Give a Gift Worth Giving


People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

Post 1 of 4:“If employees don’t see development investment as a tool they will personally benefit from, the effort and money are not worth giving.  That means I also need to take interest in it… as a gift I chose for an individual,” a tenured manager in the group answered frankly.

Weather had caused a travel delay, leaving the event coordinator, Eric, playing temporary facilitator to about fifty business leaders gathered for an Employee Development Workshop to be led by a nationally recognized speaker.
Eric had opened the floor to responses after asking, “What are your most critical lessons-learned about providing development or growth opportunities to your employees?”

Relevant comments led the input toward individualized assessment tools the leaders had found effective… or not so effective.

“Adults are rarely willing to change unless they first feel pain with their current situation.”

“The most effective experiences allow participants to safely and respectfully see an accurate reflection of their own reality.”

“Effective self-assessments can provide that personal application without painting the whole team with the same brush.”
“And sharing individual results wisely can allow the team to capitalize on behavioral diversities and skill strengths.”

“The personalized results of the best assessments convince the assessor of its credibility without salesmanship from a proctor or consultant.”

Eric set the pace for continued discussion, “It sounds like many of you agree that self-assessments can help employees feel like reflection, education and the resulting customized plans can be a development gift worth giving to your employees.
“I’ve just received an update, and it looks like we have about two hours before our speaker arrives.  We’ll take a short break and return to discuss some of the most effective assessments you have had experience with.  Thank you again for your willingness to make this agenda adjustment so effective.”

On the screen after the break, Eric had a list labeled VALUE CONSIDERATIONS: 1:Core Differences Assessed; 2:Personalized Results Format; 3:Applications; 4:Hesitancies.
“Let’s use these aspects as guidelines to keep our discussions focused as we explore specific assessment tools.” Eric then led a short brainstorming session to list assessments then an activity that identified the group’s experience with and interest in each item listed.  From that they prioritized eleven to discuss.

Four of the chosen tools assessed ways people operate – inside or outside of their business worlds:

  • Myers Briggs Type Indicator
  • Birkman, Reaching Further
  • DiSC Dimensions of Behavior
  • StrengthsFinder Reports

Four additional ones assessed styles used in specific performance or leadership areas:

  • Communication
  • Conflict
  • Initiation of Change
  • People Management

The last three were generically branded and valued for their unique applications:

  • 360° Feedback
  • Interest cards
  • Value cards

The event feedback gave Eric high marks for turning around a disappointing situation, and he was excited to post their scribed results on the guest speaker’s website after the session.

Reality: Learning and growth opportunities have quickly become foundational for energizing employees to engage their maximum contributions toward our success.  We cannot expect to give them dime-store quality development experiences that do not demonstrate how we value them.  Whatever we decide to give, we must first value ourselves, and after they ‘open the gift’ we must show enough interest to help them with any required assembly and keep it powered with the right batteries!  Leaders, use your creativity!!

 FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog: What did these leaders value about the four personality-focused assessments they explored?

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Clear the Fog of Career Growth…3

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

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Post 3: “Alvin, do you have a few minutes?” Frank called to him as he entered the break room. Alvin sat down with his coffee cup, anxious to hear how Frank’s first career-planning conversation had gone with his employee.

“Well, how do you feel?” he asked.

“I feel great, and I honestly think she has renewed energy for the work she is doing!” Frank sat back and shared details about how he confirmed her desired career path by asking the questions Alvin had suggested. “And I even gave her feedback on the way she sometimes turns people off with her communication. It is especially a challenge when she engages executives. She realizes their perceptions will be important if she expects support with her future plans, so we came up with a cool opportunity for her to observe how executives communicate and to better understand their priorities. I think that making a plan to help her improve in this area made her more willing to accept the feedback.”

Alvin nodded, “Hey, what’s the opportunity you came up with to help her learn about executive communication?”

Frank was a little pleased with himself. “I got permission for her to observe the executive overview sessions that we are invited to. When I first got this position, that meeting was a huge eye-opener about the complexity of business realities that must be considered at that level. So she will observe with me once a month; we will both note communication examples during the meeting; and we’ll compare notes over coffee the next week.  She will ask questions, and I’ll help apply the learning to her current opportunities.”

“That is really smart, Frank. It has minimal impact to her time away from her desk, it will show you her initiative, and it’s within your development budget since it’s free! These are critical considerations when incorporating career development.”

“Wait, I want to write those down…, and then I want to ask another question about career conversations.” Frank grabbed a napkin for notes while Alvin got the refill he’d come in for. “Okay, here’s the question: is it smart to have this kind of conversation with individuals who say they are perfectly happy with their current job? I have a couple of people who really do use their income to fuel their passions outside of work, and they really don’t want to consider a career move. I also have a person who is close to retirement, but I still want to encourage them to contribute fully.”

“You are right that discussing their plans should energize their performance. Start the same as you would with any employee: observe and ask about what’s important to them at work.  Some people want their peers to like them, or they like being recognized by leadership, or they just want to make a difference by helping; there are many drivers. If they don’t have a traditional career interest, you may still help them develop skills to enrich these other things that are important to them in their work environment or team. Lots of them need to grow communication or leadership skills for those outside passions to be more successful, and you get the payoff if they apply them here – even with their peers.

They both stood to get back to work as Alvin finished. “Bring me a specific situation when you start work one of those conversations, and maybe we can plan it together.”

Reality: Ensure you know why facilitating career-development conversations with employees can help your business. Ensuring you also make the conversation beneficial for the employee increases the impact to both their job satisfaction and their contribution to your business. This is not as difficult as we often make it.


  • Leaders should only be guiding career development; they should not behave as if they are along for the ride. The employee is controlling this journey!
  • Most employees are unsure of how to plan for the next steps in their careers even if they have ideas of what they want.
  • They look to leaders to help them clarify ideas, what they could be doing to get there, and the skills they’ll need when they arrive.
  • Many employees need help identifying their own individual values and if their career plans will support those priorities.
  • Leaders are rarely equipped to suggest an employee post for an open position unless they’ve investigated the employee’s career desires.
  • Here are examples of career support that can be offered by a leader and may also influence engagement in an employee’s current job:
    • new challenges or experiences
    • the acquisition of knowledge and skills
    • confidence that there is a future in your organization
    • the next step in their long-term career goals (often this is not a promotion)
    • support in sorting through the various opportunities in your organization
    • a tap on the shoulder that tells them what to consider doing next

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Clear the Fog of Career Growth…2

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

2016-01-29 06.14.41 (2)

Post 2: Frank set his breakfast on the table next to Alvin and got out paper to take notes. He had asked Alvin to give him some pointers on how to facilitate a career-planning conversation with his employee.  He wanted to take advantage of the few minutes before their leadership meeting started.

“Frank, it’s not really a tough conversation to lead. It mostly involves getting her to ask herself questions she needs to answer for herself. I typed up these four questions for you. You might start with just a couple in this first conversation. You might even already have suspicions about some of the answers, but don’t assume she will have the same answers as you have. And you might have to rephrase them so they don’t overwhelm her if she isn’t thinking about these topics right now.”  He put the page on the table:

What do they want to do?

What do they believe they can do?

How do others see them? How do they want others to see them?

What do others expect of them? What will others expect of them if they get where they want?

“Thanks, these are great! I know she is thinking about a few of these. But I can seed these into the conversation and even have her take some of these away and think about them for the next time we talk.” Frank started to visualize how he could use questions like these to discover what his employee needed to learn to do her current job better.

“So as leaders, we are not going to travel this road with our employees, we are just guiding as they decide where to go on their journey.” Alvin wanted to make sure Frank saw his role as more of a facilitator than a coach. “We are in a good place to help them understand what others will expect of them along the way, and sometimes we can help them see the perspectives that are critical for them to create for their personal brands. But really the path they take is up to them.
“We can be most effective when we help them identify ways to develop skills they will need in the future and now. If you are sure your employee wants to be a business leader, you may want to ask yourself what kind of peer-leader she is now.”

“That is exactly what I was thinking!” Frank said excitedly. “She has a couple of habits that I’ve seen push people away instead of encourage them to accept her help. They don’t interfere with her current job, but her work could be more effective if she adjusted these habits.
“Instead of addressing this behavior if it ever does mess up her work, I could share my observation now as feedback that she may want to be aware of and adjust while she prepares NOW for a future leadership position. Is that the idea?”

“Yes!” Alvin grinned, “It’s much easier to give feedback when it is optional for the person to use it. And you’ve already brought it to her in a non-threatening way, so she knows your motive and that you want to help her. You can build on it later by giving her situations where it could be critical in future positions or by giving her feedback when you see it again and adding suggestions for optional responses.”

“This is so much more productive than what I had in mind when I was told to have a career-planning conversation! It’s like a mini-coaching without having to worry about moving the metrics!” Frank whispered as the leader of their off-site meeting announced it was about time to start.

Alvin nodded, “Let me know how it goes.”

Reality: Ensure you know why facilitating career-development conversations with employees can help your business. Ensuring you also make the conversation beneficial for the employee increases the impact to both their job satisfaction and their contribution to your business. This is not as difficult as we often make it.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog:  See how Frank’s career-planning conversation go! What if your employee doesn’t really want a “career”?

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Clear the Fog of Career Growth

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

2016-01-26 06.08.22 (2)

Post 1 of 3: Alvin sat down beside Frank in the break-room. “What are you working on so intently this morning, Frank?” Alvin, a tenured manager, had taken an interest in Frank’s growth as a new leader when he first saw his passion for helping people.

“I was told to have a career-development conversation with this employee. I don’t have a clue where to start, but I know she is interested in being a supervisor one day, so I’m searching for different types of leader positions that are posted.” Frank made an uncomfortable face, “Of course we don’t have any posted internally, so I feel kind of weird showing her outside opportunities.”

“What did your boss tell you is the purpose for having this conversation?”

Frank looked Alvin in the eye and quietly said, “He didn’t give a reason, and I hesitated to ask. Alvin, do you have career-development conversations with your team members?”

“Yes, I try to have them at least 3-4 times a year with each of my folks.  I have even more short, informal conversations that reference their career path.”

Frank smirked, “What’s your objective for doing them?”

“Smart question!” Alvin smiled, “I’d say there are several reasons. It lets them know I care about more than just their performance metrics, which keeps communication open between us. The discussions also tell me what’s important to them and often how satisfied they are with their current work. Giving them input on resources that support their learning goals encourages them to take initiative and follow through.
“But mostly it lets me help them craft ideas for strengthening transferable skills that can help me NOW and them in their next career steps.”

“So…”Frank thought aloud, “I probably shouldn’t start by giving her a list of open positions or research their qualifications….”

“Ha; probably not.… When do you have to lead this conversation with her?”

“I’ve got a week to prepare, and you know I’m going to ask for your help.” Frank paused for Alvin to acknowledge his willingness. “Hey, can we sit together at that off-site meeting tomorrow? If we get there for the breakfast part, I’d be able to pick your brain about this… What do you think?”

“You bet! Email me a bit about this employee’s performance and how you know she is interested in pursuing a leadership position. That will help me apply some ideas to a real example.” Alvin stood and looked at his ringing phone, waving to Frank as he walked out of the break-room.

Reality: Ensure you know how facilitating career-development conversations with employees can help your business. Ensuring you also make the conversation beneficial for the employee increases the impact to both their job satisfaction and their contribution to your business. This is not as difficult as we often make it.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog How can Frank help his employee focus her learning on critical areas that help her and the business? Does he need some HR support? Where should he start?

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Why Isn’t Training Enough? …3

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

Post 3: The next day Justin and Gwen clarified that her less tenured employee, Sandy, could handle standard processes well and was only stumped when customer issues were beyond the scope of her training content. They also concluded that her learning gap would be narrowed if she understood ‘why’ many of the processes had been put in place so she could develop, apply and sustain judgement skills in relation to her job.

Justin commented, “You know this same kind of thing happened to me as a new leader. My mentor had suggested leadership courses for me to take and books to read, and I enrolled in classes and finished several of the books. Much of that was about organizing time, tasks and people. But there’s a lot of opportunity for things to not go right when you’re helping people, so my mentor kind of bucketed learning into two aspects: training and development. I think the principle applies with Sandy’s situation. He defined training as the learning needed to complete a task correctly and development as learning that helps you make judgement calls when the standard solution is obstructed or needs to change. So I’ve incorporated other less formal learning methods into my career development to help gain experience that is more than facts and methodologies. It seems like Sandy needs a development solution; what do you think?”

After brainstorming some ways Sandy might gain the experience needed to develop the judgement skills she seemed to be lacking, Gwen was satisfied with a plan. After some more thought, her plan developed into an opportunity to avoid this kind of gap with other agents that showed initiative like Sandy did.

First, she shared the learning challenge with three of her most tenured agents and asked if they would help by being resources for newer agents when needed. This was positive because it allowed Gwen to recognize the expertise of her former peers. She and Justin set parameters for their support: they would explain the whys but direct the newer agents to research answers that were in the training content; they would also follow guidelines to ensure the performance statistics of neither agent was impacted.

Second, after deciding that some of the ‘fluff’ cut from the training content might have value, she and Justin met with the training group. They worked to incorporate two aspects into the training that might help new agents start making sound judgement decisions when facing not-standard customer issues: some history, explaining the whys of evolved policies, and high-level work-flows, explaining the whys of practices impacting other teams in the company. They also confirmed that each trained process included the end-goal, so learners could align the results of any variance they were considering.

When he received Gwen’s email a week later, Justin felt especially good about the time he’d invested in his new colleague: “I feel like our work together last week was a DEVELOPMENT opportunity for me J. Thanks for taking the time to give input on the challenge with Sandy. Sometime I’d like to ask you some more questions about the idea of working with a mentor. Thanks again, G.

Reality: Using the term ‘training’ as a catch-all phrase for learning can be a misleading habit. Cultures that create distinction between training [as learning how to do a task correctly] and development [as learning how to do the task when the prescribed ways are weak] can offer powerful learning advantages to employees. This cultural distinction often drives faster, stronger results for the business.


  • A general semantic difference between training and development: training teaches how to do the job; development teaches judgement for when the process needs work. These are not always distinctly different concepts; there is always gray space where they run together.
  • Incorporating development basics into training helps lay a foundation for sound decision-making:
    • Combat Spatial Blindness by explaining how their work decisions impact others in their “space” inside and outside the company.
    • Combat Temporal Blindness by sharing history or evolution that explains why current realities and processes exist.  Partnering with tenured employees on this perspective can enrich development for everyone!
    • Frame expectations as behaviors instead of specific actions; give examples and expected results of the behaviors, and offer time in trainings to successfully practice key behaviors.
  • The term ‘leadership development’ is too often interpreted as being only for employees with leadership titles.
    • Every employee level contains informal leaders who might increase their positive impact with some development learning.
    • Developing front-line leaders often encourages them to be more responsible in their peer influence and focuses them toward business priorities.
    • Development opportunities usually are less expensive to implement than training but often require more creativity and sacrifice of personal interaction.
  • Engagement in business results increases significantly when employees feel they are developing skills that will be valuable for any future career direction they choose.
    • Development in how to navigate people interactions is appreciated by most employees.
    • Feedback on development results is most effective BEFORE it is critical to their performance because they can choose to apply it instead of feeling forced to accept a judgement.
  • Engaged employees should be coached to take initiative and partner with leaders to drive their own career development.
    • Early in their work-journeys students can develop valuable experience before they even decide on career direction. Employers win when they move past training with these employees and open the learning door to development with those who will take the initiative.
    • Leaders should not feel they are limited to only encourage the development of their direct reports; sharing influence across reporting-lines, departments or businesses can be even more effective.

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Why Isn’t Training Enough? …2

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

2015-10-20 12.26.59 (2)Post 2: Justin thought long about how to approach Gwen with his discovery because he didn’t want her to close the door to his help – now that she’d opened it a crack and shared about her challenge with training Sandy. He started with a thank-you.

“Gwen, thanks for sending me the training link; for me, it was a great overview of the processes. I did notice something that might link back to your mystery with Sandy’s behavior.”

“I’m all ears. She seems so willing; I really do want to figure this out.” Gwen was beginning to trust that Justin thought of her as a peer and not just a former front-line associate.

“I wanted to give you an analogy first to see if I can explain it better. Your potluck contributions suggest you like to cook; am I right?” Gwen nodded, and he continued. “Well, if you gave someone who only knew basics like egg-boiling & microwaving the most complex recipe you have, what kinds of challenges do you think they might have?”

Gwen wanted to roll her eyes, but decided to give him some rope…. “Well, lots of my recipes assume cooks know the difference between things like sauté, sear, broil or stew. I’ve been teaching my nephew to fix family dinners, and I have to do lots of defining terms like that. It’s funny how you experiment over time and assume everyone knows your discoveries.”

Eureka! Justin was amazed he’d picked a good analogy. “That’s exactly what I think Sandy is facing with this new level, Gwen. She has the basic egg-boiling down, and she sees how to do the job from the training. But the processes are just the recipe and glossary. There are so many other aspects that drive judgement calls; she has functional resources, but there is still something missing. Can your nephew handle substituting ingredients yet or adjusting when something goes wrong with a dish?”

“Not consistently at this stage; but he knows the questions to ask to get him in the right direction.”

Justin continued, “Sandy may know the questions also, but it seems she is lacking experience that would confirm the answers. Think about how much ‘back story’ our tenured associates have from changes they’ve lived through; and they use that knowledge daily to make the best decisions. Being new, I’m guessing Sandy just hasn’t developed that. Does that make sense and do you think that is what she is missing?”

“Let me think about this, Justin. I think you’ve uncovered a piece of the puzzle I hadn’t considered. Also, can you think about how I would solve that? I’m sure you’ve faced this kind of thing before.”

Justin was encouraged that Gwen asked for his help. He had been very tempted to draw an analogy between Sandy’s needs and Gwen’s own career learning, but he knew it was too soon. “Sure I will; my calendar is current; put a bit of time on there for tomorrow if you are available.”

Reality: Using the term ‘training’ as a catch-all phrase for learning can be a misleading habit. Cultures that create distinction between training [as learning how to do a task correctly] and development [as learning how to do the task when the prescribed ways are weak] can offer powerful learning advantages to employees. This cultural distinction often drives faster, stronger results for the business.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog:  Gwen has offered Sandy all the training that exists; how will she help Sandy get the rest of the support she needs to perform successfully?

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Why Isn’t Training Enough?

People-development converts payroll costs to asset-investment

2015-10-20 12.22.59 (2)Post 1 of 3 Gwen plopped down in her chair, placed both her fists on her desk, and took a deep breath. Justin knew that was her frustrated posture, but he wasn’t sure about interrupting. As a new supervisor with her first leadership responsibility, Gwen displayed self-reliance, but Justin suspected she might not have as much as confidence as she portrayed; at least not enough to accept input from others comfortably. She now led a team of her former peers; knowing that to be a challenge, he tried to assume good will about her behavior.

He decided not to directly address her mood. He waited about ten minutes and stopped on his way by her desk to ‘casually’ ask how her day was going. The strategy worked, and she started to open up.

“I just can’t seem to get why Sandy continues to have challenges with her customers. She has been through the training on the new level I assigned her three times. But every time she hits the slightest snag, she can’t seem to think on her own.”

“Gwen, that new level is not part of my group’s responsibility, can you tell me a little about the training they are receiving for that?”

“Sure, it is a self-paced, voice-over training with good screenshots on the processes. It even has a good content overview with links to go back later and review if you need a quick detail. Honestly, Justin, it is exactly the kind of virtual training we, as tenured front-line agents, have asked for repeatedly: it has all the facts and none of the fluff. That’s why I don’t get what she is missing.”

“I don’t think I know Sandy. Has she been here long?”

“Long enough to have make excellent scores on the first customer level. I thought she was ready for this.”  Gwen was genuinely questioning her own instinct about Sandy’s skills.

“Do you mind sending me the training? It would give me a quick overview of the new level, and I might see something that could help with your mystery.”

Gwen sent the training, and Justin’s quick overview confirmed his suspicion. Sandy’s earlier great results were with the most basic of accounts; they had minimal options and didn’t vary from standard procedure. To make judgement calls on the new, more complex level, she had to understand more of the back-office realities – not just standard practices.  She needed to develop an understanding of process history, of regulatory basics, and of the benefits the company expected from these customer relationships.

Reality: Using the term ‘training’ as a catch-all phrase for learning can be a misleading habit. Cultures that create distinction between training [as learning how to do a task correctly] and development [as learning how to do the task when the prescribed ways are weak] can offer powerful learning advantages to employees. This cultural distinction often drives faster, stronger results for the business.

FOLLOW US & don’t miss the next PEPPERBOX blog:  See if Justin can help Gwen understand Sandy’s need for more than just training.

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