Growing your revenue and accomplishing your business goals requires an "all hands on deck" approach. You rely on your employees and their skills, but are they working at their full potential? Most people have plenty of hidden talents that can be fleshed out with a little bit of education and encouragement. Actively helping your employees develop their professional skills shows that you value their contributions and respect their intelligence, and it can even give them the inner peace of knowing their job is secure.
Allowing employees to reach their true potential may be a little scary for a small-business owner. There's always the possibility that employees will decide to start living their best life in New York at a multinational corporation after your coaching and encouragement. Try not to overthink it, however. The worst that could happen is that you end up with a solid business connection and have the opportunity to mentor someone new.
Start in the present moment by working with what you have. Establish a baseline of strengths and weaknesses, conduct one-on-one interviews with employees to discover their preferences and then do your best to arm them with the resources they need for professional and personal growth. Whether it's daily motivational quotes, matching an employee to a better role or paying for course tuition, there's always something business owners can do to support their employees.
Recognizing Strengths and Weaknesses
Every employee has strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you even asked about them during the interview process to ensure an applicant had the right skill set to flourish in the job. Strengths and weaknesses aren't written in stone and neither are job descriptions. As your company grows, you may ask your employees to take on additional tasks or to modify their roles, and these new roles could expose new strengths and weaknesses.
Evaluate your employees' strengths and weaknesses by first compiling a list of skills that prove useful for each particular role or department. Consider tangible skills like language proficiency, technology use and any relevant scientific or artisanal skills as well as soft skills like decision making, problem solving, creativity, leadership and motivation.
Evaluating and Applying Your Findings
Create a separate copy of the list for each employee and write an "S" next to strengths and a "W" next to weaknesses. Try not to leave any skills blank since there's always room for improvement. For added insight, ask each employee to complete a self-evaluation and then compare notes. You can even ask coworkers to evaluate each other, but they should be allowed to leave blanks if needed.
Once you've done a preliminary investigation into each employee's strengths and weaknesses, cross-reference their strengths with the skills lists you compiled for each role. It's possible that you hired someone for a role that doesn't put his skills to good use. Likewise, look for common weaknesses among all of your employees or within a particular department. Focus on these widespread weaknesses to quickly bolster the performance of your team.
Applying an Employee's Past Experiences
Sometimes, a person's resume is filled with a variety of positions within different industries and a variety of roles. As her current employer, are you putting all of that experience to good use so that she expands on it and reaches her full potential? A good example includes giving someone more managerial responsibilities if she has previous experience as a team supervisor or project lead, or you can consider cross-training her in a manager's role so that she can fill in when the manager takes time off.
Fundraising, marketing, sales, creative direction and anything to do with technology may not have a direct bearing on an employee's current position, but it's useful to keep this prior experience in mind in case an opportunity presents itself. Promoting from within your company is easier (and more cost effective) than searching for job applicants, vetting candidates, onboarding a new hire and hoping against hope that you've made a good choice. On the other hand, an existing employee already fits in with your company and has proven herself to be a good worker.
Asking Which Tasks Are Enjoyable
No one can reach his full potential without feeling some inner drive and excitement for the task at hand. Therefore, it's vital to understand which tasks your employees find enjoyable. You're not necessarily asking your team members to name the easiest tasks but rather to name the tasks that they'd rather do above all others. Challenging work can still be enjoyable.
Be sure to ask the opposite question as well: On which tasks do they typically procrastinate, not feel confident about completing or just despise doing? When an employee dislikes a task, he's less likely to pay attention to the quality of his work. Instead, he may rush through it just to get it done, and this doesn't benefit your business's reputation or the employee's morale.
You can expect overall productivity to increase when each employee has an opportunity to do work he really enjoys. Spread out the less enjoyable tasks so that no one gets dumped with a tedious or overwhelming workload.
Creating a Sense of Ownership and Purpose
In addition to finding out which tasks your employees actually want to do, it's important for you to encourage them to take ownership of their projects. Allow them to make creative decisions without micromanaging every detail. Explain what you need in terms of the end result and then let your employees decide the best way to get there. Of course, you'll want to provide guidance and coaching if needed, but many of your employees could reach their fullest potential by just receiving permission to do so.
Developing Their Professional Skills
Another way to create a sense of ownership is to let your employees choose the weaknesses they are most interested in developing or the tasks that they would like to learn how to do better. Then, arm them with the tools they need to accomplish those goals. It could be as simple as recommending free articles for them to read online or connecting them to educational social media accounts to follow. However, you could follow a more in-depth route by paying for them to attend an industry conference or to meet with a consultant.
The highly self-motivated individuals on your team may be excited about this new challenge, but take care that you aren't overwhelming the rest of your busy workforce. Incentives and rewards as well as lightening up their regular workload when assigning professional development tasks can be useful in sparking motivation. Consider offering a one-time bonus to anyone who participates, and enter everyone in an extra drawing for a larger prize as well. Allow employees to go home early in order to work on their professional development tasks (like reading articles or watching videos and webinars) from the comfort of their couch.
Full Potential Looks Diverse
Finally, keep in mind that one person's highest potential is another person's stepping stone. Not everyone will reach the same goals in the same amount of time — if at all —but that doesn't mean you shouldn't invest in their professional and personal growth. For example, if you want your content producers to be able to proof their own work, you may have employees with special needs like dyslexia for whom that would be a very difficult goal.
Always remember to view your employees as individuals and to seek their input. Despite your own hopes and dreams and motivational speeches, you'll inevitably encounter an employee who feels that she's already reached her full potential. That's to be expected, so don't force her into a role that makes her feel incompetent and unhappy about coming to work.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.