5 teaching practices that can provide a personalised and humanistic framework for employee development.

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with disappointed employees and middle managers, who, tired of having to participate in never-ending professional development activities that fail to contribute towards the individual’s professional and wider career goals, had lost motivation and trust in their employer. 

I decided to write about it after reading an article in the Harvard Business Review by Sydney Finkelstein arguing against a one size fits all approach to employee development. As I read Finkelstein’s article, I could not help but notice that the systematic ways in which he recommends leaders to provide personalised development opportunities are actually the ways in which teachers plan and deliver learning opportunities for their students, whether children or adults. 

There are many ways in which teaching and managing are similar, although I am aware that managers and leaders out there probably think that these roles are completely different, that teachers have a natural disposition to being more patient, friendly, caring and supportive than other professionals because teaching is a ‘vocation’ and managing is not. However, a lot of what makes a great teacher is skills-based and it can, therefore, be taught and learned. 

I think that management and leadership should be viewed as a ‘vocational’ career choice too and that organisations, employees and customers should have high expectations that their leaders reflect a host of behaviours and practices to promote the inclusion, development and growth of all employees as individuals, in full awareness and support of their unique experience, abilities and goals.  

Here are 5 simple things that leaders can learn from teachers to help them develop a more personalised and humanistic approach to employee development: 

1-How to build rapport and trust: It is not enough to know everyone’s names. Leaders have to show genuine interest in the people under their care and get to know about their personal lives, their interests, passions and dreams in order to be better able to use that information to support the individuals’ learning journey. Your employees are likely to have worked or to want to work in your company for many years, so investing in developing positive relationships based on trust will make your job much easier in the long run. Building rapport creates a bond of trust that goes both ways and will result in a more positive relationship overall. 

 2- How to manage interactions/teams and individuals: The best leaders need to observe and notice the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of each employee in their teams. Influential leaders purposely assign responsibilities and manage interactions of teams and individuals in a way that allows everyone to shine at what they’re good at, as well as to practise what needs developing in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Effective leaders are able to push employees out of their comfort zone for the purpose of challenging their own assumptions about what they can do, whilst offering continuous support and feedback. The best leaders know how to turn any activity or project into a learning opportunity for their employees. 

 3- How to assess/evaluate performance: The current way of conducting performance evaluations in most companies goes completely against the way effective learning takes place. Evaluating learning and performance once a year through a review based on successes or failures that took place while working without guidance or support is not a framework for success. This framework supports and rewards only those who are already excelling at what they do. 

The best way to obtain an accurate picture of an individual’s learning and development is by implementing a system of ‘formative assessment’ also known as continuous or on-going assessment. This means that an individual is always being monitored in all aspects of their performance, including effort, resourcefulness and attitude. Individuals are assessed against themselves as per their needs and abilities and are encouraged to think about learning and progress as a way of becoming better at something that they used to be, not as a way of being better than anyone else. 

4- How to give feedback: Going into a meeting to receive feedback on your performance can be quite daunting for many employees. Managers often choose to focus on the negative aspects of employee performance, which can leave people feeling like they’re incompetent at what they do, or worse- that their job is on the line. However, a better way of giving feedback might be the ‘two stars and a wish’ format. The two stars are two things the person has done well or that have stood out the most about their performance and achievements. The positive comes first because everyone has something positive about themselves, and it’s important to acknowledge this. Starting with the positive will also put the employee in a more relaxed and receptive frame of mind to then receive the less positive feedback, the wish. This doesn’t have to be just one wish, but where there are a number of actionable points, it’s always a good idea to focus on the most important one. 

All feedback should be constructive and so the wording of it is really important too. It should all be framed as an action point. For example, when commenting on what was good, or the ‘stars’, you could say: I really like how you …./ a very good example of …. was when you did … / I thought that the way you … was excellent evidence of … / When you did… you clearly demonstrated that you can … 

The wording of your actionable points is very important too. Ways in which you can convey your ‘wishes’ are: something to keep working on is … to help you be more successful at … / One area-skill to develop is… to ensure … / You could try … to develop your skill-understanding of …, which will help with …

5- How to set personalised developmental goals: The most supportive leaders help employees figure out the steps they need to follow/action they need to take to be able to develop the skills they currently need and show growth by the time they meet again next. Here the employee might have an idea of possible resources to use, from podcasts, to reading books, to shadowing a colleague who is great at this particular skill. 

However, every employee should also have bigger goals, a longer-term vision of their career path which requires completely different support and action in order to come to life. These career goals may not necessarily be linked to the company’s vision or mission, or 5-year plan. But this should not matter. Companies and leaders should not worry about supporting their employees’ long-term goals for fear that they might leave. Employees who are supported might not leave at all due to the support they receive. For example, an employee’s long term goal might be to write a book about an area of expertise. With the right support from his/her leaders, the person might go ahead and publish, become a popular author but remain an employee of the company. Or they might not. They might go on to become a full-time writer and speaker traveling the world. Either way, wouldn’t it be great if the employee had nothing but praise for those who supported their career goals? And in any case, isn’t it the leader’s duty and responsibility to support everyone regardless? 

Do you think leadership should be viewed as a ‘vocational’ career? Do you think that leaders should be more like teachers and provide personalised learning opportunities for their employees? Leave your comments and let’s start a conversation.