Research consistently finds that employees across the generational spectrum believe that one of a manager’s fundamental roles is to support the development of his or her employees. And yet, in most organizations, the level of satisfaction with that development remains relatively low.
Leaders—aware of this expectation and, in most cases, wanting to deliver on it—make a valiant effort. They send people to training and try to commit themselves to mentoring. Yet, many simply don’t have the know-how, and even more don’t have the time to offer such hands-on support. Given the pace and complexity of today’s workplace, leaders are being tasked with more than ever before. Unfortunately, this means that their ability to proactively and robustly provide meaningful mentoring is suffering (along with the engagement, growth and performance of their employees).
But being busy should be no reason to abandon mentoring others. Instead, it might present an opportunity to expand a leader’s capacity to help others grow while acknowledging the fundamental truth that employees own their own careers and development. That opportunity involves leveraging employee visibility as a kind of do-it-yourself mentorship.
Visibility refers to “the state of being able to see or be seen.” Traditionally in organizations, this means offering employees the opportunity to attend events, showcase talents, represent the team, meet key leaders, or otherwise see or be seen. This sort of visibility provides the recognition that people crave, but generally falls short in terms of fostering growth because it’s neither set up nor mined for learning.
Leaders can’t simply shove employees out into the spotlight and hope for the best. For visibility to serve as a legitimate tool for development, it requires intentionality. Here are four high-impact actions leaders can take to set others up for do-it-yourself mentoring success and, in the process, empower employees to leverage their visibility for learning.
Understand the Individual’s Goals and Desires
Any sort of development begins with an understanding of strengths, skills, interests, opportunities for improvement, values and an eye toward the future. This becomes context for development in general and offers a focus for a visibility opportunity.
Identify an Opportunity
Consider what you know about the person and select some visibility opportunities that might further his or her individual goals. It could be as simple as joining you at a meeting. Or presenting to senior management. Or leading a workshop. Or speaking at a conference. The key is that the opportunity offers the chance for focused growth in an area of interest to the employee.
Help employees establish a focus, intention or goal for the visibility opportunity. Be available to brainstorm how he or she can make the most of this opportunity, but resist the natural temptation to help manage the process. Action plans, next steps and the like rest squarely with employees as they embrace DIY development.
Explore What Was Gained
At an appropriate time (ideally initiated by the employee – but you may need to take the lead here) revisit the visibility opportunity. Facilitate a brief conversation during which you ask questions to help the person reflect on the experience, insights gained, actions taken and how they might leverage all of this toward next developmental steps. Acknowledge effort, progress and successes. Building confidence in the ability to develop through visibility may prompt employees to take more initiative to do the same in the future, removing even more of the burden from the shoulders of managers.
Leaders will always have a responsibility for developing others. Yet, given escalating workloads, tightening time constraints and virtual nature of business, managers must find creative and time-effective ways to support others in their development. Visibility—intelligently conceived and implemented—can be a powerful DIY form of mentorship and a way to grow people, grow capacity and grow the business.
This post was originally published at the Economist Career blog here. Its author, Julie Winkle Giulioni, has spent the past 25 years working with organizations worldwide to improve performance through learning. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications.