Are You Growing Your Own Rock-​Star Employees?

BY Kathy Crosett
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We’ve heard this advice more than once: develop your employees and they’ll stay with you. Or maybe you’ve been told that you need to provide your team members with more real challenges. In turn, they’ll reward you by working hard and being loyal.

We all want to grow our organizations and achieve the next goal. Plenty of obstacles get in the way. The chief obstacle for small businesses in an overheated economy is the ability to hire and retain top-​notch employees. You know what I’m talking about. You want one or two more of those employees who can get the work of five people done. These people also seem to be the ones who have a great attitude and ask for more work.

How, exactly, should you dole out more challenges to employees? And how do you balance potential rewards to the organization with the risks of giving someone additional responsibilities? Bernie Banks, an associate dean at the Kellogg School of Business and retired brigadier general in the U.S. army, has a few suggestions. Banks’ tips come from his previous military experience and can work well for any organization with limited resources.

The 15-​Minute Conversation

If you can’t afford to hire a rock star employee, you can ‘grow your own.’ Banks emphasizes that your ultimate goal should be to get the highest production out of every team member. Aiming for this goal sounds overwhelming. Banks encourages you not to lose hope. And, to work smarter. “Fif­teen min­utes of hav­ing the right con­ver­sa­tion can save you 15 hours of a per­son behav­ing in a man­ner that’s not con­sis­tent with how you would have them behave.” For example, if you have an employee who insists on using old technology to do a job the way they’ve always done it, take 15 minutes to explain why change is necessary. Explain what’s in it for them.Often, the promise of more responsibility will convince them to streamline their current process.

 The 70% Rule

It’s not always easy to determine when an employee is ready to take on more responsibility. In your planning and strategy sessions, you’d prefer to have every employee prepared for the moment when opportunity strikes. In real life, you have to take risks. 

There are crazy risks, and then there are calculated risks. If an employee has about 70% of what’s needed to complete a tasks and has indicated their willingness to take on new challenges, give them the green light. When an employee’s skill and experience level only matches about 40% of what’s required to get the job done, think twice about the risk, to their career and to the organization. At that point, it may be wiser to give them responsibility for a different task, one that’s designed to test them and help them grow.

We all know that mistakes are bound to happen in this kind of environment. When they do, remain supportive. Talk through what the employee could have done differently. And, encourage them to try again. When they succeed, and make a difference to the bottom line, you’ll have grown your own rock-star.