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Why avoiding a one-size-fits-all mentality is important when it comes to staff development


By Nicholas Roi, managing director of SilkRoad UK

The link between performance management and development is easy to understand on paper, after all, the connection usually occurs naturally. During an appraisal, we are told, an employee and their manager work together to highlight their strengths and determine where development is needed in order to help that employee meet the competencies of their role. This is where the bond between performance and training and development forms.

But while some managers can draw a diagram illustrating the textbook appraisal and its outcomes, in practice these managers do a poor job developing their employees. It’s not necessarily because they’re doing something wrong, they may strictly follow every rule in the book, but because the process is far harder than it looks. The key to solving roadblocks is to understand why they happen, realising that it is a tough process and working on them to achieve better results.

So why do they happen? Often it’s because managers approach development discussions with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. They assume that all employees think and respond in the same way which makes the task harder than it needs to be. To overcome this they need to segment the employee population, just like a marketer would segment the customer population. Doing this will allow them to design a bespoke approach, appropriate to the type of employee in each segment.

There are four key segments into which employees fall:

The seasoned employee

Every employee has skills he or she wants to develop, but for the seasoned employee there is less need for a formal discussion about these. Imagine trying to have a formal development discussion with someone who’s been at the company for ten years longer than their new manager; it would feel a bit strange. For the truly seasoned employee, the manager should not be expected to come up with a development plan, but should rather should check in and ask: “Are you still happy and is there anything different you’d like to do?” It’s really important to touch base, but there is no need push this too hard or it may appear patronising. Just test the waters on a regular basis and make sure the employee knows they haven’t been forgotten.

The up-and-coming employee

When someone in HR or talent management describes the ‘perfect’ development discussion, they usually have this employee in mind. This employee is ideally placed to engage with their manager in detailed discussion about their ambitions, strengths and weaknesses and development potential at the company.

The pivotal employees

For those employees with great potential the development discussion takes on an even greater importance – you don’t want to lose these staff members. Extra time should be spent creating a detailed development plan with them and it should be revisited regularly – not just on an annual basis. Invest time in making sure pivotal employees are happy and feel supported or risk losing them to a competitor.

The problem employee

This conversation must be managed in a very different way to the pivotal employee. Where performance issues are deep seated, there is very little point sending the employee out on a training course; it would be a waste of time. Managers should instead invest their time in one-on-one coaching and work closely with the employee until progress is made. They may be reluctant to give up their already limited time to do this, but it is important to make at least the attempt and any positive outcome is extremely rewarding. If no improvements are made, then it may be time to consider the employee’s future with the business.

These are the four key employee types, when segmenting your staff you may want to break this down even further depending on the makeup of you company. The important thing is to resist that ‘one size fits all’ attitude. It’s may be the clean, easy option, but sometimes the messier approach, where managers consciously segment the employee population, can save time and prove more effective and lucrative in the long run.

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