🌱 Planting seeds and growing trees - Staff Development

The key to developing a high-growth mentality (continuous improvement) in the business comes from having managers with the proper focus on the means, the opportunity, and the individual.

🌱 Planting seeds and growing trees - Staff Development
Photo by Austin D / Unsplash

I asked on LinkedIn what kind of topic you would like to see me cover next whilst we wait on further progress with the initiatives we are working on at MHR. You requested me to talk about how we plan to develop our staff internally.

Companies usually focus little on growing their staff or pay lip service to it but leave it to the individual to act. There is some merit to the last part; it's much easier to help someone gain new skills if they're actively invested in it. But it's on us (the company/management) to enable the individual to become invested.

  • Okay companies give you the means.
  • Good companies give you the means and opportunity.
  • Great companies do both and actively work with you to achieve YOUR aims, not their own.

As a company, you can do little more than give your employees the means and opportunity to learn. The key to developing a high-growth mentality (continuous improvement) in the business comes from having managers with the proper focus. The role of the manager in growth comes in three parts.

Part 1 - Provide the means

Part 1 is about ensuring individuals have access to the means required to learn. These are the very fundamentals. You must provide your employees access to the latest, highest-quality resources to help them learn.

This goes beyond a simple "you can use Udemy/Pluralsight" or another alternative. You need to factor in different learning types.

Do you expense reference books?

Do you expense in-person training events?

Do you support further/higher education?

You can't just give access to one learning platform and call it done; that's just paying lip service. Now you have given them the resources, are you giving them the time? Do you ensure every employee has the time to complete their desired learning? It's all well and good saying they can, but if you only allow them to do it out of hours, they'll be too tired to make real progress or be unwilling/unable to engage in it.

If they're attending a course, do you allow them to do so without using holiday days?

If they use an online platform, do they have enough hours during the work week to do the training without using their personal time?

There are many different ways to do this, but a simple place to start is with 10% time. 10% of their working week is dedicated to further learning, so 4 hours (half a day) in a standard 40-hour work week.

Part 2 - Provide the opportunity

Part 2 is about providing the opportunity to use these new skills. This is sometimes harder than it might sound. There are only a few opportunities to work on large projects, and other commitments have to be seen too. But this is where delegation and innovation can be your friend.

You can delegate some of your responsibilities to people who want to learn those skills. This helps you both, as it allows you to focus on taking on more responsibility while developing your natural successors.

Another option is to work with the individual to brainstorm ideas on utilising the new skills to create value for the business. The individual (with your support) can then propose and work on this new idea. This benefits the business by bringing innovative ideas and allowing the individual to use new skills in a business setting.

This is usually the point at which most managers stop. But the final part is the most critical.

Part 3 - Focus on the individual

Part 3 is about understanding the goals and values of the individual and helping to craft a path to get there, even if that means growing them toward the door.

Yes, that means supporting people who want to grow to become a manager when there is no team to manage. To grow engineers who want to learn AI when you don't have any AI products. I'd even stretch as far as helping people learn the skills to transition careers when there may not be a place for them at the company. Graphic Designer to Developer, Developer to Product Owner. Whatever that path is, your job as a manager is to understand and support the individual in attaining those goals.

I go a step further than that, personally. I encourage people to use the time to learn other skills. Your tech lead has always wanted to learn the piano ... great, support them in taking a piano class. It might not seem logical to do this, as how does that relate to being a better tech lead? But if you think about it, it's not so black and white. Learning the piano might help exercise their ability to focus and process information in real-time (reading-sheet music whilst playing) and their creativity as they compose their music. It also just makes them happy. They feel understood, they feel a sense of loyalty and closeness, and they feel supported. This is what all managers are always trying to chase, how to get their teams this feeling through their work because we all know this is the key to retention.

So, how do we do it at MHR?

MHR, well before I ever joined, has always supported people in all 3 ways. This was a critical factor in my decision to join.

  • We have an internal L&D team who provide training courses in person.
  • We have partnerships with 3rd party training companies.
  • We have access to online training services.
  • We allow the expense of training and certification.
  • We use 10% time
  • We don't force people to use holiday days for in-person training days.
  • We are also creating our own Software Academy*.

More critically, we frequently support people in transitioning into new career paths as they want to. Many people in the company have started in one role and subsequently held multiple roles in different areas of the business.

MHR Software Academy*

I asked Ashley, our Academy manager, to expand a bit on the MHR Software Academy. Here is what he said;

It began 3 years ago as MHR realised that the global talent shortage would be an issue and the best way to mitigate it was to "Grow-Our-Own" with the introduction of an apprentice program.

We started by bringing on four Web apprentices who have now completed their apprenticeships, been promoted to Junior engineers, and are looking at the next step in their careers.

The apprentice program then extended to cover software Juniors and Graduate Software engineers joining the department, which has pushed us to further enhance the Career Development Framework already in place for all levels and ensure everyone has the tools and support to further their careers.

One of the most difficult parts of this was balancing the number of juniors against seniors without causing too much burden on them and slowing down their productivity. As part of the academy, we are looking to remove this barrier by putting in place our own team focussed on supporting the development of juniors and apprentices without burdening the product teams. We are looking to work with training providers to create a phased approach to the academy with a structured training program to upskill junior talent in our tech stack, our frameworks, and our way of working. Then start to integrate the academy engineers into the main product teams once they have grown and completed the learning required not to have a negative impact on the senior engineers.

How do you do it? How have you overcome some of the challenges we face? What else could we do at MHR? Do you have other ways to encourage and support continuous improvement in your teams?

Reach out to me on LinkedIn and let me know.