Developing Your Employees While Achieving Business Results -- Is it Possible?

Just this month, Lisa J. Koss published an engaging book entitled Leading for Learning: How Managers Can Get Business Results through Developmental Coaching and Inspire Deep Employee Commitment, which addresses a universal problem for many managers -- With so much "real work" to do every day, how can they also carve out time to learn, engage, build relationships, tap motivation, encourage development, and inspire?

When I spoke with Lisa a few weeks ago, I asked her: "What causes the barriers that block the concurrent development of employees and business results?" Here is her complete answer:

I personally don’t know of any manager who doesn’t want to get results – both in business and in leading others.  Managers care about both.  No one wants to feel unsuccessful in either realm.  Making a difference is the stuff of positive self-regard and feelings of self-worth, whether regarding the work product itself, or developing more capable leaders. 

What gets in the way of people managers doing both -- getting business results while developing people?  In my view, with 25 years in the field of leadership development, there are numerous reasons.  Here are three: 

First, people managers often don’t want to be.  Often promoted for their technical or business acumen, people managers often know little about people management.  They think they can gain status but ultimately stay committed to getting their own work done, emphasizing management of the business versus leading people.  Despite accepting a position with the word “people” embedded, most managers I’ve known don’t seem to contemplate the implications.  “People management” simply becomes another task, or set of problems to solve, instead of considering the role as an entirely different way to impact the business.  Consider, for example, that workplaces are actually schools… for everyone.  People managers have the great opportunity -- and responsibility -- to support others to stay relevant, to innovate, and to maximize their potential.  Whether the manager’s people learn slowly or quickly will depend, in large part, on the manager’s orientation to her role. 

Second, some people managers assume that spending time to develop others really doesn’t pay off.  The research in the social sciences say otherwise.  What’s lost in the discussion is the focus on what really matters – engagement.  Engagement is important because it can be measured with the phenomenon called “discretionary effort”.  Discretionary effort is the 15-25% more effort that employees (including you) devote to their work when feeling engaged.  These gifts to the workplace often come in difficult-to-quantify packages – like arriving to work 10 minutes earlier, reviewing one’s work again, or taking the time to recognize a colleague – but constitute a substantial increase of value and productivity in the business. 

Finally, people managers might think achieving business results and people development are incompatible has nothing to do with mindset but relates to skills.  Humans are messy…and results can be hard to measure.  The thought of “developing others” can evoke unpleasant thoughts such as:  risk-taking, the lowering of standards, or wading into unpredictable, emotional conversations. Managers can, however, can learn the skills which release these kinds of anxieties. 

When life gets overly busy and complex, embracing a more holistic approach to leadership may seem counterintuitive.  Instead of managers thinking “either-or,” people managers can do both at the same time and experience double the success.

What do you think of Lisa's perspective? Are these the types of problems and mindsets held by many mangers in your organization? Lisa clearly and directly addresses these issues in her new book