Helping Employees Advance, from Great Managers

Chapter 18

Helping Employees Advance

We could build some amazing teams, get extraordinary results, and save ourselves a lot of time and trouble if our good people stayed in their jobs forever. Every team member would have years of experience and be experts in their responsibilities. We wouldn’t have to hire replacements, bring them up to speed, absorb their mistakes, and replace our occasional mis-hires.

But that’s not what our people need. They need to grow in their abilities, responsibilities, impact, and value. They want to progress in their careers, increase their earnings, and provide for their families.

Unselfishly helping employees advance, outgrow us, and reach their personal goals is perhaps the pinnacle of great management. And, as managers, we’re in an ideal position to do it.

Does helping employees advance and leave us seem counterproductive?

We do indeed lose some—often our most talented and ambitious. But most of these would leave us anyway. Hopefully the growth and education we provide encourages them to stay a little longer and allows them to contribute more while they’re with us.

Others may enjoy and appreciate the supportive environment and decide to stay with the company and manager they’ve come to trust.

Perhaps even more importantly, creating a growth environment gives us our workplace reputation—something becoming ever more prominent and influential in recruiting. Companies and managers that treat their people with respect and encourage growth and advancement attract high quality team members—an essential element of success.


Model Conversations for Helping Employees Advance

The ideal opportunity for helping our team members grow is during one-on-ones. If we’ve created rapport and trust, team members should willingly share their goals with us and welcome our help and encouragement.


M:  What would you like to be doing in a few years?


Some may say they like their jobs and are content to stay in them. Perhaps they enjoy the work, like being a respected specialist, are simply comfortable in their surroundings, or have outside interests that the current job allows them to pursue. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t for everyone.

Those who do their jobs well and want to stay put are treasures—they learn their skills thoroughly, minimize mistakes, provide stability, and save us lots of rehiring and retraining. Retention is the greatest bargain in employment.

Learning their preferences allows us to find roles and opportunities they’ll enjoy and that can increase their skills, job satisfaction, and earnings.

Others may tell us they haven’t settled on a long-term goal. We can often kickstart their thought process.


M:  I’ve noticed you’re good with.... Have you thought about...?


Some show skills that indicate potential for types of work. Many psychologists and managers feel personality tests are useful in pointing out natural inclinations and abilities.

Occasionally one aspires to unlikely goals.


H:  I’d really like to.... [make the pro tour, build a hotel empire, be a movie star, write a best-selling novel, etc.].


Our role doesn’t include crushing dreams, no matter how far-fetched. Someone will reach those goals—someone with unwavering belief, self-confidence, energy, and perhaps enough naiveté to ignore the odds. Our petty realism shouldn’t deprive the world of great contributions.

But it doesn’t hurt them to consider other options in case their plan fails.


M:  Sounds like an ambitious goal; I hope you can make it. Do you think it’s a good idea to have a backup plan?


Many people do aspire to reasonable goals beyond their present jobs. When they share those goals with us, we can often help.


G:  I’d like to.... [become an accountant, open a store, become an engineer, teach in college, move up in management]

M:  I think you could be good at that. I enjoy having you on our team, but I’d also like you to reach your goals. How can I help you get there?


Often, we know something about the field or can introduce them to people who can offer details about the work and the paths to it. Occasionally, we can find them a mentor to encourage and guide them through the steps.

When their goal is to advance within our organization or in similar work, we can be especially helpful by offering training, experience, advice, mentorship, and opportunities.

Providing a steady stream of books, videos, manuals, and seminars both educates and helps keep motivation high.


Delegating for Advancement

Delegating related responsibilities to them creates experience, builds confidence, and helps them confirm their ambition. We can always find responsibilities to delegate to eager, energetic, and ambitious team members; our list of tasks and potential improvements is typically inexhaustible.


M:  I didn’t realize you’re an aspiring writer. Would you like to write our weekly meeting summaries? And we need to refine our operating manuals. Is that something you’d be interested in?


Acknowledging their abilities and expertise encourages study and improvement, both to live up to their reputation and to achieve their dreams.


M:  Frank, you’re our in-house expert on.... [software, accounting procedure, social media, current styles, etc.] Can we get your opinion on this?


We can, and always should, give generous public credit for their accomplishments, especially to upper management. It’s not only the right thing to do, it reflects well on our teams
(and on us).


M:  Mr. Ryan, did you see Ben’s new design? He’s created a lot of impressive products for us, and I think this one’s another winner.


Some goals require formal education. Tuition assistance is an extraordinary (and unfortunately expensive) job benefit; when it’s offered, we should encourage our people to use it (wisely). Sometimes we can offer to accommodate class schedules.

If we or someone on our team knows about schools or other educational options, we can often provide guidance.


Encouraging Abilities and Advancement

But, sometimes the best way of helping employees advance is just offering encouragement and help in maintaining their focus.


M:  Have you made progress toward your goal since our last conversation? What are your next steps? Have you thought about...? Is there anything I can do to help?


If a team member is applying elsewhere and asks us to be a reference or provide a letter of recommendation, we should do so whole-heartedly, honestly pointing out all his skills and qualities.

And when the time comes for a team member to leave us and pursue their dreams, we can provide a celebratory send-off. We should acknowledge their contribution to the team, encourage them to come back and visit, and, if appropriate, tell them they’d be welcome back to work.

A farewell gift or picture signed by the whole team can evoke positive feelings for a lifetime. And a personal letter from us attesting to their abilities, accomplishments, and value can be a source of pride to them and their families...


Sharing an idea, teaching a skill, and inspiring confidence are never tiresome; they have the power to change the world.

—Mike Mitchell


Previous: Firing
Next: A Note from Mike


Helping Employees Advance, from Great Managers Are Always Nice
Great Managers Are Always Nice is available at in print ($8.95) and Kindle ($2.99)