Five Simple Ways to Develop Your Employees – And Why You Should

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ORG XMIT: *S0406337545* ** FILE ** Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, right, shares a shovel with coach Tom Landry at the ground breaking of the Cowboys practice facility in Irving, Tex., In this Nov. 30, 1983 file photo. Schramm died at his Dallas home Tuesday, July 15, 2003. He was 83. (AP Photo/File) [ valley ranch training facility practice facility ] DN1 07162003xSports 10262004xNews
(AP Photo/File)
The secret to winning is constant, consistent management.  -Tom Landry

Ask any HR professional and they’ll tell you how recruiting quality people and then developing them is much more a cost effective business model than constantly seeking the perfect match. When Tom Landry and Tex Schramm led the Dallas Cowboys, they rarely recruited players for a particular positions. They went looking for the best athlete they could find, believing they could place that man where the team needed him and developing him as a member of the team. That same philosophy of recruiting and developing the best people, not the best skills, works in business, too.

If you recruit quality people, and then put the effort into developing them, your business will thrive and your people will thrive. When leaders commit to the betterment of their people, most often the people return that commitment with their loyalty and effort. Some companies do employee development better than others, and some of the bigger names are well known: Google, Amazon, and others. The Air Force also does a great job of developing Airmen…there are formal training programs, incentives for education, and a commitment to physical fitness.

But what about small companies? Here are 5 simple ways small companies can develop their employees.

Take Advantage of Professional Societies’ Programs

Many industry groups have education programs through their monthly meetings and regional/national conferences. For small businesses, these are cost effective venues to get employees training or continuing education credits.  Professional societies like the Society of American Military Engineers and local Chambers of Commerce offer free lunch and learn programs, webinars, and conferences that supply continuing education credits, as well as development programs. Hey, everyone has to eat lunch, right? Make that time work for you!

Partner with Local Colleges

Many state colleges and universities have extension services or institutes as part of their system where your employees can get certifications and training at low cost. By working with the local college or a professor in your industry, small business owners can sometimes tailor course material. Faculty are often hungry for interaction with the industry they teach in, and will welcome your collaboration. Institutions will see a low cost option for local employees as a way to attract more students. Done well, industry-academy collaboration is a win-win.

Allow Time Off for Employees to Work on Advanced Education

Of course, your business is your business but often the temporary “pain” of having an employee out of the workplace more is offset with a significant gain once that employee returns full time. In addition to your employees’ own personal self-satisfaction and growth, the additional skills they’ll learn in getting their college degrees are valuable to you as an employer. Even if the degree is the unrelated to your business, simply going through the process of getting a degree helps employees think broader about the business.  Lastly, whether you give time off or not, don’t forget to celebrate employee academic and vocational training graduations–and give a perk or two for success. They’re part of your team and their success is your success.

Hire Veterans and Encourage Them to Use their Benefits.

Military veterans enter the civilian workforce with considerable skills, but they also enter with great benefits that also benefit you as an employer. The GI Bill, access to military facilities, and health care are just some of the advantages veterans have and should use. Encouraging your veterans to use their benefits is good for you as a company, because the DoD and VA will always be able to outspend you when it comes to benefits. Further, and more to the point, if a veteran needs help of almost any sort, there are people who are ready and able to help in a way your veteran specifically needs.

Host Brown Bag Seminars

“Brown bag” seminars where employees can engage in learning on the job is good for the entire team. The topics should vary from direct work related subjects to anything of interest to your team. The best brown bag programs rotate leadership among the team so everyone gets a chance to develop and present a program. Leading a program builds confidence and develops planning skills from your employees.

Spending leadership effort to consciously develop your employees, even if you’re a small company, has a great return on investment. It’s something successful companies know and practice!

Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and


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Move the Chains

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wpid-ap-first-down-line-football-4_3.jpgThe phrase “Hail Mary” to describe a desperate long pass down the field entered the NFL lexicon after a Dallas Cowboys vs Minnesota Vikings playoff game in 1975 when Cowboys’ quarterback Roger Staubach connected with receiver Drew Pearson in what turned out to be the game-winning play.

Despite the glamour of the Steve Sabol narrated NFL films, few games are won with last second heroics. In fact, most NFL games are won with solid defense and relentless offense. In order to score, you have to “move the chains” (make first downs). Put more simply, games are won when you score more points and gain more yards than the other team, and that’s only done when you make first downs and “move the chains.”  “Move the chains” is football lingo for playing for the next first down, advancing down the field purposefully and continuously until you cross the goal. It’s a way of thinking about the game that’s directly transferable to organizational change because it speaks to continuous disciplined progress rather than just sprinting for the finish and hoping for a miracle.

When a team marches steadily down the field each time they have the ball, they demonstrate discipline and gain confidence. That discipline and confidence is what wins ball games, and it’s the same discipline and confidence needed to make organizational change successful. Like football, moving an organization through change seldom comes from “Hail Mary” plays.  Interim goals and steady progress are the keys to success. Just like moving ten yards to the next first down sets up the offense for the next ten yards, so do interim goals plot the way toward the ultimate goal. Furthermore, in NFL the head coach has to have a game plan and then train the players to execute it consistently. So it is with organizational change: the leader has to have a plan and a disciplined team with the ability to execute it.  No plan or an undisciplined team is a recipe for disaster.  Furthermore, a leader who can’t communicate the vision and the plan to get there is headed for a fall no matter how good is his team.

Organizational change, especially revolutionary change, is hard on the people in the organization if all leaders are doing is flinging the ball down the field and hoping for a miracle. Even Peter Drucker thought so. People will very quickly surmise the leader doesn’t have a way ahead, which will in turn manifest itself in workplace discord, a drop in productivity, and eventually a hemorrhage of talent. For the visionary leader, it’s very tempting to want to move an organization quickly: “revolutionary change” versus “evolutionary change,”  but organizations and people are rarely that nimble without a lot of practice. In the NFL coaches will sometimes rely on trick plays, all out defensive blitzes, and long passes when they’re out of ideas. Those coaches don’t usually last very long. People can become disillusioned with their leaders quickly when faced with too many “Hail Mary’s” and not enough “first downs.” This is not to say teams can’t “do” revolutionary change…but like the ’75 Cowboys people can’t make the big plays unless they can make the small ones.

On the other hand, if leaders are focused on the next first down while continuing to point the way down the field…that is the interim goals pointed at the final goal…then the team will continue to work together to get into the end zone. Revolutionary change is possible so long as leaders prepare their teams with solid leadership and clear cut interim goals, and most importantly, a clear destination everyone can buy into. Achieving interim goals on the way to the end zone gives the team confidence. Repeated and consistent “first downs” reinforce discipline in the team, discipline the team will need to score again and again.

The confidence gained by high performance then directly contributes to a team agile enough to make those “Hail Mary’s” when they have to take the long shot. They will develop confidence in themselves and their leaders.

They will become a championship team.