I have focused quite a bit on the financial and business benefits of providing professional development opportunities to your staff. Now I’d like to change that focus a little and examine what I will call the psychic benefits. When working with staff, we often can find that person who has been with our organization for a long time, but who has not progressed very rapidly. They may still be in the same position they started in 10 or more years ago in fact. Oftentimes though, it is clear to see that that individual has (that dreaded word) potential far beyond their current role. So how do we approach this?
Let me propose the following. It has been my experience that when first presented with the concept of doing work beyond (more challenging than) their current job responsibilities, many, if not most, people will push back. You will often hear things like “I am very comfortable doing what I am doing,” or “I’m good at my job so I don’t want to try anything else.” These are very natural, normal reactions to proposed change. Just like economic markets, people at equilibrium are heavily resistant to change. Instead of pushing back with a hard-sell though, I recommend first empathizing with the individual. “You’re right Joe, you are very good at your job. If the time comes that you’d like to take on some new challenges, let me know.” This leaves the door open for the employee to bring it up with you when the comfort level has improved. In the meantime, you can carefully and gently give the person additional tasks that are slightly beyond what they have been doing. They will likely be hesitant to accept them, and may even express concern that they cannot complete the work adequately. Reassure them that you have confidence in them and that you are just looking for them to give it their best shot. As they try, and are successful, at taking on these new responsibilities, add slightly more complex work. What you, and they will probably find is that their skill level and abilities are far beyond what they had anticipated. In most cases they will also figure out that they actually enjoy taking on a wider range of responsibilities and growth opportunities.
This method of growing your staff doesn’t have to be used in response to a specific need that your organization has to fill. It is an effective tool to keep employees engaged, interested and motivated. Over time, if you use this technique with multiple employees you will likely find that others will ask for additional tasks to try and grow themselves. What you are building is a culture of professional development and growth that will provide long-term value to the organization.