You’re a manager. You know that developing your employees is part of your job. Do you know what to do first?
You might have been told you’re supposed to be a coach. Knowing that might tell you all you need to know. Or it might tell you nothing. Or it might feel overwhelming, given everything you need to do.
Let’s start with a clean slate. Let’s start with the idea that you and the employee are going to be working together on this. The question is how? What will the employee(s) be doing? What will you be doing?
You can make a list of tasks – things like: employee attends a workshop; you discuss with the employee what he or she learned in the workshop. But there’s more to it. You will have expectations of the employee; he or she will have expectations of you.
Each of you also will have expectations of yourselves. Some of those expectations will relate to tasks and how well the tasks should be performed; some will relate to the things like the type of support the employee will want and the type of support you will be willing to provide.
A way to get at this is what’s called role clarification. If you’ve ever worked on a project team or any other type of work-team, it’s not unusual to spend a few minutes, in the beginning, to clarify who’s supposed to do what. Doing that minimizes the possibility of hard feelings and misunderstandings.
Here’s how to do that at the beginning of the development process.
Ask the employee to prepare answers to these two questions:
- What should I (the employee) reasonably expect of my manager during the development process?
- What should my manager reasonably expect of me (the employee) during the development process?
You prepare answers to similar questions:
- What should I (the manager) reasonably expect of the employees during the development process?
- What should the employees reasonably expect of me during the development process?
I highlight the word reasonably because it’s easy to have unrealistic expectations that can’t be met. What we’re after here is something that works.
After completing the answers, you and the employee should share and discuss them. The goal is to arrive at a common understanding of how you and your employee(s) will work together on their development efforts. As a reminder, if you have more than one employee, you can do this with all the employees in the same meeting.
It’s important to highlight that common understanding sometimes can be fragile. It’s not a failure to review something you thought had been settled.
Examples of Answers
I’ve done this exercise with individuals and with groups. Here is a selection of the answers I got. Some of yours could be different.
What the employee should reasonably expect of me (the manager)
- Express confidence that I (the learner) can do it.
- Don’t act like this is a waste of time.
- Provide feedback.
- Provide resources and introductions to people who can help, if needed.
- Meet regularly to discuss status/do not regularly cancel or reschedule.
- If I’m stuck, help me figure it out. Don’t give me the answer.
- Clarify work expectations so that doing the development work will not lead to failure on the job.
- Don’t punish me for making mistakes with job tasks or development tasks, so long as I don’t keep making the same mistakes and that mistakes decrease over time.
- Do not believe that failure to learn something equals being a failure.
- Provide the time to do the development work.
What I (the manager) should reasonably expect of the employee
- Believes he or she (the employee) can achieve the goal
- If things are not going as expected takes the initiative to identify different possible solutions before coming to me (the manager).
- Will not waste my time.
- Willing to accept that resources limitations might alter the goal or plan.
- Is motivated to accomplish the goal – and knows how to stay motivated.
- Is realistic about how well he/she is doing; can assess progress on their own or with input from others.
- Is able to provide accurate and current status on the development plan.
- Is able to accept feedback from me or others without getting defensive.
- Knows that making mistakes is all right – assuming the same mistakes are not repeated and that mistakes decrease over time.
- Does not believe that failure equals being a failure.
- Manages themselves and their time so that they can do their regular work in addition to the development assignment.
While each point is specific, there is room for further discussion and clarification. Sometimes only experience and periodic discussion will provide the final answer. And, of course, each relationship will be slightly different.
By looking at the answers, it is possible to see the relationship. The managers want employees to take responsibility for their development; be proactive problem-solvers; accept feedback and accept there are limitations in terms of time and other resources.
Employees/managers want managers to manage. They want managers to provide resources the employees could not obtain on their own; to engage in problem-solving with them – not provide the answers; to believe that the employee can achieve the goal and that the goal is worth achieving, and to meet regularly to discuss the development plan.
The role clarification meeting could take an hour or less, including preparation. You, the manager, are responsible for setting up the meeting and for showing that it is all right for you or the employee to discuss part of the agreement that seems unclear or doesn’t seem to be working.
As I suggested above, elements of your agreement could require further discussion. Some version of: “When we agreed on X, I thought that meant…” This is normal. There are very few agreements that don’t require adjusting from time to time.
One last point. Do this only if you intend to implement it. If you ignore the agreements you have reached, you will cultivate cynicism and mistrust.
Engaging in this exercise is a useful way to initiate a workable development relationship – one that is free of unreasonable or unclear expectations about what the manager and employee ought to do. By engaging in this structured discussion, the manager and employee can figure out what will work best for both.