6 Easy (and Cheap) Ways to Grow Your People

Do you want to please your CEO and your CFO at the same time? Increase the top line, without hurting the bottom line.

If you are not in sales, or cannot go hunt the big game yourself, you may try reducing employee turnover without putting a big dent on the company’s piggy bank.

Opportunity for growth is one of the best benefits you can offer to your employees. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It gets them better. It keeps them engaged. And, done well, it can even keep them from leaving. Interestingly, growth is not just “promotion”, but also (and often mostly) “exposure” and “learning”. Lack of opportunity for growth is among the most frequent reasons employees quit their jobs. And “exposure” is among the most cited reasons candidates give for seeking a new job, a new “opportunity”.

Some companies get it all. They get constant in-flow of high-skilled graduates and experienced professionals, and manage to keep the ones they want for a very long time. Why would young people aim for the McKinsey, Deloitte and Goldman Sachs of the world, if not for exposure? Salaries at these firms are good, but not always commensurate with the extra work they will have, and in some countries, they are actually lower than market average, due to the pedigree it gives young professionals. But beyond the pedigree, beyond the brand name, these companies are career accelerators. They not only prove de facto that you were good in the first place, but they are known for grooming you well. And it is true, you get it all:

  • Comprehensive training – on hard skills, soft skills, industrial, functional and technical knowledge
  • High-caliber peers coming from different horizons, with different perspectives, whom to learn from
  • High-stakes assignments, giving frequent exposure to harder and more complex problems to resolve
  • High-pace environment, giving constant exposure to more situations, more clients, more industries
  • Large, powerful circle of alumni in great corporate positions, where to apply the expertise and experience you got

Now, if you are not at McKinsey, Deloitte or Glodman Sachs, how to get your people this, without the $300M budget? Ideally, you would want your people to be trained by the best, in bootcamps and through corporate academy like the one Deloitte University, McKinsey, Bain, UBS and others. But if, when you look at your training budget, you consider asking people to bring their own coffee on training day, you will have to find another way. The good news: there are easy ways stretch your training dollars, if you are smart about it.

So what can you do?

  1. Give them opportunities to rotate. People tend to have a siloed view, “us” vs. “them” mentality, until they see the other side. Show them the other side. Better, make them responsible for the other side for a while. If done well, it will pop the silo bubble right there and then.
  2. Give them opportunities to share – Set up forums. People love to talk, and they will listen, if there is something they can actually use to work less, or be better – and if it is not management speaking. Set forums, places for them to share what they know, what they find and what they resolve.
  3. Give them opportunities to shine – Set up stretch goals. Some people love to do things that are “beyond expectations”. Collect a pool of stretch goals, goals your business does not depend on for survival and normal growth, but could make a great difference if achieved. When people ask for exposure, share these goals, and ask them what contribution they could have. Let them choose their own program, as long as it contributes to your stretch goals.
  4. Give them opportunities to amaze – free assignment time. Some people would love to create their company, but they cannot, because they have kids, mortgages, and other adult responsibilities that get in the way of risking it all. It does not mean they don’t have good ideas, and the will to work hard to prove they can make great things with them. Give them a chance to to prove their greatness. Give them time to amaze you, free of any reign. You will be disappointed, many times. But a few outliers may redefine your business.
  5. Give them a buddy – Set up awesome pairs. What started in IT with programmers can be applied to many roles in many industries. Employees in pairs will learn to trust one another, to work together as teams, to notice more little details, to fight poor practices and learn good ones. You will also notice who plays well and who doesn’t; who leads and who follows.
  6. Create mentoring and/or coaching opportunities. When I was at Deloitte, I remember our organization offered a great training on how to build your own board of directors. The idea was great, even if they had not brought it as far as they could have. Create a pool of coaches. Create a pool of leaders mentors. And tell your people these pools exist, and it is their responsibility to find surround themselves well to succeed.

If you do some of these, you will see subtle changes at different levels:

  • Your staff will lose a bit of their silo mentality
  • They will get periods of excitement that break the monotony of the day-to-day
  • They will acquire new skills
  • They will weave new relationships beyond the old circles
  • They will learn to work together
  • And they will learn they can rock, and you like them when they do

Caveats:

  • Give your people certifications but no great way to shine, and they will leave the second they have the certification
  • Give your people training but no way to use it in-house, and they will simply not care at all, wasting your investment

Train them. Yes. But give them opportunities. And the ones who have music in their head… Let them rock!

Angus Young - AC/DC

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