Let’s Grow: 4 Steps for Successful Employee Development

In terms of People Management, we have quite a big challenge ahead of us at MeisterLabs. For starters, we have the ambitious aim of growing our workforce from 30 to 50 employees within the next four months. Plus, we’re not just looking to grow in terms of team size. We’re also looking to grow and develop each team member individually.

Employee development and people management at MeisterLabs

In this article, I’ll take you through the four main employee development aims of our employee talks here at MeisterLabs, based on the theories of Morgan W. McCall’s book, High Flyers:

    1. Encouraging employees to get to know themselves better, including their strengths and weaknesses
    2. Finding alignment between the qualities of team members and our company strategy
    3. Developing opportunities for growth and professional development
    4. Ensuring that outcomes are communicated company-wide and follow-ups take place.

I’ll refer to ‘People Management’ throughout, where others might use ‘Human Resources Management’. However, with our focus on employee development, the term People Management seems more appropriate for our approach at MeisterLabs.

1. Encourage Your Employees to Get to Know Themselves Better

Your company can only get as far as your workforce, and your workforce can only get as far as you support your team members to develop.

Employee talks are central to this workforce development, as they include reflection and feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Spanning further than technical skills, the talks also cover feedback on interpersonal issues. For MeisterLabs, a team member’s ability to efficiently cooperate is just as important from a company-perspective.

As a result, during our employee talks, we evaluate technical and interpersonal competencies, as well as leadership competencies where applicable, based on scales and additional comments – an approach suggested by Nagler & Löffler in their book Strategisches Talentmanagement.

In order to do this, we provide all team members and team leads with an assessment form, a section of which looks like so:

employee talks review form people management HR human resources

The form lists a number of attributes, varying from ‘quality of output’ to ‘the ability to manage deadlines and projects’.

We then choose to combine employee self-reflection with managerial assessment, by asking team members to first self-assess, confidentially rating themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 for each attribute. This assessment is then accompanied by an assessment by their direct manager, as we ask team leads to rate each of their team members, using the same list of attributes.

The outcome of these assessments

Fortunately, we found that how we think critically about ourselves and reflect on our own potential for improvement is likely to underline the points made by the direct managers. We also established a few key areas for both employee improvement and employee strengths.

Following the talks, areas that required improvement included:

  • For some employees to be more open to feedback in the future
  • For certain team members to show clearer leadership as team managers
  • For some team members to be more succinct during meetings and presentations.

As a result, we can now work to provide opportunities for training in these areas, in collaboration with the relevant team members.

There were also many clear strengths that came out of the talks, which we, as an organization, can build upon, including:

  • The constant curiosity of our employees and their interest in questioning and improving our development processes
  • A team member’s deep knowledge of Marketing practices and leadership potential
  • A tech lead’s ability to coach developers in a way that helps them excel every day.

Just before the talks, we also held our first ‘Employees of the Year’ award, to highlight the strengths and work of three team members in particular.

2. Find Alignment Between Employee Skills and Company Strategy

Before thinking about where employees should progress to within the company, it’s important to first establish what the company needs. This involves clarifying the following questions:

  • Where is the company going and what is the strategy?
  • Which challenges come with that strategy?
  • And which experiences do our current employees need this time next year, in order to be able to cope with challenging times?

Not only is it important for retaining talented team members to share the company strategy regularly, it’s also crucial to develop your employees accordingly. As a result, our employee talks provide an opportunity to propose these potential areas of growth to our team members, to show how we could see their roles developing, in line with overall company direction.

3. Develop Opportunities for Growth – Together

For our positions in software development, we’ve aimed to develop career pathways for each of our employees.

Within MeisterLabs, our developers can grow from Junior Developer to Intermediate Developer, to Senior Developer. As a Senior Developer, you either function as an expert working individually on big features or you can proceed down the leadership path. These roles come with specific skills and responsibilities and we use our employee talks to share these potential pathways with team members, explaining how we see them progressing.

In other departments, employees have much more diverse skill sets and tasks, which is why we put more focus on goal development and measurement. Coming back to the theories of Morgan W. McCall, he argues that in order to shape desired behavior, managers should set goals, measure them and hold their employees accountable.

In growing companies, goals can often be aligned with employees’ skills and interests. However, it’s also important that you’re supporting team members to work on their weaknesses, through training programmes and professional development opportunities.

Research shows that professional development is usually divided into three parts: learning on the job, internal resources, and external education events.

employee talks people management HR human resources Learning and training

1. 70% of professional development happens on the job. However, this will often require managers to become coaches to their employees. Managers need to encourage team members to complete tasks slightly outside of their comfort zone, as well as allowing them to fail. In our employee talk sheets, after defining goals and measurements (e.g. being clearer about key points in meetings, to provide a better understanding to all participants), we would discuss concrete steps to reach that goal (for example, opportunities to practise public speaking).

2. For the next 20% of professional development, we have internal resources at hand. Not only do we hire bright minds to work independently on projects, but we also look to hire people based on their ability to help and teach one another. As a result, we’ve developed a table of mentors and mentees based on coaching abilities and discussions during the employee talks. Mentors can be simply approached by mentees when they encounter a problem on the job, or teams can schedule bigger tutorials for a couple of interested people. This is how we spread knowledge about programming languages, project management, inclusive leadership and business English, amongst other skills and attributes.

3. The final 10% of employee development happens at formal educational events, such as the Reactive Conf or the Railsconf – two conferences that a number of our developers will be attending, as well as other opportunities for external training.

In short: Besides the evaluation of technical and interpersonal skills, we’ve developed a plan together with team members that enables our employees to reach their goals within a year, including via in-house and external support.

4. Make the Outcomes Official

The week of employee talks was a marathon. However, we were really pleased with the outcomes, which include:

  • Each employee receiving access to their own employee talk sheet that communicates their evaluation and goals, measurements, concrete steps and learning support.
  • To communicate our decisions company-wide, we developed an Org Chart using MindMeister. During a company-wide meeting, we explained the main goals of each employee and officially announced a new layer of middle management. We’re not the only start-up that seeks to stay agile while still seeing the value in clear management roles…
  • Finally, we published a table that connects mentors with mentees, for team members seeking in-house training and support.

So what’s next for People Management at MeisterLabs?

Follow-ups will take place every three months to support our employees on their way. Having heard from one of our Tech Leads and our Product Manager that people seem to have gained motivation following the employee talks, I believe that People Management at MeisterLabs is already on the right track…


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