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My New Year’s Resolution: Get Systematic About Team Development


For my New Year’s resolution, I want to focus on how to better develop associates and create environments in which they will be successful. In short, for my own company, “make it less about me,” which I can’t help but notice is also critical for our clients. The more success is based on a single leader’s energy and knowledge, the less stable that success will be—whether just for one department or for an entire company. 

So how can we make success something permanent and less dependent on us individually? It’s definitely not easy, but I think it’s clear. It rests on 3 inter-related tasks: 

  • Find the best players 
  • Train and develop them 
  • “Build the genius into the system” 

Find the best players 

This may sound a bit trite, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You can’t rely on people unless you recruit the best. Throughout my career, I’ve found the following to work the best: 

  • The best hires are people I already know. So, the more people you know, the better your ability to hire. It’s why I have always believed in going to industry conferences and events. It’s why I’ve done things like form local user groups. And it’s why “networking” is more than an excuse for getting out and meeting colleagues in and outside of our company. 
  • The next best option is to hire people who someone on our team knows…not because we asked for referrals but because they came organically. Create an environment where people want to be on your team, and they will attract the best of their friends and network. 
  • After that, I have found that creating and maintaining a network of people I can turn to (friends, colleagues, professional recruiters, etc.) has often been as good a source as the first two above.  

Lastly, I have always tried to remember some advice that I heard attributed to Tom Toomey, the very successful CEO at UDR. “Never hire someone new to you to do something new to them.” I’ve hired people I know to do something they’ve never been done before, but I knew them well enough to know they could do it; and I’ve hired people I didn’t know before but could see examples of the work they’ve done (through interviews and references); but hiring someone I’ve never known to do something they’ve never done is just too risky—no matter how impressive their talents may be. 

Train and develop them 

Another potentially trite, but still true, statement.  Here are a few things I’ve found necessary for training and development to work: 

  • The first step in developing your team is having a formal onboarding program. This may sound simple and/or obvious, but the reality is many organizations lack this, or the have formal onboarding for frontline employees but not for key corporate positions. Nothing helps new associates contribute and feel part of the team more than an organized, purposeful first 30 days. It does wonders for both performance and retention 
  • Ask them for their own development goals. How many leaders ask their subordinates how they want to develop their career? And of those, how many then craft a custom development program? Too many development plans (and development goals) are top-down. I’ve always found the best way to keep associates engaged is to ask them what their career goals are and how they want to develop. We can always give advice and nudge them in other directions, but it’s best to first listen and then ask to be heard. 
  • Make time (and money) available. If training is expensive, what’s the cost of ignorance? Yet too often we don’t make time for associates to get the education and training they need. Developing leaders takes time and money. I’ve always been a fan of executive coaching and programs like the Center for Creative Leadership. They only work if we invest the time and money to use them. 
  • Allow them to make mistakes. Lastly, the best training is experience. I know my greatest lessons are often from the “scars” of mistakes. The implication is that we need to let our associates make mistakes and learn from them. As one senior executive I worked with put it, he always tried to distinguish “hits above the waterline” from those “below the waterline.” With the latter, he would step in to prevent the disaster that would result; but for the former, he had the patience (and courage) to let associates try things on their own, make the inevitable mistakes and learn from them! 

Build the genius into the system 

This is the most difficult, and often least tangible, of the three. Simply put, the less we depend on the individual skill and unique traits of each associate, the more robust the entire business platform is. The more we create an environment where people will notice the right things and make the right decisions, the better everyone will perform. Here are two great ways to help make this so: 

  • Build brand and culture. I’m not talking about brand as a color scheme and logo. I’m talking about brand as a specific set of standards for who we are and how we do things. It’s about establishing “the (fill in company name) way.” A solid set of brand standards gives everyone a sense of what they should do, even if you’re not there at the time to give advice. 
  • Build and leverage a robust BI platform. A good BI platform isn’t just about reports. It’s about interactive dashboards that serve up relevant information that makes it obvious what actions to take. That’s “Building the Genius into the System!” Check out here for a white paper on the best way to approach BI.  

I’ve resolved to make my company less about me in 2019 through all three of these tactics. Are you ready to commit the same for your company/department?

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