Growth is one of the most critical currencies your company trades with its employees. In some cases, employees see it as even more important than the salary they receive–-particularly younger workers looking to advance.
All organizations need to address two aspects of growth: The first is within the context of the employee’s existing job. The second is career growth.
We’ve found that most employees are disappointed with their current growth opportunities. When we have evaluated organizations, growth is often the lowest scoring factor of the 12 factors measured in our employee work passion assessment .
This important issue needs to be addressed. People are willing to do a good job when they perceive that there is a fair exchange between what they give to the company and what they receive back in salary, satisfaction, and potential career growth. The same cannot be said when people perceive little investment in them from the organization.
Here are a couple of ways that you can make sure you're doing your part to improve growth opportunities--for yourself and others--at an individual, managerial, or senior leadership level.
Master of your own destiny
As an individual, it's important to begin by identifying personal goals and then pursuing opportunities for learning. This is how you become more valuable to the organization. Once you’ve identified your goals, it’s important to share them with your immediate manager.
Before you do, though, make sure you are a star performer in your present role. Growth beyond your current job is a privilege usually reserved for people who perform in an exemplary fashion. When managers get requests for growth from people who are not performing at their best, it may feel to them like they are stepping on a treadmill with an employee who may never be satisfied in his or her current role. Most managers will avoid this, because they suspect it will become a never-ending process.
Growth comes to those who most deserve it. So solve problems and do a great job in your present role first. Bellyaching that you want growth opportunities at the same time you are performing in a substandard fashion is probably not going to work.
Step into growth conversations
As a manager, encourage your people to have growth discussions with you. Managers are often leery about having career conversations with employees when they don't have clear avenues for moving people up. So a lot of times managers avoid this topic and don't address it.
This is a mistake. There are always opportunities available, even if they aren’t necessarily the next rung up the corporate ladder.
As a manager, keep your eye out for new opportunities and new projects that may come up. Know which people on your team would consider it rewarding to get involved in a project that is different than their normal job.
This could potentially be a lateral move, or even a move to completely different part of the organization. Some of the greatest opportunities for growth are found in areas that integrate what's happening between two departments. For example, a project following up on leads could bring the sales and marketing departments together, while refining and solving a business problem could integrate the engineering and sales departments.
Good managers look out for their people and think beyond the day-to-day. When they have someone who is really working hard for them, they go out of their way to help that person grow.
If you are worried that it may seem as if you’re playing favorites, don’t be. There's nothing as unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. If an individual’s performance warrants it, it’s completely acceptable to offer that person a new opportunity first.
Make sure you are encouraging growth
At a senior level, look for ways to recognize and reward those managers who are doing the best job of preparing people to take on new roles in the organization. Managers who do a good job of grooming others often risk losing their best people to other departments. Senior leaders need to recognize this and make sure that managers who perform this function are valued and recognized.
We had a client a few years ago who had a manager with an outstanding track record for developing the next generation of leaders within his company. The only problem was that his efforts had gone largely unnoticed by senior leadership. As a result, he felt unappreciated and foolish for training people who were eventually snapped up by other departments. Fortunately, in the end he spoke up and asked that a part of his annual review measure his ability to create growth opportunities for others.
At every company there are a few people who are phenomenal developers of others. Do you know who yours are?
Engage with your people
Make growth a priority in your organization. Your best people are not going to wait patiently for opportunities for advancement—even in a slow economy. If you are not providing them with growth opportunities, they will go elsewhere and they will take what they learn from you and use that to build their career at another company.
When you ask a key employee why she is leaving the organization, you don’t want to be the manager who hears, “The headhunters seemed to care more about my career development and growth opportunities than you did.”
Good people are hard to find and always in demand. The best companies see these people as assets worth investing in. Don’t let a lack of focus on growth in the present undermine your performance in the future.
Scott Blanchard is the Executive Vice President of Client Solutions for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. Ken Blanchard is the best-selling co-author of The One Minute Manager® and 50 other books on leadership. You can follow Ken Blanchard on Twitter @KenBlanchard  or @LeaderChat  and also via the HowWeLead  and LeaderChat  blogs.
[Image: Flickr user GreenWhiteOrange ]