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Employee Development
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Employee Development
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Expert Opinion


Job satisfaction, performance, and motivation can be increased significantly through the empowerment of employees. Karen Robinson [1] the head of Employee Involvement at Boeing, believed that employee development initiatives along with a strong organisational learning culture have the following benefits:

  1. They help to create a shared vision; A clearly defined and well understood organisational vision needs to be personally delivered to employees. Comments and suggestions concerning an organisation's vision or mission statements should be elicited e.g. at employee orientation sessions, during re-engagement activities, and as part of training activities. A shared vision can ensure that employees understand both where the organisation has come from, and where it is heading.
  2. They encourage the growth of teams and individuals; The provision of challenging learning and growth opportunities can encourage creativity and innovation which in turn stimulates growth. Employee development through increased knowledge can improve performance by,
    • Keeping knowledge of trends and technologies current,
    • Introducing new areas of knowledge which lead to a  diversity of  experiences and provide new perspectives, and
    • Engaging and challenging staff making them less likely to look for other opportunities.    
  3. They cultivate systems thinking; As employees understand how their respective roles’ impact upon the rest of the organisation they tend to take greater ownership, and thereby to make more effective improvements in their own work areas. [1]


Ray Baumruk practice leader with Hewitt Associates writes [2] that "engagement" describes the energy and passion that employees have for their job and their employer. Engaged employees have a feeling of greater connection with their organisation and its leadership, and they have confidence in the organisation's future direction. In essence, when staff feel that they are truly valued they tend to produce better results. Employees also feel more engaged when their employer demonstrates a willingness to provide greater opportunities for development, whether through job rotations, training programs or simply via greater management involvement. In the Survey and Research Data section of this briefing paper evidence is provided concerning higher shareholder returns being associated with organisations that have worked at developing truly engaged employees. Baumruk cites the former chairman and CEO of General Electric's, Jack Welch, who said "real and limitless productivity comes from challenged, empowered, excited, rewarded teams of people”. [2]
The following ten ways in which to engage employees are adapted from work by Dr Charles Woodruffe, [3] managing director of UK Human Assets consultancy:

  1. Publish a statement of commitment from the Chief Executive and the Board concerning the importance of retaining talent by developing excellent people-management practices.
  2. Ensure that all line managers embrace the culture of talent retention and that they understand engaging employees is a core part of the organisation's business strategy for marketplace success.
  3. Treat every member of your staff as an individual by discovering his or her work needs and by giving careful attention to meeting these.
  4. Ensure that managers are supported and coached concerning people management skills.
  5. Carry out regular employee satisfaction audits.
  6. Take scrupulous care to ensure that talented people are hired and offered a commitment by the organisation.
  7. Avoid destroying the employee's trust with a 'hire and fire' mentality.
  8. Strive to develop employees so that their worth to the organisation increases.
  9. Challenge all areas where the organisation is not being flexible and responsive to employee needs.
  10. Carefully identify core talent and invest resources in developing those people. [3]

Reversal Theory

An understanding of what it is that drives employee behaviour patterns can assist with encouraging higher levels of performance and achievement.  Stephen Carter managing director of Apter International writes [5] that Reversal Theory describes a number of discrete ways of experiencing the world and shows that these fundamental states comprise pairs of opposites. The switches between each pair of opposites are called 'reversals.' The four possible domains described by reversal theory are:

  1. Means ends; (Serious versus Playful)
  2. Rules; (Conforming versus Rebellious)
  3. Transactions; (Mastery versus Sympathy)
  4. Relationships; ( Self versus Other)

Figure 1 below, adapted from [4], depicts the four domains and pairs of states described by reversal theory:  











Fig 1. The four domains and pairs of states described by reversal theory

At the heart of reversal theory is the idea that our experience is shaped by a set of alternative ways of seeing the world, each of which is based on a fundamental value or motive. Specifically, four pairs of such opposite states have been discerned. In the course of everyday life, and under a variety of circumstances, we switch - or "reverse" – quite frequently between opposite 'motivational states' or 'styles'. In today's global business community organisations compete for basically the same fundamental resources e.g. similar technologies, communication systems, information, and interest rates. Human talent, effectiveness, passion, and commitment are the areas in which differentiation and real productivity improvements can be discovered. These human qualities need to be nurtured i.e. people tend to display these qualities if they feel motivated towards displaying them. Hence Organisations wishing to encourage employees to offer more of these human qualities in the workplace can benefit form an understanding of the key principles of human motivation and behaviour. The application of reversal theory offers tools to help employees understand what they want from their work and non-work related lives by enabling them to:

  • Understand that various states, and sometimes out of the ordinary ones, can liberate their potential for productivity, performance and happiness in ways that they might not have imagined possible;
  • Deal with situations that previously have caused anxiety and were therefore avoided.
  • Take measured, and considered, risks where appropriate. [5]

Coaching and Mentoring

Duncan Brown [6] assistant director general of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development stated that "Coaching is the vehicle to achieve behavioural change that can alter the whole performance of the organisation".  Research involving 25 major employers including the BBC, Dixons, Selfridges and Shell, found that all of these companies were extremely positive about the impact of effective coaching, and reported improvements in:     

  • Business and individual performance,
  • Employee and customer attitudes,
  • Leadership behaviours and skills,
  • Communications, and
  • Confidence

These employers also noted the risks and the financial investment required, reporting that coaching was not cheap, nor a magic solution for fixing performance failings. Two common factors were highlighted which underpinned successful coaching schemes:

  1. Coaching should be integrated with other training. Successful coaching complements rather than replaces traditional training methods, and needs to be part of an integrated development strategy which is linked to business goals.
  2. Coaching requires a clear purpose and suitable design. The research highlighted three main variants relating to coaching system designs as follows:
    • Technical skills development, similar to that used for traditional sports coaching;
    • Personal development and support, as typically offered by executive coaches, and
    • Helping individuals and teams to improve business processes and to deliver organisational change. [6]

Recruiting a Personal Coach

How do you choose a suitable coach? To achieve positive, measurable changes in our behaviour it is important that our coaches are people that we respect and who also respect us. Marshall Goldsmith [7] editor of Learning Journeys, and author of "The Leadership Frontier", writes that helpful behavioural coaches are most likely to be people who impact our daily lives. For this reason in selecting a coach consideration should be given to managers, direct reports, colleagues, customers, friends, and family members. We should seek to involve people who can help us get better, and we should not ask for advice if we don't really want to hear it!  Goldsmith provides the following three questions to ask a potential coach that may help predict the likelihood of a successful coaching relationship:

  1. Are you willing to "let go" of my past behaviour and help me change my future behaviour?  Coaching can be much more constructive by focusing on the development of future rather than dwelling in mistakes. Focusing on the future will make the coaching process much more enjoyable.
  2. Are you willing to be a supportive coach, i.e., not a cynic, critic, or judge? Successful people tend to respond well to advice that can help them achieve their goals. They tend to resist advice when it is judgmental or manipulative. Likewise the two way relationship needed for successful coaching will be destroyed by an atmosphere of cynicism or criticism.
  3. Will you  be honest with me when you give me suggestions for the future? Coaches need to be honest to be truly helpful. Just as overly negative comments can be demoralising, so too can overly positive comments become damaging by reinforcing inappropriate behaviour. [7]

Mentoring occurs in all organisations regardless of whether it is fostered as a formal strategy or not. Consciously and unconsciously people learn from one another and model each other's behaviours and attitudes.  They also absorb the culture and perceived values of the organisation through these relationships. A discussion paper [8] from The Growth Connection Pty. Ltd., Sydney describes the traditional mentoring relationship as one in which a wiser and more experienced person assists someone to grow and to learn. However new ways of mentoring have arisen that allow individuals to interact more as colleagues and on an equal footing which can cultivate mutually beneficial growth and learning. Experience, skills and a genuine desire to help are more valuable assets in a mentoring relationship than age or position. Open and assertive communication and the trust of both parties are essential. The best teachers learn much from their students and both parties grow and develop along the way. The following are common reasons for developing an organisational mentoring programme:

  • Induction; helping new employees to become established
  • Skills Enhancement; passing on of experience and knowledge to others
  • Career Development; helping employees to plan, develop, and manage their careers and to better handle times of change by becoming more self-reliant and self-directed learners
  • Affirmative Action; assisting women and minority groups by providing support and helping to  overcome barriers blocking their progress
  • Leadership and Management Development,; encouraging  the development of competencies through example, guided practice and experience
  • Education Support;; bridging the gap between theory and practice
  • Organisational Development and Culture Change; sharing the values, vision and mission of the organisation
  • Customer Service; modelling desired behaviours; developing competencies, motivating and cultivating the right attitudes
  • Staff retention; offering support and a planned career paths [8]

Individuals who are well mentored tend to feel that they are being looked after; they consequently gain confidence in their abilities and respond accordingly. They are often happier, more loyal and productive as a result. An article posted [9] by UK Exemplas Limited, a business support services organisation, states that mentees tend to become more effective in their job and to stay with organisations longer, and that mentoring programmes help to smooth the integration of new employees into organisations more quickly, forming a useful asset for attracting and retaining good calibre staff. Other reported advantages of mentoring schemes include:

  • Improved motivation of employ
  • Promotes reflection upon performance and the achievement of goals
  • The possible stimulation of entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour
  • Line managers are able to suggest that mentees should discuss difficult issues with their mentors and thereby gain different perspectives and benefit from expertise.

Mentors and Protégés/Mentees

Linda Kaplan chairperson and a founding member of the Money Mailer Mentoring Programme stated [10] that a mentor is a trusted teacher or counsellor; mentoring programs need not to be overly complex; and a protégé is the main reason that mentoring programmes exist. Kaplan believed that effective mentoring programmes lead to increased productivity and greater profits. The following are benefits and key attributes required of mentors and protégés:

1.    Mentors
Key attributes, mentors must:

  • Possess skill, knowledge, and experience
  • Be willing to share these assets
  • Be willing to give the time necessary
  • Possess the ability to listen
  • Be able to identify goals
  • Possess a genuine caring attitude and desire to help
  • Be able to offer encouragement and "be a cheerleader"

Benefits, the mentor will:

  • Stay sharp
  • Enhance his or her own performance by being a role model
  • Increases his or her value to others
  • Be more creative
  • Nourish his or her soul
  • Increase his or her own focus

2.    Protégés/Mentees  
Key attributes,
protégés must:

  • Respect the mentor's time
  • Be willing to listen and act promptly on the information learned from the mentor
  • Respect the mentor's efforts to help
  • Know what is confidential and treat it as such
  • Bring energy to the mentoring relationship
  • Discuss problems and goals

Benefits, the protégé will:

  • Receive coaching and advice
  • Set goals with the mentor's help
  • Increase productivity
  • Increase self-confidence and work satisfaction
  • Decrease the learning curve
  • Become proficient more quickly

The following advice [10] was also provided for initiating and maintaining mentor/protégé relationships: 

  • Take the time to get to know each other
  • Become familiar with each other's roles, cultural background and common interests
  • Set specific goals and expectations
  • Commit to maintain privacy and confidentiality
  • Create a positive environment that encourages openness
  • Establish a time to talk, meet and call each other
  • Try to keep meetings specific and focused
  • Track progress to see if goals are being met


Internships are of value to both employees and employers. An employer can benefit from the new talents and skills provided by the intern; and similarly an intern with desirable attributes can be groomed for long-term service within an organisation. Maryon Urqhart, director of customer relations at Career Edge writes [11]  that the best tips for coaching interns are to;  acknowledge the diverse backgrounds of interns (i.e. their  nationality, life and work experiences, skills); recognise that interns want to learn and succeed;  become a trusted resource for the intern; and  provide interns with career building experiences. Coaches should make sure that the intern receives:

  • clear expectations and messages;
  • a realistic picture of the coach's time availability;
  • the opportunity to ask questions;
  • constructive feedback;
  • profession-specific vocabulary;
  • encouragement for their career direction; and
  • information about programs and opportunities.

A well run internship programme can provide long-term benefits for organisations. Dawn Onley a freelance writer based in Washington DC writes [12] that internships give students an opportunity to learn valuable skills which can often translate into full-time employment, in addition they also provide employers with an ideal opportunity to test each participant's contribution to the workplace. As well as being able to identify top performers many employers report that higher retention rates are found among employees who began as interns. For organisations to achieve a successful internship programme it is wise to commence with careful planning by:

  • Determining what goals could be achieved through the internship programme - such as diversity objectives or a special project;
  • Deciding which areas of the organisation could most benefit from additional staff;
  • Preparing a job description;
  • Preparing available staff as mentors who can communicating with and guide interns regarding what is expected of them;
  • Making arrangements for physical aspects, such as a workstation or computer network permissions, office supplies, and security access.
  • Enhancing integration into the work environment through training and orientation concerning the organisation's rules on dress, behaviour, ethics and technology use.

Many colleges and universities encourage students to apply for internships as part of their normal curriculum. Interns are commonly highly motivated persons that can add value to an organisation at minimal cost. Dr John Byrd, president of a consulting firm, and Dr Rob Poole, director of the internship programme at Bellarmine University write [13] that by employing interns organisations derive many benefits i.e., competent assistance without large financial outlays; the ability to evaluate prospective new employees at low risk (eliminating recruitment expenses and greatly reducing the cost-per-hire); and the role of supervising interns allows existing employees to develop leadership experience. The following ways are suggested to increase the value that interns may offer an organisation.

  1. Assign the intern to projects that are accomplishable, and provide training as required.
  2. Involve the intern in the project planning process.
  3. Appoint a mentor or supervisor to guide the intern.
  4. Invite project suggestions from other staff members.
  5. Ask interns to keep a journal of their work activities.
  6. Rotate interns throughout the organisation.
  7. Explain the rationale behind work assignments.
  8. Hold interns accountable for projects and deadlines.
  9. Treat interns as part of the organisational staff, and invite them to staff meetings.
  10. Establish a process for considering interns for permanent hire.


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