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employee development alandickie

image from alandickie.com

It’s not a secret. Giving good, thorough, honest and helpful feedback on a regular basis helps to develop employees. Many companies attempt to do this through the annual employee review process, but often that’s the only time employees receive feedback. Then there are those managers who know how to develop and lead a team, and will employ open communication tactics on a regular basis.

This week, I’m up to my eyeballs in assessing papers and speeches. I teach two courses that include written editorials, spoken editorials, profiles and how-to projects. My eyesight is blurring as I work through the pile, providing paragraphs of written feedback for each. There are days I dream of just assigning an “88” or a “B+” and being done with it, but I know my students deserve better.

I find giving feedback in the classroom isn’t that different from the boardroom. Like my employees, I want my students not only to meet goals, but also to exceed and excel. One way is to develop them on an on-going basis. We identify weaknesses for improvement and build upon strengths while they’re doing the work. If I waited until the semester was over and said, “Well, if only you had only done A, B or C, you would have passed,” I have plenty of frustrated students. I know there are plenty of instructors who simply dash off a grade and are done (I had my share in graduate school and I have friends who suffered at the hands of inept and uncaring TAs), but at my college we provide on-going feedback because we want to our students to learn and employ concepts. And it works.

I’ve seen it in the corporate environment and on-going feedback works there too. I’ve also seen when companies or managers don’t provide honest and on-going feedback, and how that doesn’t work.

I recently found out a former employee is no longer in a position in which she excelled. She was brought into a formal meeting with her manager and human resources where she was informed her work situation was not “working out” and was told that “many” people were upset with her performance. The manager was first taking away her direct reports and then they would eliminate her position. The manager’s reason was that, while this woman had been working remotely for a short-term because her husband had accepted a temporary job relocation, she wasn’t getting the job done.

It was all news to this woman. It was the first time her manager spoke to her about a problem with the situation. She came into this very formal meeting unaware a decision had already been made about her career.

image from freshtrack.co.uk

image from freshtrack.co.uk

It’s unfortunate for many reasons and on many levels. I always found the woman to be a solid employee who had the best interests of the company in mind. When issues arose, we discussed them. We kept open lines of communication that allowed our team to provide marketing and communication results that the company never before experienced. The kicker in her situation is that her spouse had already initiated the relocation process back to the area, and yet the manager would not reconsider the decision. Perhaps if he had spoken to her about what he saw as a problem earlier, he could have worked with her through the transition. It appears that her current manager did not encourage open communication. And as is usually the case, there are probably other elements at work behind the scenes as this isn’t the first instance of this happening at that company in recent times.

This is in direct contrast to another company where a friend of mine is a regional sales manager. The company trains their leaders to do everything possible to work with and develop employees. They have a thorough process to identify weaknesses and strengths, and if an employee is falling short of goals or development, the manager works with the person because they believe in their employees and want to keep the knowledge and experience in the company. That’s a much better business model for employee development. Good employees can be hard to find. When you have one with a fixable glitch, it’s better to work out the problem than give up.

One piece of advice to my former employee is to take this situation as a great learning experience. Use it as a “what not to do” in future employment. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open. Walk through problems or weak spots with employees on a regular basis.

I once had a manager who was extremely inept at managing his staff. After I left his employ and was working elsewhere managing my own team, on a daily basis I would think, “What would D do?” And then I would make sure not to do that.