Your Role in Growing People Is More Important – and Challenging – Than Ever

By August 12, 2021 General

If you know me, then chances are you’ve heard me say this before or you’ve read it in one of my posts: the job of an executive or manager exists for two reasons only – to produce results and grow people. I haven’t wavered on these reasons throughout my years in helping businesses succeed, or through the upheaval of the past 18 months.

However, I recently received this question regarding how the workplace is shifting, which also served as a challenge to the core role of executives and managers.

How are managers expected to grow people when they are not in the office full time?

The short answer is that it’s going to be more complicated. But it doesn’t change the fact that producing results and growing people remain the top priorities of the leaders.

In order to navigate more uncertainty that lies ahead, it’s helpful to reflect on what we already know before charging forward.

Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals

There is a simple growth equation I reference to help guide any executive or manager, knowing full well they are most concerned about results.  

Skills x Effort = Results.

We can estimate that year over year fixed business costs increase between 3 to 5 percent. We can also extrapolate that if people don’t improve at a similar rate or better, the company loses money. So it is on managers to grow their teams and improve their productivity by roughly the same percentages annually.

To sustainably produce results year over year means we’re really talking about growing people year over year. To get better results, either skills need to change, or habits and behaviors need to be altered to get the same amount of work done in less time. Getting results typically isn’t an issue of effort. But the wrong habits and behaviors can make any genuine effort unproductive or even futile. That is why the most effective managers focus their efforts on helping to equip people with new skills and altering behaviors. They know that’s what drives improved results.

Adapting fundamentals to the hybrid workplace

For businesses that were able to weather the storm over the last 18 months, two aspects of work that were pushed aside included company culture and people development. Now, as businesses begin bringing people back to the office, who shows up and when will be different. That will have a profound effect on how managers use the time they have with their people in-person to rebuild team culture and cohesiveness, and at what rate of speed people get developed. 

Average managers will likely return to growing their people the same way they did before, at least until it doesn’t work. The realization of less time to coach, teach, and observe people with the intent to grow them will result in slower development. While that makes a manager’s work more challenging (as they still need to produce results), it also presents a tremendous opportunity to be more focused and deliberate.

The less time managers have with direct reports means the time they do have becomes more valuable. Leveraging in-person time intentionally can set the agenda and maximize time with individuals and teams. This includes actively observing individual behaviors and their practicing of new skills to measure the kind of progress that doesn’t translate well in the remote, online environment. To make the most of time with any team or direct report requires asking this: what must we accomplish together for the sake of development, and where can we make progress remotely until we’re back together again?

Growth is about evolution, not revolution

Smart managers will recognize that, fundamentally, how they grow their people remains largely unchanged. However, it will require managers to rethink the delivery of growth development strategies as a result of shifting workplace circumstances.

Daunting as that might seem, consider the benefits of this challenge:

  • The way people have been developed in the past doesn’t have to be the way they grow going forward, especially in this new environment.
  • A proven playbook on what works in a hybrid model doesn’t exist. This provides flexibility to discover new ways to teach and coach, bring outside training resources to the table, and develop new strategies while also leveraging historical tools that remain relevant.
  • When forced to think and do things differently, resilient people and teams rise to the occasion to work in new ways, often to the advantage of the company.

The good news is that most companies proved they can be successful by being hybrid in ways they didn’t even know existed. That’s a huge discovery and a business win. Now it’s about adding back in what is known to work about being together – safely, of course – for the sake of rebuilding culture and team cohesiveness, and accelerating professional growth. When that happens, business results are sure to follow.

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