Employee development isn’t just the responsibility of the employee, but of the employer as well — if not more so. Good managers strive to continuously groom their employees for future leadership roles. Doing so not only boosts employee engagement and productivity, but it makes employers’ lives a little easier, by making employee transitions into leadership roles as seamless as possible.
Here are five strategies, vital to developing employee leadership skills, that will benefit employers and employees alike:
1. Encourage employees to network.
Networking is not only fun, but essential to individual growth and business development. Start small by encouraging networking within the workplace during lunch hours or at after-work events. Eventually, have employees branch out and network with industry professionals outside of the company.
Networking will teach them how to forge powerful connections, initiate conversations with strangers and act with the confidence of a leader. Not to mention, it can also provide business opportunities (referrals and/or partnerships) as well as opportunities to share ideas and knowledge. Finally, networking can help turn good employees into great leaders by raising their reputation within the industry.
Consider having employees occasionally tag along when attending industry events. This will give them a clear idea of how to properly conduct themselves at networking events, so that they can positively represent the organization when they go to events on their own. Take note of employees who frequent industry events on their own time — this is a sign of a potential leader.
2. Act as a mentor (or assign one).
Mentor-mentee relationships are bound to develop when helping employees grow and advance their skills. If that relationship can be maintained, great. There’s no one better to learn leadership skills from than the employer. If not, create a mentorship program where employees can sharpen their skills with the help of more seasoned employees.
Mentorship programs are not only beneficial for assimilating new hires, but they also serve as a great cross-training tool for current employees. Try implementing a mentorship or job shadow program between team members or departments. This leadership tool can improve both organizational success and team performance by improving employees’ proficiency levels in roles outside of their own.
Cross-training is an affordable way to boost both employee and team performance, as well as motivation. Most important, it prepares employees for expanded roles within the company.
3. Provide opportunities for growth.
To ensure employees aren’t stagnant in their positions (or worse, leaving those positions), provide them with opportunities to grow so that they can one day pursue leadership roles within the company. Employees are an organization’s most important asset, so invest in them.
These opportunities for growth can include paying for formal education, internal or external training, bringing in industry professionals for lunch-and-learn programs — the options are endless. Supply employees with a calendar or list of upcoming professional development events, meetings of professional groups or associations, and work-related events that they can attend on their own time.
4. Maintain a feedback loop.
A successful feedback loop measures and reviews employee performance in an effort to improve future productivity. Continuous communication in the workplace is crucial to developing employees, yet only 2 percent of employers provide ongoing feedback to their employees, according to a 2013 survey of 803 HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Improve communication in the workplace by regularly meeting with employees in an informal, one-on-one setting. Meeting on a quarterly basis and discussing individual goals and performance can help employers identify opportunities for development, as well as tailor development plans around the individual. These meetings also give employees a chance to comfortably voice their thoughts and concerns.
5. Lead by example.
Last, but certainly not least, lead by example. Model the leadership skills employees need to adopt in order to become great leaders: professionalism, transparency, confidence, commitment and respect. Employees look to their employers for answers, so leaders should aim to continuously model what it is to be a successful, positive model in the workplace. It doesn’t cost a dime and the results are priceless.