You Can’t Grow your Business Without Growing your People

By Donald Cooper

Whether your business is large or small and whether you’re a business owner or department or divisional manager, one of your most important jobs is ‘growing’ your people. In fact, you can’t grow your business without growing your people.

I’m constantly amazed at how few of my clients have ever sat down with each of their key players to ask where they’d like to be in the business and in their lives in three to five years and how they’d like to help the company grow.

These important conversations almost never happen – and many of the best people leave. A recent poll of over 2,000 employees in the United Kingdom showed only one in ten believed they had long-term opportunities for growth with their current employer. They’re just doing a job but they don’t have a career.

Part of this is because most business owners and managers, themselves, are not thinking three to five years ahead. They’re too busy solving today’s problems. They have no clarity about the future of their business, so they can’t or don’t want to talk about it with their team. It never even occurs to them to do so.

On the other hand, when you do have clarity about where you commit to be in three to five years, you start to think about the talent and skills your team needs to get you there profitably. Then, you start having conversations about growth and opportunity and a lot more of your best people will stay and contribute.

Concours Auto Body in Calgary is one Canada’s most successful collision repair shops. This is an industry that struggles with a constant shortage of skilled craftsmen and high staff turnover as shops raid each other’s top talent.

So, how did Concours founder Ken Friesen create the stable and highly motivated team that helped double his business every few years? Ken created a clear, step-by-step career path for every employee who expressed interest in growing with the company. He met with each new employee at the end of their first day, first week, first month and so on. Everyone knew where they stood, what their next few steps would be and what their promotion and career opportunities were.

If growing your business by growing your people makes sense to you, consider these three questions:

Question One: What will your business, division or department ‘look like’ in three to five years? How big will it be? Where will it be? What will it be doing? How will it operate? In what specific ways is it likely to be different from how it looks and operates today? How must it change and how must it be better?

Question Two: What does your department, division, or organization need to learn to be a profitable market leader in three to five years? What knowledge, skills, systems, attitudes, customer insights, processes, innovations and disciplines must the organization learn in order to be price-competitive, service-competitive and profitable? What technology must you embrace and master?

Question Three: Who are your top performers? Who on your team has the attitude, ability or potential to help move the business forward? Given what the organization must learn, the talent you’ll need and the potential of your current team, where are there obvious gaps you’ll need to fill by growing your people or recruiting from outside the business? My Biz Tool #A-17: Rate your talent pipeline will be most helpful here. To access it at no charge: click here.

Next, start creating a career path for your best people, the ones with the ability and drive to grow and the personality and values that are congruent with your culture. Many surveys show the number one thing most top performers want is a challenging job with an opportunity to contribute and grow. Sit down with each of them, individually, and ask these three questions:

One. Where would you like to be in three to five years in your career and your life? What job or position would you like to have? What other things would you like to have accomplished or experienced? How can we help you get there?

Two. Whatever job or position they express interest in, ask them what they think it will be like. If they say they’d like to be the sales manager because they can play golf and enjoy expense account dining every day, write them off as lightweights.

Three. Next, ask them what knowledge, skills, training, education and experience they think they’ll need to perform that new job or position excellently.

Don’t expect them to have immediate answers to these three questions. Most people won’t – and that’s okay. Invite them to take a few days to think about and research the possibilities and book a specific time when they’ll get back to you with their thoughts. If they don’t keep the appointment, you know everything you need to know about their commitment to move ahead.

Once you’ve agreed on a career path for each person, create a specific Growth Plan for them, including the training and experience they’ll get and when and where and from whom they’ll get it.  This doesn’t mean that everyone will become a vice president, but everyone should be growing in some way, even if it just means getting better at what they’re doing right now.

I know this sounds like more work than just solving day-to-day problems and complaining you can’t find good staff anymore, but this is what real management and leadership is all about.

By the way, include yourself in this process. What do you want to be doing in three to five years in your career and your life? And what does the business need you to become? Are you capable and committed to become what you must become to grow the business, lead your team and create your extraordinary life?

And if you simply don’t want to become what you must become, what alternate plans are you making for the business, for your career and for your life? You can’t grow your business without growing your people – and without growing yourself.

That’s it for this week. Live safe! Live brilliantly!

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