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foster professional growth

Personal development can
foster professional growth

Ten years ago the total quality movement was all the rage. TQM/CQI/QIP, businesspeople believed, was the key to making all enterprises competitive and operationally successful. But the processes by themselves didn’t help some businesses improve at all. What they didn’t realize was that TQM, however valuable, was nothing without well- trained people to make it happen.
It is people who did and do win and keep customer loyalty, who produce quality products and services, and who sell the company to consumers starting with families, neighbors and friends.
Taking care of employees, then, comes even before focusing on stockholder gains since it is employees who ultimately produce stockholders’ return on investment.
What CEOs and managers need to do for their all-important people is not revolutionary, but simple and plain enough to be overlooked. First, they need to respect employees for what they bring to the organization, which includes more than sets of technical skills.
When we speak of people as assets along with desks, chairs and capital equipment, we begin to sound as though we think people are like objects that can be moved around, stored away for later use or even thrown away for something new.
But people won’t allow themselves to be treated like objects. Eventually, they withhold commitment and withdraw the energy and discipline the company needs to move forward. In effect, devalued employees sabotage business enterprises not by overt acts, but by not doing the best they can.
So, along with respect for the important and unique roles people play in a business, comes the need to develop those people to be the best each can be. And since each person brings a unique perspective and special talents to the whole group, smart business managers will be sensitive to the value of those differences and the need to develop them. Otherwise, the enterprise will fall into “group think” and the quicksand of inertia.
Yet, sometimes the chaos of differences is aggravating. With all there is to do and consider, why put up with contrariness and conflict? It’s like not being able to place a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces supposedly have a place, but sometimes they seem like mistakes. Yet throwing away the bothersome pieces would net a short-term gain and a long-term loss. A puzzle is not complete without every single piece no matter how small it is.
People, like the pieces of a puzzle–if they have been wisely selected–all have a special place in the organization as long as they have a desire to be a part of the whole. Honoring human differences and matching talents to business needs and opportunities are two parts of the first stage in creating significant roles for people. And honoring differences precludes establishing managerial roles as those to which all should aspire just because they consistently carry with them higher status and greater compensation.
For example, if a company’s success depends upon the creativity of its product-development team, perhaps that team should be more highly compensated than the manager-administrator of the department.
After honoring and matching different talents with business needs comes the second stage, which is to plan for development and continuous upgrading of employees’ talents and skills. But lately the question is, “Whose responsibility is it to train and develop?”
One philosophy is that since workers are mobile–that is, they take their skills and go wherever the work is–they also are temporary and expendable, and therefore responsible for keeping themselves marketable. The corporate staff, meanwhile, has all it can do to contend with the demands of the shareholders, which usually center around increasing profits in the next quarter.
Could it be that the Knowledge Worker no longer has the human need for security, nor the need to belong to a group that takes pride in collaborative work? Reality is that although technological advances may double every 18 months, people retain most of the same emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs.
So with the stress of downsizing, workers have not become more empowered, but more demoralized. The work force is switching its loyalty from the company to the Rolodex; instead of being committed to an organization, they hang out in virtual organizations–other- wise known as networks–whose members live on cards and at addresses on the Internet.
Hiring a temporary work force, along with dismissing employees, often is resorted to as a way to tip the scales in favor of profit over people. But who will train and re-train this temporary work force? So far, the responsibility remains with the workers themselves.
But the tide is turning. There are rumblings that suggest the only way to stay competitive and produce high-quality products and services is to keep good employees. And to keep good employees, the word getting around is that the company has significant responsibility for developing their own employee capability. Further, we hear that this responsibility should translate into a career-development plan that aligns with business needs.
Implementation of the plan can take many forms, including: an apprenticeship; a self-study program (under the auspices of the company or an educational institution); a traditional academic class; a special project; individual coaching; and, yes, even regular classroom training as long as it’s not just a “feeling good” experience without substance.
The professional-development plan should be thought out with an eye toward the future. Where can each person best contribute as the company meets competitive challenges, new market opportunities and, therefore, the need for a more highly trained work force?
Moreover, in this third stage of implementation, the training plan for individuals must fit into an entire company plan that recognizes training should be:
–consistent, because all employees benefit by learning and using the same models for skills, and because consistency ensures a common language and a way of finding solutions to common challenges;
–integrated into the company’s language and values so employees can more easily understand how the learning supports the business strategies;
–measurable in terms of job-related results; and
–evaluated on the job for effectiveness. This last point implies that there is a real partnership between the training provider and the company, and real partners aren’t fickle. When something goes wrong they don’t fire each other, but cooperate to find solutions that benefit both. Once again, both will find real value in a long-term relationship that allows them to grow together in trust.
It’s clear. In our world, where a Fortune 500 company lives no longer than an average of 40 years, those that want to live longer–or perhaps enjoy a higher quality of life within the 40 years–need to build long-term relationships with their employees.
It is these long-term relationships, nurtured and developed to sustain a winning spirit, that will see the company through good times and bad. Employers and employees in partnership make the competitive and vital difference.
(Germaine Knapp is president of Worksmart of Rochester Inc., a communications-skills training company.)

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