3 Professional Development Strategies To “Up” Your Startup Team

Providing your small team with ample opportunities for professional development is win-win.

Think about it:

Employees are always looking to take their marketable skills to the next level. Nobody wants to spend 4 years or more in college only to spend the rest of their working lives sitting at the same desk to do the same tasks.

On the other hand, workplace efficiency and productivity will soar when workers are armed with the knowledge and skills they need.

For startups, however, other pressing concerns such as increasing sales, streamlining processes, and fixing bugs take time and resources away from employee development. Not to mention training your team can get expensive. In the 2014 State Of The Industry report by the ATD, researchers found that organizations spent $1,208 per employee on yearly training.

But don’t fret. Learning opportunities in the workplace are not proportional to an organization’s size and net worth. You can help your team boost their skills whether you’re running a multi-million enterprise or a startup yet to reach the $10,000/month milestone.

The following professional development ideas are startup-friendly. Not only are they effective in helping your employees learn, but they also go easy on the company’s wallet.

Making Informal Feedback and Coaching A Habit

Feedback is indispensable in improving the workplace. This continuous process between managers and employees takes a close look what was expected and what was delivered in terms of performance. When you lay down the facts and have a one-on-one conversation, you can uncover areas where employees need help with and act accordingly.

On the other hand, many organizations associate feedback with the infamous annual performance review. Reviewing performance every year seems natural, but a survey by Adobe shows that supervisors and employees find these sessions irrelevant and unproductive at best for a number of reasons.

For starters, an annual review focuses on holding an employee accountable for the previous year’s numbers instead of helping people improve current performance.

Many of the 1,500 US workers in the survey also reported that yearly reviews, which compare employees to one another, drive competition in the workplace, worsen personal stress, and even result to emotional reactions like crying and quitting their job.

And worst of all: Waiting for a year to give feedback and help employees boost performance is too slow and takes too long

Today’s business landscape is competitive, with companies working ‘round the clock to gain an edge over the competition. And for a startup who needs to generate momentum fast, waiting too long to give feedback and improve employee output can put the organization in dire straits.

So if annual reviews do not working, what does?

The answer: Informal feedback sessions and coaching.

More than 70 percent of multinational companies are moving to this performance management approach, with companies such as Adobe, General Electric, and Deloitte leading the way.

Many of these big companies aren’t there yet. Change is slow when you’re massive, but you and your startup can incorporate regular feedback and coaching much faster.

Here are a few essential steps to create a workplace where people are eager to coach each other and learn from their peers.

Rule Number 1: Accept Feedback Yourself

Saying your startup has a coaching culture is one thing, but if you cross your eyebrows and arms and get defensive when receiving criticisms, you’re telling a different story.

When an employee is giving you feedback, adopt receptive body language and, more importantly, listen closely. Who knows what insight you might glean from the session!?

Review Performance At Least Once A Month

Reviewing performance once a year may be not be enough to have an impact on your employees, but feedback overload are also possible.

The sweet spot seems to be once a month. In a study by Cognology involving 800 insurance professionals , participants who received monthly reviews and coaching sessions showed 46 percent better performance than the control group.

Be Straightforward

Forget about sandwiching negative feedback with compliments. If you need to deliver bad news, just do it without being condescending.

According to research on the subject, feedback where you start with “you did an excellent job,” followed by a “just one thing,” and end with another praise doesn’t work.

Ayelet Fishbach , behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the paper “Tell Me What I Did Wrong,” found that praise sandwiches can mislead workers into thinking they’re doing an excellent job when the feedback is supposed to tell them they aren’t.

Remember: Your goal with the coaching session is to help employees boost their skills and perform better, not to make them feel good.

Consider The Employee’s Tenureship

Does the above mean encouraging words and compliments have no place at work? Of course not!

Positive feedback helps cement a higher standard of working. When you attach positive comments to an action, you encourage employees to do more of that action. And besides, everyone wants a good pat on the back when warranted!

However, do note that people’s receptiveness to positive feedback also depends on their skill level and length of stay at the company. Workers who are new to the company are more likely to listen to positive feedback as it helps build their confidence and identify what they should do.

On the other hand, staff members who’ve been on the job for years and have developed expertise want more negative feedback. They’re already confident of their skills, but they want to hear how they can get better.

Be Clear About The Next Steps

After assessing performance and identifying areas for improvement, you need to help your employee map out an action plan.

To do that, you want to answer the following questions:

  • Which metrics and KPIs matter?
  • Which skills to improve? And how?
  • What projects to work on?
  • When is the deadline for the projects?

Since we’re talking about professional development and training, go the extra mile by giving employees learning resources relevant to their projects and the skills they need to improve.

Stay Consistent

You’ve started meeting and coaching your team at least once a month. You’ve given feedback that’s actionable and specific. And the numbers have improved thanks to everyone’s efforts.

Keep up your hard work and stay consistent!

It’s the only way to make feedback and coaching a part of your startup’s culture.

Use Low-Cost And Free Educational Resources

Instructor-led training (ILT) is still one of the most popular ways for educating the workforce and is used 21 percent more frequently than other learning programs. . On the other hand, ILT is also the most expensive training method. Fortunately, more affordable ways to train employees can be just as effective.

Take e-learning for example. In an article published at the Training Mag , instructional designer Sherri Dosher declared that online and interactive lectures can benefit learning professionals as long as the course is well-designed and the content is appropriate for online instruction.

And in the Learning Technology 2016 report by the Brandon Hall Group, informal peer-to-peer learning, e-learning, and on-the-job exercises nearly matched ILT in effectiveness, while coaching and mentoring even outpaced the latter.

If you want to explore other educational resources that are budget-friendlier than instructor-led training, here’s a short list to get you started:

Online Lectures and MOOCs

Massive open online courses are designed for unlimited participation and open access via the internet.

Many of these courses are also self-paced, allowing busy professionals to “up” their skills without the heavy time commitment.

Sites such as Coursera and EdX offer MOOCs from universities like Yale, Stanford, and MIT, which encompass countless industries including data and computer sciences, marketing, and engineering.

Training Sessions From Software Vendors

Perhaps you’ve already invested online tools or SaaS subscriptions for your business?

If you have, know that vendors are also invested in your success. They may even offer on-demand training videos or webinars for their products, from which employees can learn a lot.

Local Events And Conferences

Attending leading conferences and workshops in your industry can leave a dent on your startup’s finances. Ticket prices can reach thousands of dollars, while the employee’s daily wage, travel, and accommodation costs can add a few grand more.

On the other hand, local events can allow your team to build their network, interact with customers, and learn from experts – without having to pay the steep price of admission.

Subscription To Industry Magazines And Publications

Self-education through reading is a common pastime among hundreds of successful people, and you want employees to adopt the same habit.

Keep a small library of the latest magazines and books in your industry. Add a small table and a chair to encourage employees to read when taking breaks. Reading such material will keep your team abreast of the latest developments, trends, and news.

Keep Employees In The Loop

You already have a clear idea of how the company is doing, where it stands, and what it should go. But what about your staff members?

A study by Bain & Co’s Chris Zook found that only 40 percent of the workforce understands their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics. Which means that more than half of employees in the survey didn’t know the direction of their organizations!

You also want to encourage employees to sharpen their professional skills outside the office, but when they’re left in the dark as to where the startup is going and the challenges it’s facing, people will have a hard time adjusting their learning according to the company’s needs.

Be transparent and make everyone accountable for the organization’s performance. For example:

Discussing exact profits may not be appropriate, but letting your staff know that profits increased by 20 percent shows them that the work they do reflects in the business’ success.

Moreover, you can take this opportunity to discuss what you’ve done in the past six months to boost profitability so everyone can keep doing more of what works.

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