It should be widely accepted that developing the people within an organization is a responsibility normally associated with leadership, but the task is sometimes overlooked or simply overcome by events. Creating and executing a plan to develop your people clearly benefits those individuals by coaching them into a better understanding of a leader’s perspective on growth, and also directly improves the organization as a whole while implicitly maturing your own skills as an effective leader.
The US Marine Corps describes an individual’s combat effectiveness from a dual perspective of technical and tactical proficiency. Simply explained a rifleman must, among other things, possess the necessary technical skills to operate and sustain his weapon, maintain an unparalleled level of physical fitness, and be able to hit a target when called upon to do so. Those are the very basic technical skills, but to be truly effective in battle that individual Marine must understand the tactical environment in which he is expected to employ those technical skills. He must clearly grasp how he contributes to the bigger picture and the success of his team as a whole, his Marine Corps. Putting holes in a bullseye at the rifle range is an important technical skill. Engaging the enemy with accurate and debilitating fire in battle, with a clear understanding that your actions, timing, and skill are relied upon by other Marines coming from another direction, and perhaps that they cannot succeed without your input, that is tactical proficiency! This concept is easily translated off the battlefield with the same meaning, but thankfully with less dire consequences. Shackleton Group calls it technical and practical proficiency, and it should be considered and understood by leaders as skills that must be developed in your people.
It is important to understand the conceptual difference between training and developing your people. While training typically focuses on technical proficiency, effectively developing your people focuses more on their practical proficiency, and requires planning, foresight, and an understanding of organizational and individual goals. Technical proficiency refers to the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to accomplish a specific task associated with someone’s role within the organization, e.g. being a competent engineer, and increasing technical proficiency tends to be the default path when leaders consider individual development plans. Practical proficiency, however, is the ability to operate effectively in the environment within which those tasks will be accomplished, e.g., an engineer executing his or her duties on a team that requires integration with other teams within a large, complex organization. Having practical proficiency is to understand the strategy and structure of the larger organization, how to effectively apply your technical skills within that organization, and how to manage the relationships and integration necessary to get your piece to fit into the bigger picture…just like that, Marine!
Developing people focuses on the future and the potential for increased responsibilities, expectations, and performance. Developing people is softer and more difficult than training them, but done correctly, it stretches their capabilities and allows for growth. It enhances team loyalty by exemplifying the leader’s personal interest and encourages innovation and creativity by fostering a sense of belonging. Demonstrating to people that their individual growth is a catalyst to the overall health of the organization also propagates an environment in which it is easier for them to stay motivated and engaged. Developing your people is time-consuming, may require additional resources, and definitely requires a leader’s focused effort. Fortunately, it can be viewed and justified as an investment rather than a cost with significant ROI for the organization as well as the individual. Your ultimate goal as a leader should be to ensure that both technical and practical proficiency is developed and that it is done in such a way to benefit both the individuals and the organization.
One should not measure leaders by the followers they collect, but, among other things, by the quality leaders they develop.
Clearly articulate foundational doctrine: For team members to understand how they fit into the bigger picture and contribute to organizational success; they must first understand what that looks like. Clear, concise, relevant, and well-articulated foundational doctrine (Philosophy, Vision, Mission, and Objectives) paint that picture and give team members tangible targets to which they can trace their own actions.
Think long-term: Pure leadership tasks like developing your people take foresight and planning. First, understand the difference between technical and practical proficiency, then set aside time to focus on the good of the organization within that context and from both perspectives. How to develop your people’s practical proficiency will reveal itself.
Set and manage clear expectations: Consider your organization’s individual and combined capabilities, then encourage growth by setting and managing expectations just slightly beyond where you think they can go. If the team understands your intent…you’ll be surprised by the results!