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Developing Your Employees in a Crazy Busy Environment

Developing Your Employees in a Crazy Busy Environment

In our crazy busy schedules within our fast paced companies, our direct reports’ professional development often falls by the wayside in the quest to move faster, get more done, and beat that deadline. This is equal parts frustrating and "Who has time for that?" When you’re moving a mile a minute, the "Who has time for that?" side of you wins out and the frustrated side becomes a soft voice way in the background.

I get it, because I was there once, too. I remember being thrust into a rather large management position with virtually no training, intense personalities, and the fastest paced environment I’d ever seen. Not only did I not know how to develop my team at first, but I also felt like I was going to battle every day, putting out fires, navigating office politics (not very well all the time), and arriving home late at night mentally battered and bruised with a glass of pinot noir in one hand and takeout Thai food in the other.

You don’t have to follow my not-so-great example. There are ways to develop your team with limited time and energy, and it behooves you to do so. With employee engagement at an all-time low - a Gallup survey last year reported that the number was at 68% - and turnover a major problem for even the hippest companies, it is the tool to have at your disposal to prevent your organization from suffering the same fate.

So, how the heck do you do this? There’s no one right way, but here are several ideas to try on for size.

Break the thought process that tells you there’s no time.

This is a big one for me. To a large degree, our thoughts create our reality. If you continually say to yourself - or to other managers - that there’s no time, that’s what you’ll get. When other managers agree with you about this, you’re getting reinforcement in a big way, which is hard to break.

Commiseration at work can be a good thing, until it’s not. The next time you find yourself spinning that “no time” yarn, create an opposite mantra you can repeat instead. For example, “I am creating the time to do this.”

[Related: A Fundamental Re-Think of the Investment in Your Employees]

Audit your department.

Take thirty or forty-five minutes to actually get the hard data. Maybe you won’t know it all, so you’ll need to ask HR. But figure out your department’s turnover rate for the last year or two. See how it ranks against benchmarks like company or industry turnover rates.

Ask HR how much it costs them to replace an employee when they leave. Ask to see employee engagement survey results, if your company uses a tool for that. The hard numbers could make not taking action immediately an untenable choice.

Be a human.

Ask your direct reports themselves and hear it straight from them. Keep in mind that the way you ask the question is important, because some employees may be hesitant to share their real feelings on their engagement levels. You don’t want them to feel like they’re in an interrogation room at the local precinct.

Overly-direct employee engagement questions like, “Are you engaged at work?” feel a little Law and Order-y, whereas questions like, “How are you feeling about your current workload and the type of work you’re doing?” open the conversation to go any number of directions.

Plan for it and take the pressure off.

If this is something that has fallen by the wayside, no one will be expecting you to perform miracles overnight. So take the pressure off yourself to “get it done.”

Instead, within the next week or two, schedule thirty minutes with each of your direct reports for a simple conversation about employee engagement. Communicate with each of them beforehand that you’re working to make their professional development more of a priority. Ask them to think about specific questions prior to the meeting, like:

  • What are they excited about working on?
  • What other skills or areas would they like to develop?
  • Where would they like to go next in their career?
  • Where are they unclear about their career development?

If it comes up that they see themselves eventually moving in another direction (i.e. not with the company), it’s important you are open to it and create an atmosphere where they feel safe sharing that. Often, the disruptions in workflow and high costs to replace an employee happen when their departure seems sudden and abrupt, but really, the employee was too scared to be open and honest with you.

[Related: First Week at a New Job? Get to Know Your Team!]

"But I have no time!"

I get it. There’s no time at your organization. I felt the time squeeze in a big way back in the day. Know this: There is no way you need to attend every meeting you’re attending, or answer every e-mail on the crazy reply-all chain that you’re answering. Take a week to really pay attention to all the activities you’re doing and meetings you’re attending, and note how much time they’re taking up.

Then, ask yourself if you were required to do those activities, or if, for example, someone taking meeting notes could have shared the one bullet point you needed to know. Add up the time that would be gained if you didn't participate in these activities. Bank it for your people.

One final note.

If this is something that’s brand-spanking-new to you, it will feel unwieldy and weird at first. But it’s vitally important to the success of your organization. When people leave abruptly or are disengaged and not putting out stellar work, your client relationships suffer, your culture suffers, and you suffer as a manager.

Take a deep breath and dive in head-first, but give yourself the option to come up for air and take a break as you navigate these unknown waters. You’ll get there.

[Related: Want to Be a Better Manager? Sweat the Small Stuff]


Jill Ozovek is a certified professional coach. She works primarily with women to connect their core values to a fulfilling career that makes them excited to get up in the morning.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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