3 Things You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time for Coaching

This post first appeared on BostInno.

“When we started our company, we were scrappy and lean. We hired a bunch of people in their early 20s with tons of hustle. Now we’re growing like crazy, and they’re in over their heads. It’s really not their fault – they’ve taken on more responsibility, we want to help them grow, but no one has the time for coaching.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with startups.

We invest so much time and energy in staying ahead of the market by developing new product features. Yet over and over again, we lag in developing our people. We wait until the pain is acute, when attrition skyrockets and people start leaving for better opportunities, or employee engagement and happiness hit rock bottom. Remember who builds those product features – people.

One thing’s for sure: employees often feel the pain before their leaders do. A Deloitte study of millennials noted that among employees who are likely to leave their employers within the next two years, 71 percent are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. SHRM reports that the direct replacement costs of employee turnover can run as high as 50% – 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary. That’s a whole lotta Benjamins.

When the reality finally hits us in the face like a bucket of cold ice water, managers get all the love. We double-down on sending managers to workshops and conferences and investing in coaches – but what about individual contributors? Plenty of employees deliberately choose an individual contributor path (HubSpot’s Pamela Vaughan wrote a great article about this). Others are high performers on the road to future management roles. They’re not managers, but they are leaders. And they’re critical to a company’s success.

Boston startups are starting to take note. Companies and programs like Intelligent.ly EMERGE are stepping up to shine a light on the importance of developing our city’s next-generation of leaders. I’m a co-founder of Intelligent.ly; at the last Emerge event, I heard from a handful of Boston’s best tech recruiters and leaders.

HubSpot’s Katie Burke shared her perspective: “One of the most critical steps in retaining top talent in Boston is ensuring that rising stars in the tech community receive the training, support and network they need to grow personally and professionally in their careers.” They’re not alone.

Loren Boyce, Director of Talent at Yesware echoed the focus on investing in personal development for individual contributors, “We are all-in when it comes to providing resources and experiences that help our employees reach their professional potential.”

What can you and your company do to develop these leaders? Here are three tips:

Start a Conversation

The first step to developing individual contributors is understanding how they want to grow. Let your team members know that you want to support their personal development. Set up a 1:1 to talk through their personal goals, and together, consider the resources you can help provide. This might mean connecting them with mentorship opportunities or investing in skills training. You won’t know until you ask.

Self-Assess

Experts go back and forth on the science and applicability of the various personality tests that dominate leadership development conversations. My perspective is that if they help you better understand something about yourself – your strengths, and the way you operate – it’s a win for everyone. 16Personalities provides a simple and free personality test based on the Myer-Briggs approach. Encourage your team members to learn from the insight that resonates for them…and don’t stress about the areas that don’t.

Organize a Leadership Lunch & Learn

Consider how many individual contributors you could reach with solid leadership advice if you leveraged your internal team to set up a weekly or monthly Leadership Lunch & Learn. Invite respected leaders from inside your company to share leadership advice and tips that helped them through their own careers.

Close your eyes. Think about all the individual contributors in your company. Consider what you could achieve if they truly had the coaching they need to fulfill their leadership potential. Now envision them walking out the door because you don’t have time to support them. Scary, right?

Intelligent.ly Insights: Greg Raiz

Intelligent.ly Insights

Greg RaizThis week’s insights are brought to you by Greg Raiz, CEO of Raizlabs, an app company that’s been leading leading in mobile software development since before the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008.

You may not have met Greg, but we bet you’ve met some of the essential apps he and his team have created, apps like HubSpot, Bloomingdale’s, Rue La La, and RunKeeper, to name a few. Greg approaches app development like he does his team: methodically. Raizlabs is known for their exceptional product management, creative design services, and impeccable execution. But that’s not the only thing that’s driving Raizlabs’ unprecedented growth—it’s their commitment to their people. Building the right team, capitalizing on each person’s skills, and promoting innovation from within…it’s all about the people.

As your team grows, how do you ensure that you all remain aligned around a central vision?

We’ve spent a fair bit of time this year thinking about the culture of the company and how we can align the entire company around a vision and mission. Everyone wants to make a difference and feel that their work is important. We started by creating a high-level vision that we could rally around. It was important that the vision would stand the test of time and allow the organization some flexibility. Our vision statement of “shaping the world through great software” has led us to explore the values that our company felt were necessary for us to execute that vision. These values now guide most of the decisions we make from hiring, to the projects that we take, to the regular feedback we give to one another. Keeping the vision and values central to our process serves as a natural reminder for us. 

What’s one strategy or tactic that you consistently use to support the growth of your team.

Trust, but verify. I think it’s great to give your team a lot of trust and autonomy to grow, experiment and occasionally fail. The key is putting in your own checks to make sure they aren’t failing too much. Keeping track and closing the loop gives you the opportunity to give the person a pat on the back if they did a good job or a nudge in the right direction without micro-managing.

In your opinion, what is the primary role of a manager?

My primary role as a manager is setting up situations where people can be successful. This cuts across a number of things including hiring, company culture, tools and procedures. If I’m doing my job then the team can execute and do great work and it feels effortless. A mentor of mine explained it best; your team is a train, they are rolling along. It’s your job to make sure they have plenty of track and no hazards in the way.

How do you ensure that you stay in lock step communication with your team?

This has been an increasing challenge as the team has grown. It’s easy to stay in lock step with five people but hard to stay in lock step with 50. We have a company Town Hall meeting each week so everyone can get up to speed on the entire business with minimal overhead. Beyond this, I try to have regular conversations with both leads and individual contributors. This helps keep me stay grounded with what’s really going on at the company.

How do you continue to evolve as a leader?

As a leader, your job is constantly changing. One day you’re thinking about hiring, the next you’re dealing with technology questions. The key for me to evolve as a leader is to constantly question if the things I’ve done before continue to make sense as the company grows and changes. The way our company did projects stopped making sense at a certain size and scale. We had to unlearn certain habits and learn new ones. Growth as a leader is being open to change and adapting how I do things as the organization grows.

Greg Raiz founded Raizlabs in 2001, after getting his start at Microsoft. Since then, he’s been working toward his vision of building incredible software, and has helped over 100 companies improve the way they connect with their markets. Raizlabs was named one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in 2014.

Want to learn leadership skills from more startup vets? Enroll in Intelligent.ly Exchange!