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Sep 1, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Regardless how they obtain the skills they need for the job, employees worth their paycheck have the desire to get better at what they do.

They want to acquire and develop new skills, talents, and abilities that will help them increase their value to their present employers and other prospective employers.

To ignore your employees’ need for continual skills development is akin to ignoring your garden’s need for frequent watering; the seeds you’ve planted are not going to grow, and your existing flowers are going to wilt.

It’s simple, really — you want them to grow, and they want to grow. So, let’s focus attention on a five-step how-to formula to ensure your employees remain in the growth and retention zone, which leads to long-time on-fire performance.

1. Agree on a growth agenda

One reason couples often cite for a failed marriage is that the husband and wife discovered over time that they each wanted different things that couldn’t both exist in a shared life. No matter how much they love each other, if one or the other is not getting what they really want, their future together is tenuous.

The employment relationship works the same way — both parties have to be moving in the same direction. This sort of mutuality requires both parties to meet at the onset of the hire, as well as periodically discuss, agree to, and map out each of their future ambitions.

2. Establish the timetable

Just as both parties need to agree on what new skills and abilities the employee is going to be learning, they also need to establish and agree upon the time frame. Without a timetable in place, one or both parties are going to eventually disengage.

Effectively applied, it sounds something like this:

Here’s where you are now. To get where you say you’d like to be, you’re going to need to acquire certifications A and B and gain experience doing C. This process typically takes three years, but we can cut some of that time off if you enroll in the classes for certification A next month.”

3. Individualize the learning methodology

As a former high school teacher, I can attest to the importance of figuring out how each student learns best. Hand some people a textbook and they’ve got it, while others require a lesson and Q&A.

Others need a visual demonstration or a lab to grasp the concepts. Knowing how each employee learns and designing the learning agenda around what works best for them are the keys to ensuring that they stay on course.

4. Celebrate milestones and success

Many of us can recall when our parents charted our height on a doorway.

They’d mark our height, and when we stepped back, we could see how much taller we had grown since the last time they measured us. Then if you had a father like mine, you were told that you’d grow even faster if you ate your vegetables and went to bed on time.

Again, the same principles are at work here. It’s important to chart the growth progress of each employee and let them recognize how much they’re learning, how much experience they’re gaining, and how much more valued they are becoming to you in the process.

The more significant the milestone (e.g., degrees earned or newly acquired certifications), the larger the celebration should be (e.g., office celebration with cake, article of congratulations in the company grapevine, or taking the employee and his or her spouse out for dinner).

5. Rinse and repeat

The old adage — “You’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotten” — is one that’s very much at play in your culture. Every employee, from your receptionist to your EVP, needs to be on a growth trajectory — and they need to understand and agree on that growth trajectory.

Once they get where they want to be, they’re going to see a new future for themselves off in the horizon. That’s a good thing for them and for your organization.

Excerpted from On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out, released nationwide on Oct. 20, 2015

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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