During the early days of computers, my boss announced he had bought "one of these new things." He placed it on my desk and stood back.
"There," he said. "That should make you more productive."
I was speechless, mostly because I had no idea what a computer was. The only ones I'd seen to-date were on Star Trek.
What followed were two stressful months with my boss complaining because of my low production and me frustrated by both my lack of training and only a vague idea of what this "thing" was supposed to do. The first month I spent trying to figure out how to operate it. The second was spent trying to come up with a way for it to help me at my job, which at that time was typing documents.
I still remember the day I proudly hit "print" and we all watched as a document slowly emerged from a dot matrix printer.
That was many, many years ago. But it was during that period I recognized the importance of talent development. Employees can't learn and grow in a vacuum.
And even if an employee has untapped talents, it takes time and a certain amount of skill to assist employees in becoming productive leaders in an ever-changing work environment.
There are many ways to retain and develop talent, but here are five quick tips to get started:
Mentoring and Coaching. If you don't have a mentoring program within your company, it might be time to create one. And don't discount reverse mentoring; the young have a lot to offer the older employees that may have lost touch or need a fresh view.
Invest in your employees. Provide paths for them to climb and grow within the organization. If you have a small company, get creative.
Provide fair performance-based reviews. Honest feedback is vital. One of my reviews stands out. After I was told where I needed to improve, I was asked how I intended to achieve improvement . . . and what the firm could provide to help.
Don't treat every employee the same. When I was a paralegal, I started looking for a new job the day the firm gave every paralegal the same duties—including the ones I'd worked years to earn.
Increase Responsibility. In addition to gradually adding responsibility, make sure to reward great performance.
I can hear some saying, "That's all great for motivated employees, but I've got a few poor performers. Got any suggestions?"
You might be interested in a video called Painless Performance Improvement. This six-step approach is humorous and also filled with meaningful information to get employees to want to improve their performance without threats or drama. It's great information that makes sense.
- Focusing on performance versus attitude
- Intervening versus confronting
- Recognizing and deflecting sidetracks.
Things have come a long way since my boss dropped a computer on my desk, but retaining and developing talents hasn't. The time spent nurturing talent still remains time well spent.
Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.