• Strategy
  • CFO.com | US

Good Employees Don’t Grow on Trees

When it comes to developing a top-flight finance staff, one size does not fit all.

“If life were fair, employees would be perfect. They would do exactly what we asked them to do—except, of course, for the fantastic ideas they would cook up on their own… .They would be cheerful-brave-reverent-thrifty; they would evolve smoothly from entry-level to VP with no bumps along the way.”

So writes Erika Andersen in Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers (Portfolio, $24.95). Anderson is quick to acknowledge that life isn’t fair and instead of being perfect, employees have the annoying habit of being human.

Still, as the cliché (unfortunately honored in the breach) goes: They are your most important asset. So how do you get the most out of them?

With all the books on the topic now coming to market, the one by Andersen, founder of Proteus International, a human resources consulting firm, is a good place to start.

First the bad news about the book. Andersen is so in love with the gardening metaphor—that’s where the title comes from—that your hair will hurt by the time you are done.

That said, she is particularly good at pointing out that your employees will develop far faster if you help them. That means tailoring your approach to how to get the best out of them—do they need you to spell out everything in detail, or can you just give them the big picture and let them figure out the best way to achieve the objective?

In other words, when it comes to developing employees, one size does not fit all.

Intriguingly, she argues, if you are sincere in “believing in people’s potential and wanting them to grow” they will do far better than if you consider “the people stuff” something that keeps you from doing your real job.

And in a statement that would make even the most hardened manager smile, Andersen stresses that employees have a responsibility to try to be all they can be. Specifically, she says, they need to be responsive to feedback; keep their word with their bosses; and always try to develop new skills.

If you are looking for help with specific techniques on developing people, pick up the updated edition of Co-Active Coaching ($39.95, Davis-Black Publishing.) The book, written by four business and life coaches—Laura Whitworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kimsey-House, and Philip Sandal—is intended for professional coaches. But the lessons can be made to work for finance managers as well.

For example, the authors write, “from day one, coaching focuses on what clients want,” the client being the person paying the bills. If you substitute “you” for “client” the lessons will be equally valid. And you might want to skip over the part where they say that coaching is intended to address the client (read employee’s) whole life.

The authors are particularly good, however, about presenting different ways to listen and probe in your interactions with the people whose performance you are trying to improve. And they provide sample dialogue you can use.


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