been working with the board and has developed a good working relationship with its members. However, he's had limited success in getting them to fully comprehend the ineffectiveness of the manager and its subsequent negative impact on customer relations and the long-term negative impact on their entire organization. My colleague is stuck. What should he do to help the board guide this organization towards greater effectiveness? My suggestion to him was: Instead of making it sound personal -- i.e., you against the manager -- why don't you make your suggestions and recommendations to the board position-oriented? Clarify with the board, what their role and responsibilities are and what the role and responsibilities of the manager and each of his key staff positions are.

For example, the board of directors' role is to direct - through policy discussion and vote - what direction the organization should take in the future. The board's task is to discuss and analyze the big-picture issues that will allow this organization to grow and thrive into the future -- or which may threaten it. The board -- which only meets once each month -- does not have the time to debate issues affecting daily operations and rather basic customer issues. The board should be holding the management team accountable to ensure the daily operations are conducted smoothly, effectively, and efficiently -- with care given to ensure the customers' concerns and needs are addressed.

The manager, on the other hand, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization. Also, given the staff's daily interaction with customers, their services, and other vendors, the manager is responsible for bringing to the board specific suggestions for policy discussions, analysis of the ramifications of each suggestion presented, and recommendations for action -- based upon their experience with the daily operations and industry.Also, the manager is the point person to ensure his staff is properly trained, responsive, and effective in representing the organization to the customers and media. The manager and his team do the leg-work for the board; it shouldn't be the other way around.The manager works for the board. The directors direct,but only after the manager does his job.

If the board is taught to start focusing their time and efforts to more effectively fulfill their responsibilities, by default more legwork, information, and accountability will be pushed to the manager and his team. It will take time, but doing the job they've been asked to fulfill, the board will start to better understand the importance of also holding the manager and his staff accountable to effectively fulfill the jobs they've been hired to do. However, when directors direct and managers do, incredible things happen in organizations. It just requires work, focus, and a willingness to be responsible and accountable.

Control Freaks

It's happening again. We've been contacted by several clients all dealing with the same issue: current top management is ready to move on (retire, sell, quit, transfer to a new division, etc.) and there's no staff ready or able to replace them.

The problem from the clients' perspective is: How are we ever going to replace "Joe" as he's been here from the start and knows everything about this business and this company. There's no one out there that's going to be able to do everything Joe does. The problem from my perspective is: Joe's done it all, been it all, and run it all for years. He's been superman: every time an employee couldn't get the job done; Joe figured out how to do it and got it done. Because of this, he's been a control-freak, hasn't developed his team, hasn't held others accountable, and now he's simply burnt-out. So, what to do?

First - Review with Joe everything he does in the course of a day, a week, and a month. That alone will make you and Joe tremble, but it will also shed light on just what Joe spends his time doing, that he shouldn't be doing. You'll no doubt discover that Joe spends a great deal of time doing basic tasks that his staff should be handling, but they don't because "Joe's always done it." This exercise will allow you to get a good look at what tasks Joe is doing that are appropriate for his position, and what tasks he is doing that should and could be handled by other staff.

Second - Realign tasks to the appropriate positions. Develop a training and career-development plan for all effected employees to phase-in the realigned responsibilities. Ensure your employees understand what timeline you're working on and when they need to have the "new" skills firmly developed to take over the responsibilities their positions are responsible for.

Third - Direct this training and development project from the top with direct input and monitoring from the CEO, President, Director or other most senior position to send a clear signal that this is a serious project that needs immediate and successful implementation. Have your human resources and/or training manager work with you and Joe to develop basic training and "responsibility shift" plans to move tasks from Joe to others. (This is a skill Joe lacks and therefore hasn't done. HR/Training and top management need to walk him through the steps.)

Fourth - Review all other managers and management positions to determine what other "control freaks" you've got on staff who are not developing their team members and their successors. For any others you find, repeat the three steps above.

Pay attention to your management team and "key staff" day-in and day-out to determine more quickly when you've got control freaks forming. Nip that behavior in the bud and teach these hands-on, do-it-themselfers how to develop others. Help them understand the value in holding staff accountable to do the jobs they're paid to do. The goal is to not only produce day-in and day-out, but to develop a pool of skilled employees who are responsible and able to fulfill their current and future job responsibilities -- and who are able to step in to vacancies when they occur. Don't allow control freaks to hold your other employees -- or your organization -- back.

The Middle Management Mess

The March 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review had a great article by Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson, and Ken Dychtwald entitled "Managing Middlescence." Their article addressed the mid-career employees, aged 35 to 54, who "should be at their peak of productivity," but instead "are the most disaffected segment of the workforce." With one in four of these employees holding managerial or supervisory positions, this is a problem we as employers need to be aware of and act on.

So why are these employees dissatisfied with their careers, burnt-out, and generally feeling as if they're in dead-end jobs? According to the authors' and other research, these individuals are often responsible for raising their children, (from first and second marriages),caring for aging parents, helping their twenty and thirty-something children meet expenses, and looking at their own limited retirement nest-eggs. Because they're not "star" performers, they are often overlooked by senior management and grouped together as a single category of "middle management" so their individual skills, dreams, and desires are lost. In addition, according to the study, this group has the lowest satisfaction rates with their immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives. I believe that last finding is stunning, insightful, and as an employer, a cause for reflection and action.

So what can we do to fix the middle management mess we allowed to form in our organizations?

  1. First, re-evaluate how and where we focus our energies. If yours is like most organizations, we focus most of our energies on the top 10% of employees and the bottom 10%. We woo the top and try to "fix" the bottom. We need to look at this logically. The top 10% don't need that much time from us as they're already self-starters, driven, and frankly they'll resent too much "guidance." We simply need to point them in the right direction, provide them with the resources they need, be available, and let them perform. The bottom 10% are probably not a right fit for us and we're not a right fit for them. So if we've made an honest effort in helping them gain the skills they need to succeed with our organization and it's not worked, face the fact that it probably never will and let them go. The middle 80% have been left alone as they're doing what we expect. However, "left alone" has turned into "ignored."

  2. Second, we need to start communicating clearly -- throughout our entire organization -- what our organization's vision of success is and how each individual employee and his or her position feeds into that vision. Ensure each employee understands where and how he or she fits in to the Plan and keep repeating that message until everyone knows it and "gets it."

  3. Third, start focusing on creating a pool of qualified candidates for every position in your company. Why only focus on a few "star" employees and base your organization's future on them? Why not focus instead on developing your pool of middle managers to become a more skilled, more engaged, and more productive group overall? Why not create opportunities for more than just a few and see who else rises to the challenge? Meet with your middle managers and supervisors to hear from them what challenges they see to this proposal and what ideas they have to make it happen.

  4. Fourth, implement this middle management development process by mentoring and cross-training every middle manager so they understand not only the job they were hired to do, but they understand the job of the person tangent to them, below them, in different departments, and above them. This cross-training not only provides exposure and stimulation, it expands their skills, knowledge and quite obviously expands their understanding of your organization overall. This broadened knowledge allows them to make better decisions because they will have a better understanding of the ramifications of their actions and your executive team's as well.

As John Maxwell says in his book, 360 Degree Leadership, "99% of leadership comes not from the top, but from the middle." I agree. Given that, why not ensure we're supporting the middle as much as the top? Fix your middle management mess by fixing the way you support them.

Get Customers. Get to Know Them

I recently received a thank you note from Matt, one of my nephews. I had helped him revise his resume and practice for interviews, as he needed to "get" a co-op in his final semester of college in order to graduate. Matt wrote that he had "gotten" a great co-op position with a company that has strong future employment opportunities for him as well. Our work in getting to know the prospective organizations had paid off. He was selected while other students with higher grade point averages were not. Matt believes he got the co-op because he walked into the interviews really knowing the companies he was going to be interviewed by, while his classmates did not.

In working together, Matt and I had revised his resume to highlight his skills and abilities that would be of most interest and immediately useful to a prospective co-op position or future employer. In preparing for our practice interviews, I had Matt research the companies on-line, and then connect with people who currently work with each company to learn what issues were facing the company that may not be on their websites. Matt had also developed a number of personal examples of situations in which he had taken initiative and resolved issues, taught or supervised others, or dealt with difficult and stressful situations professionally -- all skills needed in the workplace.

In reflecting on what Matt did to "get" his co-op, I thought how similar his process was to what any good business' should be to "get" customers -- but so often is not. If you're not sure what your process is to "get" customers, ask yourself: Are you "getting to know" them first? Are you reviewing and revising your marketing material to ensure it relays information and benefits most important to them -- or do your marketing pieces just talk about how great you are? Do you spend time researching your prospective customers to ensure you know what their real issues are versus what is just initially requested by them? Are you taking the time to gather case studies and real-world examples of how your products and services have helped others so it's easy for your prospects to see how you might help them too?

In this day and age when we all seem to be competing on price, why not focus on really getting to know our customers and prospects? Besides, when we're customers, who do we prefer to do business with: a company that provides us with a good product at a fair price, or a company that provides us with not only a good product at a fair price, but who also has taken the time to get to know us and to care about us? If you want to "get" customers. Get to know them.

Work-Life or Life-Work Balance

The Herman Group issued a great report that indicates more and more employees are seeking employment with organizations that value their corporate values. As Roger Herman's report indicated, "More people, in their work environment, are basing work and life decisions on personal and organizational values. People are talking about values with their co-workers and their employers." The report also indicated that more employees are no longer seeking employment with organizations that simply offer higher compensation than the competition. Instead, they're looking to work with -- and stay with -- organizations that believe in not work-life balance, but life-work balance.

So what is life-work versus work-life balance and how, as employers, do we take note of this trend? Life-work balance is an understanding that to more and more workers in the workplace -- and soon entering the workplace -- life comes first; work second. To many of us employers this is a stark shift from what we've become accustomed to. For years we've had the luxury of employees who were willing to sacrifice family time to ensure the job got done. Now, trends are indicating that employees are looking to continue to "get the job done", but in more flexible ways that ensures they don't miss out on their lives with their children, elderly parents, etc. More employees are seeking employers who offer a more varied benefits package. Packages that offer such things as flex-time, full-family health insurance, day care, elder care, laundry/dry cleaning pick-up, pharmacy drop-off/pick-up, grocery drop-off/ pick-up, on-site salons, manicure services, chair massages, and many other services that help employees fulfill their "life" responsibilities, while they get the job done.

In addition to providing benefits most desired by your employees, organizations that are life-work oriented, also firmly believe in living their corporate values day in and day out. From the business owner to the newest hire on the front-line, the corporate values are discussed and projected each day by every employee in the organization. It becomes unmistakable to anyone who visits the organization or interacts with it, what kind of values they hold.

If the values and character of the organization match the values and character of the individual employees, their time together is more balanced, focused, and productive. However, this can only happen if both the company and the employee focus on living good lives and producing good work. Then they'll be in balance together.

Clear Needs Lead to Clear Hires

I received a telephone call recently from a client desperately trying to fill a vacancy in her accounting office. After describing the situation she read the position description to me. Among other general items, it noted, "At least three years of accounting experience." Well that's just dandy, but what does that really mean?

Does the person she hires need to have three years of experience in her company's industry, or will three years of public accounting experience be OK? Does the person need to have three years of experience in managing accounts receivable, accounts payable, or both? Does this position even need to be able to "manage" these functions, or does this position just need to be able to input the data? My point to her was: Be clear and specific in stating what you need this person to be able to do. The clearer you can be in your expectations of each position, the clearer you can be during your search, interviewing, and ultimately hiring processes.

It's usually fatal to assume that what you expect someone with three years of experience to be able to do is the same as everyone else's expectations. Given our own frames of reference, we each have vastly different expectations. Depending upon how we learned, what kind of environment we now work in, and how much we're willing to train others, we need to be very clear on what we need, and what we expect of a new hire when he or she comes to work for us. We need to be clear what new employees need to be able to do on Day 1, and well as what they'll need to be able to do on Day 369. This clarity allows us to advertise for openings more effectively, to interview more efficiently, and clarify for prospective employees more honestly, what their jobs will really be like. This clarity helps us and them.

Also, as we have all observed at one time or another in our careers, not everyone has the same level of responsibility and experience, even though their titles may be identical. An accounts receivable manager in one organization may be responsible for supervising a team of 27 collections clerks, while an accounts receivable manager in another organization, may simply be responsible for inputting customer payments. The same title requires two completely different levels of experience, and two very different types of people. However, if you advertise: "Accounts Receivable Manager - three years of experience required," can you see the potential nightmare you just created as unqualified candidates apply?

Review and write your position descriptions in a way that more clearly states what you really need each person filling a position to know. Determine what specific tasks and responsibilities you expect each position to be able to fulfill. Also, state what personal characteristics and attributes (i.e., honest, independent, quick-thinker, etc.), you believe the successful candidate needs in order to, not only fulfill the position responsibilities, but also to fit into your organization's environment.

Be clear in what you need, and you'll find you're much clearer when you hire.

Developing Your Future Leaders - It's Your Responsibility

Many business owners still believe their Human Resources (HR) department is primarily responsible for developing their respective organization’s future leaders. However, the longer business owners keep this limited mindset, the further behind their organizations become. You see, this crucial activity is not primarily HR’s responsibility, it’s theirs. And that scares the heck out of most business owners.

So, as business owners, if developing our organization’s future leaders is our responsibility, how do it? How do we train and develop others to take over for us when we’re not trainers, teachers, or magicians? We need to take three major steps: First, we must believe in the urgency and necessity in leadership development ourselves or no other managers or employees will. Second, we need to create a clear, concise vision and implementation plan for our organization that helps our employees see what our organizations will look like in the future and what its future leaders need to be prepared to do. Third, we establish an organization that provides development opportunities for all employees – not just a select few.

How will these three steps work? By becoming personally involved and focused on the development of our organization’s future leaders, we not only demonstrate our belief in this by our actions, but more importantly, we also take an active role in determining what skills, projects, and responsibilities need to be developed in, provided to, or given to the up-and-comers within our business.

Next, if created properly, the vision will by default touch every department of our organization. Therefore, every department must do something to help attain the vision. If our vision is far-reaching and forward-thinking, every department will be tasked to assert its skills, talents, and energies to new levels to help us reach the vision. When each department starts to understand and plan what it needs to do to help attain the vision, by default, each address staffing, leadership, employee training, project management, and other leadership development and planning issues.We’ve now set the foundation to have HR work in tandem with every department to develop depth and management and employee skill “bench strength” within, not only every department, but the entire organization.

Finally, instead of focusing on only a few individuals, we create a culture where every employee has the potential to be a candidate for promotion or future openings. Why put all of our hopes and resources into just one or two candidates when they may leave or not develop the skills needed? Why risk demoralizing some staff by focusing only on a select few? Why not create an organization where all employees are constantly developing skills, talent, and leadership potential?

To do this, we create training opportunities that require our employees to do hands-on problem solving, project management, and most importantly – to think for themselves. We create cross-training and mentoring opportunities so our employees learn more about the organization and they learn from each other. And finally, we create an organization where every manager understands that developing others is just as important as getting product out the door, and the managers are held accountable to do so.

Now that you’ve taken the lead in believing in and developing your next tier of managers and leaders, your organization is positioned to fulfill the vision you’ve created, with an employee population you’ve helped develop. Not a bad return for focusing on one of your responsibilities as a business owner that so many others delegate to someone else.

Liz Weber, President of Weber Business Services, LLC. Liz consults, speaks, and trains on Succession and Strategic Planning, Leadership Development, and Organizational Infrastructure Development. Liz can be reached at (717) 597-8890. Visit for additional information.

Don't Let 'Em Treat You Like A Girl
A Woman's Guide To Leadership Success
(Tips from the Guys)

by Liz Weber

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Liz Weber. All rights reserved.

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