Have you ever heard your company’s owner or CEO exclaim at a meeting, or in an email, that “our people are our most valuable asset?” I have. Over and over again I’ve heard my share of those speeches, or seen those emails, during the many years that I’ve worked in the business world.
Although, one thing that always perplexed me was that when it came to annual business planning, it was all about the business. No mention of those “valuable assets” at all.
Many people I worked with viewed business planning solely as changing numbers in a spreadsheet. In reality, all this amounted to was changing numbers for the goals. That is not a business plan. Goals are one component of the business plan, but it is also important to know “what” to do, and “how” you are going to achieve those goals. These were often missing from annual business plans, as was one more critical element. “People” plans.
Businesses don’t build themselves. It is the people that work in the business that build it. One thing I have discovered, not only as an employee but also as a consultant and someone involved in organizational development for many years, is that a bonus creates excitement, but it is a very short-lived feeling. Sustained excitement and passion for an employer often develops with continuous learning and professional growth. This directly benefits the retention of valuable people as well as improved business results. This is where a People Plan comes in.
Now you may be asking, “What is a People Plan?” I’ll elaborate.
This kind of plan is an organizational roadmap that constructs a clear snapshot of every team providing insight into their current strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, this plan gives a clear roadmap on how to maximize the strength of every team and individual. To implement such plans, there are 7 essential components:
1. Team Calibrations:
In this exercise, every team leader plots their team on a performance matrix against 2 evaluated key variables. Those variables are “performance” and “potential.” I have used both 4 grid and 9 grid variations of this exercise. The grids aid in identifying performers who are both strong and promotable, those who are consistently performing and happy where they are, as well as those who are struggling. To be successful, the organization needs every link in their chain to be strong, which is why this exercise works best when it is required to be completed by every Manager. Doing this during mid-year and annual performance reviews is ideal, yet at a minimum, I am a huge fan of it being an integral part of the annual business planning process. Some managers tend to be lackadaisical because they continuously tolerate mediocrity. Implementing a process likes this holds every Manager accountable to the organization to make sure they are doing everything they can to field the strongest team possible.
2. Succession Planning and Bench-strength Building:
Having identified who the strongest performers are within the organization, these are the people who 1) you can least afford to lose, 2) your competitors would love to hire, and 3) could be future leaders within your organization. That is, if you develop them into leaders. Every person who manages a team should ideally have an “heir” prepared and a succession plan in place. Some people identified for future promotions have a learning curve with knowledge gaps that need to be filled. Having a proactive Manager is key to identifying those gaps and then closing them to build bench-strength (this becomes part of #7 too).
3. Underperformer Action Plan:
If your team calibrations identify employees who are struggling, every effort should be made to help them accelerate their results. The difficult part is not prematurely judging why said performance is not where you desire it to be. Turning performance around may come from coaching and training, or it could be at the more serious stage of needing a Performance Improvement Plan. In order to decide which course of action is needed, you have to separate those with a lack of knowledge - yet have the desire, from those with a lack of will trying only to do the bare minimum to receive their paycheck. This process should be overseen by the employee’s Manager. This is another reason why I like regularly scheduled Team Calibrations. Managers who are not dealing with underperformers are clearly identified and should fall into the underperformer category as well.
4. Onboarding Effectively:
I know too many people who have felt that they were “thrown in” versus being “phased in” to new roles, sometimes in entirely new organizations. Can you relate to this too? I can. That is why I am a huge proponent of multi-week onboarding programs for key roles (e.g. Sales Professionals etc.) supported by 1) the direct report Manager, and 2) a peer mentor. After successfully implementing structured onboarding programs, I have seen new hires phased in, who in their first year, ranked in the Top 10% of the organization. As well, I have seen it on more than one occasion where a new hire ranked #1 after their first year! Having new hires that were “brought up to speed” helped deliver stronger results rather than the alternative - leaving them to fend for themselves and learn unassisted.
5. Leadership Development Plan:
To me, leadership development should be inclusive of everyone that manages a team, regardless of which level one holds in the organization. From my corporate experience, leadership development budgets were usually reserved for the Vice President level and above. But we all know how many decisions get made at the lower levels of the organization. Who is helping those Managers become stronger leaders and decision makers? Motivation and leadership disciplines apply across every level of management. Teaching team leaders how to be more effective can yield a good ROI in not only business results, but also in the reduction of voluntary staff turnover.
6. Team Learning Plan:
Most large organizations are comprised of different functional teams - sales, marketing, accounting, finance, and operations etc. With each individual department, the learning and development needs are different. On many teams, you have individuals executing the same role. To help ensure you have a proficient baseline of knowledge across the entire team, as well as best-in-class sharing, it is extremely important to determine the principal core competency skills needed for those roles. Then, the task involves putting together a training plan to develop these key skills so that team members are proficient in core tasks and skills.
7. Personal Learning Plan (PLP):
Back in the days when I was spearheading organizational development and driving in this new concept, I placed the responsibility of developing this type of plan on the manager of each team. They know their team best, what each person’s strengths are, and (hopefully) what their top developmental needs are. The goal every year was simply to help each employee become stronger at 3 things. That increase in strength may have come from 1:1 coaching, working with a peer mentor, going to a training program, or a combination of these things. Feedback that I continuously received in company 360 reviews showed that employees appreciated the investment made in them to help aid their growth in a professional and positive manner. I knew that we were onto something and saw the utmost importance of developing training goals for each and every individual on a team, thus contributing to the overall growth of the group and delivering the needed results for the annual business plan.
As you look forward, does your 2019 annual business plan include a strong People Plan? Does said plan incorporate these 7 critical principles to deliver, or over-deliver, the established goals? If not, it’s time to plot out your people-based roadmap for the upcoming year.
John R. Jell | President of JELL Training & Consulting