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The art of employee development

21 Jan, 2010 By: David Ramos imageSource

The art of employee development

Years back, when the industry was young and technology advancements occurred
almost monthly, we simply sent a sales professional to the field and told them
to “bring back 50 business cards and find out who purchases office equipment.” 
This is the equivalent of “catching people in the act of buying.”  Now in 2010,
technology and solutions have matured, and sales professionals need more
developed skills to help their company achieve a competitive advantage.  One of
the areas that challenges current managers the most is how to effectively
develop and mentor their employees so they can be consistently productive, an
important factor in achieving bottom line results for employee and corporate

What Is Employee Development?

Employee development is a joint, on-going effort on the part of an employee
and the organization for which he or she works, to upgrade the employee's
knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Successful development requires a balance
between an individual's career needs and goals and the organization's need to
get work done at a high level of productivity.

Employee development makes positive contributions to organizational
performance. A more skilled workforce can achieve higher goals as they gain
experience and knowledge.

Stages of Development

People go through several stages of development as they move from being a
career "beginner" to a full “expert” in their job.  Each stage has specific
needs and tasks to consider.   As you work with employees on development, it can
be helpful to look at their current stage in order to find the best activities
to help develop them.   Keep in mind that the stages do not relate to age.   If
an employee has recently completed a career change, he or she is probably in the
"exploration and trial" stage.   If, on the other hand, he or she has burned out
on his or her career, he or she might be in "disengagement" even though
chronologically he or she might be in his or her early thirties in age.

The Role of the Manager in Employee Development

The manager has several roles to play, but providing information and support
to facilitate the employee's development is what is most important. There are a
few basic roles for a manager in developing employees. They include:

• Coaching employees to help them determine what they need for development

• Providing both positive and corrective feedback, written and verbal

• Offering organizational insight, information, and advice

• Guiding the planning through goal setting and checking back over time

• Allotting time for development experiences

• Ensuring opportunities for applications of new learning

It is very helpful for an employee to get an honest assessment of their work,
as well as access to others who may be able to provide information or coach the
employee.  It is essential for the manager to provide both written and verbal
feedback to reinforce or correct behavior. 

The successful sales manager will also respect each employee's learning curve.
It takes time for anyone to learn new skills and be able to apply them well;
this does not happen overnight.  Building this development time into the
application of a new skill set will make the employee more successful.

The Role of the Employee

Some things that sales people, or any employee, should consider in their own
development include seeking a variety of assignments, tackling tough problems
and asking for feedback. Coaching is vital activity, both in looking for
opportunities to coach others and finding good coaches for oneself.  It can help
to ask for feedback when working with a variety of people and in a variety of
situations.  Employees should be looking for developmental relationships that
can provide a variety of learning.  They can also identify goals for new skills
and abilities and then look for ways to meet those goals.  It can also be
helpful to attend classes and workshops to fill in conceptual needs.

While employee development is critical to the success of an organization, both
the employee and the organization must recognize that most of the responsibility
for development falls to the employee.

Some things they should have and consider when beginning work towards

  • Specific goals; identify goals for new skills and look for ways to meet
    those goals
  • A variety of work assignments
  • Asking for feedback
  • Finding good coaches for him or herself
  • Developmental relationships that provide a variety of learning

Identifying & Discussing Development Needs

Successful development depends upon conversations held in an atmosphere of
trust and collaboration.

  • Development discussions are private one on one sessions, development
    discussions specific to individuals shouldn’t take place in the company
    sales meeting
  • Ensure that any goals set are clear and attainable
  • Outline the next steps & responsibilities for each step with specific
    timelines for completion and updating of progress – one area I frequently
    see managers fail is to set appropriate timelines for their people to
    complete their goals 

The role of a sales manager is to provide information and support the sales
person during this development process.

Employee Experiences & Actions

Essential for successful employee development is participation in various
experiences. Some of these experiences can be educational (training classes,
workshops), but there are many other experiences that can contribute to employee

Job Experiences

  • Temporary assignments
  • Cross-training, rotation
  • Conducting meetings
  • Preparing and making presentations for company meetings
  • Participation on a committee that is working on a project
  • Job shadowing
  • Networking


  • Mentoring by more experienced co-worker
  • Career coaching from a mentor

Individual Development Plans

When working with an employee’s, it's vital to work together to put together
an Individual Development Plan (IDP).   This tool translates goals into concrete
action steps in writing that allow for an outline to their development.  The
tool will help you plan an employee's development.  It translates goals into
concrete action steps, and helps the employee to stay on track to achieve the
stated goals.

The IDP should include:

Reasonable, Achievable Goals.

The employee should identify 1-3 areas, based on priorities, and commit to
1-3 goals during this phase.

Goals should be concrete enough to guide behavior change and growth. For
example, rather than "I want to improve my communication skills," which is
vague, say "I want to have the skills to clearly present and organize
information in groups" or "I want to polish my writing skills to more clearly
and effectively communicate information in my proposals."

Action Steps

The IDP should be action oriented, outlining the steps needed to realize the
short- and long-term goals.  Identify as many action steps as needed to reach
the goals.  First, try brainstorming many possible activities, then sort through
and specify which action steps make the most sense.  Again, be concrete.


From formal classes to self-directed activities to on-the-job experiences,
determine which learning formats are most effective for the employee, given the
employee's learning style.


The employee should think through what they want to be different as a result
of the development efforts, and how those changes will be measured.

Employee development is an opportunity to stay connected, supportive and to
act as a career coach for your sales teams, service teams, operations teams,
etc.  The goal is to drive the employee to new heights in productivity through
specific focused skill development.  It takes time, energy and resources but
everyone benefits, the employee and the organization.

David Ramos is a consultant for Strategy Development. The firm provides
Sales, Service & MPS information, including workshops for the BTA, as well as a
MPS Sales eLearning program with InfoTrends. Ramos also instructs a basic
selling skills workshop, and is a presenter/speaker at ITEX 2010.  At

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