There and Back Again: An Employee Development Tale
As leaders, we often see our employees go through various stages of motivation, contribution and engagement. Often, we get concerned when we see changes in how our employees seem to be responding to their work. We over think it, read into every action or reaction and then try to solve it by randomly calling a “one on one” meeting.
The truth is, employees go through different phases as they progress through a job, and changes in how they are responding is perfectly natural and should be embraced. The more we understand the driver(s) of these changes, the more effective leaders we can be.
Why is this so important to understand? As leaders, we need to adapt our expectations and our approach to our employees and their particular situations. We must lead differently depending on where the employee is in their journey. Through my experience, I’ve narrowed this journey down to 6 key phases. I refer to this as the “job progression cycle,” which is visually depicted below.
Training Phase - In this stage, the employee has just begun and is focused on learning the lay of the land. They are exploring who’s who, what needs to be on their to-do list, and how to operate within their role in order to fulfill responsibilities. At this point, they are an investment for the future – they require more time and attention from leaders, but are not yet offering a significant impact to the organization. It is important for us as leaders to clearly define how long this phase should last and set our expectations accordingly.
Task Execution Phase - Once the employee knows what needs to be done, they will focus on doing. They develop mastery in their tasks and are relied upon to execute the operational details. There is risk that employees can get stuck in this phase though if his or her manager unknowingly holds them back to suffice a need for a reliable, operationally competent individual. Good leaders will help their employees progress to the next stage if they are capable and show the ambition to do so.
Process Focus Phase – After the employee perfects the operational details of the job, they will look for the next way to contribute. They have not yet matured to the point where they are making decisions and driving widespread change, so they focus on the most effective way they can make an impact, which is process improvement. Good leaders will use this as a great practice stage to develop an employee’s talent and give the employee more exposure in the organization.
Decision Making Phase – Once the employee gains greater exposure and starts to understand the business dynamics affecting the job and where they can impact the business, the employee will begin to develop the confidence needed to make decisions that contribute to overall business objectives and results. In this phase, employees have a lot of impact in their work, and are greatly relied on to execute business plans. Good leaders should focus more on coaching versus directing employees in this phase.
New Idea Generation Phase –At their peak, employees progress from driving business decisions and executing plans to driving change and creating the plans. They begin to come up with new ideas and strategies to help propel their role and new and different ways of doing things. They develop thought leadership within their role. Good leaders need to monitor employees in this stage as employees can easily become frustrated with legacy roadblocks that stand in the way of change. Leaders need to encourage pursuit of new ideas and do all they can to remove obstacles for employees.
De-motivation Phase – Due to frustration, boredom, or a variety of other reasons, employees will eventually become de-motivated regardless of how talented they are. Great leaders minimize this phase and adjust as needed in order to bring the employee back to a more productive phase, or they recognize that the employee has maxed out of a particular role and move the employee to a different challenge where they can restart the cycle with new and fresh challenges.
As you think about the job progression cycle, it’s important to note that, depending on the employee, they may not go through every stage, and depending on their skill sets and experiences, they may spend varying and disproportionate amounts of time in each phase. Most employees experience these phases in progression, but not always. Some employees may skip stages or even shift back and forth between phases in the same day. Leaders need to recognize this and customize challenges and their approach to manage employees differently as they move in and out of different phases. This alignment and customization will make all the difference in being a good leader. Most employee frustration stems from misalignment with where the employee is in their progression cycle and where they are perceived to be.
The job progression cycle is a great framework to keep in mind to constantly evaluate your talent in an era when holding on to highly engaged employees is a critical differentiator for businesses. Employees are people that grow and change with time, and great leaders understand that complexity and accommodate their employees during every stage.
Fabio Malagisi is a Finance Manager at CR Bard in Boston, Massachusetts. He is an ambitious and results-oriented professional with a proven track record of being a business partner, driving results and improving the bottom line through effective business decision making. His expertise in finance is demonstrated with an exceptional background in providing leadership across multiple and diverse global operations. He is a proven leader and mentor that actively develops talent pipelines and builds effective teams, whose specialties include Supply Chain Finance, Variable Cost Productivity, Strategic sourcing, Product Line Profitability, Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A), Business Strategy, Process Controls, and Product Management.