“When we started our company, we were scrappy and lean. We hired a bunch of people in their early 20s with tons of hustle. Now we’re growing like crazy, and they’re in over their heads. It’s really not their fault – they’ve taken on more responsibility, we want to help them grow, but no one has the time for coaching.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with startups.
We invest so much time and energy in staying ahead of the market by developing new product features. Yet over and over again, we lag in developing our people. We wait until the pain is acute, when attrition skyrockets and people start leaving for better opportunities, or employee engagement and happiness hit rock bottom. Remember who builds those product features – people.
One thing’s for sure: employees often feel the pain before their leaders do. A Deloitte study of millennials noted that among employees who are likely to leave their employers within the next two years, 71 percent are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. SHRM reports that the direct replacement costs of employee turnover can run as high as 50% – 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary. That’s a whole lotta Benjamins.
When the reality finally hits us in the face like a bucket of cold ice water, managers get all the love. We double-down on sending managers to workshops and conferences and investing in coaches – but what about individual contributors? Plenty of employees deliberately choose an individual contributor path (HubSpot’s Pamela Vaughan wrote a great article about this). Others are high performers on the road to future management roles. They’re not managers, but they are leaders. And they’re critical to a company’s success.
Boston startups are starting to take note. Companies and programs like Intelligent.ly EMERGE are stepping up to shine a light on the importance of developing our city’s next-generation of leaders. I’m a co-founder of Intelligent.ly; at the last Emerge event, I heard from a handful of Boston’s best tech recruiters and leaders.
HubSpot’s Katie Burke shared her perspective: “One of the most critical steps in retaining top talent in Boston is ensuring that rising stars in the tech community receive the training, support and network they need to grow personally and professionally in their careers.” They’re not alone.
Loren Boyce, Director of Talent at Yesware echoed the focus on investing in personal development for individual contributors, “We are all-in when it comes to providing resources and experiences that help our employees reach their professional potential.”
What can you and your company do to develop these leaders? Here are three tips:
Start a Conversation
The first step to developing individual contributors is understanding how they want to grow. Let your team members know that you want to support their personal development. Set up a 1:1 to talk through their personal goals, and together, consider the resources you can help provide. This might mean connecting them with mentorship opportunities or investing in skills training. You won’t know until you ask.
Experts go back and forth on the science and applicability of the various personality tests that dominate leadership development conversations. My perspective is that if they help you better understand something about yourself – your strengths, and the way you operate – it’s a win for everyone. 16Personalities provides a simple and free personality test based on the Myer-Briggs approach. Encourage your team members to learn from the insight that resonates for them…and don’t stress about the areas that don’t.
Organize a Leadership Lunch & Learn
Consider how many individual contributors you could reach with solid leadership advice if you leveraged your internal team to set up a weekly or monthly Leadership Lunch & Learn. Invite respected leaders from inside your company to share leadership advice and tips that helped them through their own careers.
Close your eyes. Think about all the individual contributors in your company. Consider what you could achieve if they truly had the coaching they need to fulfill their leadership potential. Now envision them walking out the door because you don’t have time to support them. Scary, right?