Personal development in a great company culture

Personal development is central to the business in a great company, and so is handled more carefully than in the high-stress cultures described above. The pressures are the same and the need to push forward is equally important. However, the level of care, appreciation and encouragement in the tough times is entirely different.

Everyone is seen as having potential that can be developed, and the stories are countless of people coming in as temps to sort out the filing and ending up in a significant role in the company. Talent can easily be hidden, so great companies seek it out. Regardless of age, gender, race or creed, if you are interested, proactive and come up with ideas for moving forward, you will be supported in doing so.

Opportunities for taking an informal leadership role are numerous when people care about the company and cherish its success. Being aware that something could work better and not acting on it is unacceptable in a culture of commitment and responsibility. It may be the senior leader or the cook who comes up with the bright idea to improve the running of the day, and it will be equally well received from either.

Colleague circles in each Asda store are designed to maximise on just that awareness. Service is for a rotation of two years and volunteers have to apply to the incumbent circle, making a presentation demonstrating their attributes for the job. It is an interesting approach: each person gets experience in presenting to a group and also has to own up to what they do well - an oft-neglected subject in the UK. The circle is given an agenda the company requires them to attend to, and the circle itself raises the issues it sees as important, coming up with ideas for action. It is a fantastic concept that could so easily stray into a whinging session, bemoaning the fact that ‘they' are not doing enough. Persisting with the concept of responsibility, each circle has been given a budget of £5,000 per year to use without reference to the company. So if they think it is important to have daily newspapers for colleagues, it can buy them; if it wants the tiles changed in the toilets, it can get it done. This means that members of the circle can drive change and enjoy ownership of what happens.

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‘That sounds like an awful lot of money for people to do with as they wish. Not every company can do that - and anyway, it probably wouldn't be used wisely.'

Remember: this is what works for Asda. You must find what works for you.

It is an interesting assumption that people will not use money wisely. Resist the temptation to retreat into a ‘parent-child' relation- ship. As a manager or leader, you will have some level of power over the other - how you choose to use that power is another matter. Because certain decisions are in your gift, it does not mean that the people who report to you are incapable. They are probably adults with rent or a mortgage to pay, kids to raise, families to care for, a car to maintain and holidays to arrange. Why would they lose all that common sense when they come to work?

Problems arise where there is little respect or trust between staff and managers. When people feel taken advantage of, they may try to balance the scales. The answer lies not in withholding but in giving respect to the adults you work with, and ensuring that they feel a sense of ownership for the business. If they are really part of the team, there is little chance that they will use money badly. Most of the time, including and trusting people evokes commitment and care of the budgets on all fronts. Many ideas for cutting costs have emerged in just this way, because high-trust cultures attract low costs. It is in low-trust cultures where the costs go through the roof.

Action steps

Begin with your own team:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you trust the people you work with?

  • Identify those you have confidence in and those you are less sure of.

  • List your reasons for and against trusting each person.

  • Work out what you need to do to build up your trust levels.

Trust is built through a relationship, so the more you understand a person, the clearer you will be about trusting. If you have not already done so:

  • Book a time to speak to each person.

  • Find out as much as you can about their work experience. Do they have everything required to do the job? Do they feel well supported? What do they need from you that you do not currently supply? What are their aspirations for the future?

  • Give feedback about your own experience of their work - appreciations and concerns.

  • Agree actions to address shortfalls for both of you.

  • Make a date to check on progress in two weeks, and keep it. Show that you can be trusted and that you are not just doing this because you are reading a book on management.

Once you have spoken with everyone individually:

  • Call a team meeting and find out what they want to change in the team environment.

  • Having listened to their concerns and ideas, choose something you can hand over fully, including giving an appropriate budget.

  • Talk through the project with them, assure them of your support.

  • Agree update meetings and take a back seat.

  • Intervene only if absolutely necessary - model sticking to your word - ie role model the behaviour you need from them.

  • Celebrate success, and if the project is not totally successful, take the learning and celebrate the process.

If you have concerns, be open about them. This is an exercise in trust- building, so do not withhold concern, be honest. Trust does not mean avoiding the tough conversations: it means having them in a respectful and considerate manner.

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When to offer development?

‘Always' is the quick answer. However, every organisation has a range of people with different needs. Not everyone is a high flyer, and even high flyers go into abeyance, depending on what happens in their lives. A company has to be aware of this and react accordingly. It is also true that anyone can come up with a good idea, so making sure that everyone keeps a mindset of curiosity and interest is important.

Some companies provide a small budget for personal development of any type, like the ‘Make yourself more interesting' fund at St Luke's or the funds to go to an evening class of your choice at TD Industries. Jack Lowe Jnr is a firm believer that if a person is thinking and learning in any direction, it affects their ability to learn at work. So taking up an evening class in pottery or ancient history will benefit the company by keeping the brain exploring and inquisitive. The old phrase ‘If youdon't use it, you'll lose it' holds true for great companies.

Some of the best ideas come from people who work on the front line with customers or the specific product. No leader or manager, however effective, can have all the answers. Ensuring that colleagues are alert and interested makes excellent business sense. The last thing you want is people who notice what doesn't work and do nothing about it. Leaving all decisions and concerns to the management is the kiss of death to innovation and high performance. As Mark Davies of Honda is acutely aware: ‘People walk in every day seeing things that don't work well. We have to access that knowledge.'

Some colleagues have reached the peak of their ambition, or had little work ambition to begin with. They enjoy doing a good job, seeing their friends, then going home to a quiet evening with the family or a night out with their mates. Work is not the be-all and end-all. They have exciting hobbies, prefer a quiet life or are saving up to go around the world. This does not mean that they stop thinking or coming up with ideas. Intellectual snobbery is a killer to company development. Everyone brings value - it is a wise company that makes the best of it all.

When people have a specific talent or are bright and ambitious, it makes sense to bring them on. Part of a manager's role is to spot potential anywhere in the business and make the most of it. It may be the person with innumerable good ideas who is not afraid to speak out; the one who listens to the good ideas and sets about forming a plan of action; or the person who can see the flaw and finds a creative way of changing course. Equally, it might be the excellent networker who can support and enable a project team exceptionally well.

As manager, the task is to be a talent scout extraordinaire, ever on the lookout for skills and abilities, even when they do not fit neatly into the usual box. To do this job effectively, high self-esteem is essential. It is really hard to foster talent if you feel unsure of your own position. This is a good reason for building a positive relationship with your manager, so you are clear where you stand, and for doing the same with those who report to you. Personal security enables talent, which builds a strong business.


For managers, the usual time to consider development is at the regular appraisal. This is the moment for looking at progress to date, identifying what works well, what needs to change and how best to move forward. In some organisations it is a process that takes place once a year, sometimes in a very rigorous way, sometimes perfunctorily. Great managers make this a positive occasion, providing feedback and options for going forward. For others it is to be dreaded or even avoided - and some managers always ‘happen' to be called away at the last minute.

Make appraisals a priority and never put off without rescheduling at the first opportunity. It is really important for both colleague and company. Endless preparation will have been done, assessing work since the last discussion, maybe getting feedback from work colleagues, and ideas for the next stage . . . For some it is like preparing for an examination, with all the accompanying stress and anxiety. Put off the date and you divert their energy into anticipation and concern, away from productive activity. Equally, if you disappoint that amount of commitment, it will not happen again - a level of trust will be lost that will take a long time to recover.

Of course, not everyone is so rigorous about their appraisal meeting. Many people do nothing in the hope that it will go away, seeing the meeting as anything from too daunting through to pointless. Only if the manager takes it seriously, demanding that they do too and using it as a meaningful development tool, will they see the true value and begin to get something out of it.

Discuss progress at regular intervals. This may be a formal appraisal or a one-to-one check-in, but it needs to happen. Limit feedback to a thorough review just once a year and you risk missing something, especially with high-potential people. They travel a long way in a year and this needs to be acknowledged and validated. Keeping track is the only way to ensure that they make the most of their chances - the direction may need to change, energy levels for the present challenge may drop, and the sooner it is picked up the better. Some companies like Flight Centre have monthly appraisals to ensure a tight hold on the next steps. Others like Hiscox have a formal appraisal once a year, with a mid-term review and monthly one-to-ones that are sacrosanct. Whatever you call it, check in with your people more rather than less.

Appraisal often determines bonus or salary review. This varies in great companies for a very good reason. People who are growing and developing are sure to make mistakes. According to Mark Davies, ‘If you are brave enough to be exposed, you also know you won't win all the time.' Great companies want people to take risks in learning, experimenting and innovating, and no one can do that without periodic mistakes. If salary review is tied to development, you have a conundrum. Who in their right mind will take big risks if it might cost a jump in salary? The temptation will be to play safe.

In Hiscox the performance level indicators are set half for development, which will not affect pay, and half for performance, which will influence salary. At Flight Centre, performance is clearly measured and bonus is given on all work once the ‘cost of chair' is covered - ie bring in enough work to cover the cost of having a shop or office for you to work in and you get a bonus on everything else.

Encouraging development without penalising people through pay awards is vital to building potential. However, it is also important to reward success. It is a fine line to travel, but one that needs addressing continuously.

Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Becoming an Employer of Choice(c) Make Your Organisation A Place Where People Want To Do Great Work
Year: 2006
Pages: 100 © 2008-2017.
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