Rethinking The Way We Help Employees Grow

Building on our natural social tendencies for workplace development can help a great structure stick.

Rethinking The Way We Help Employees Grow
[People background: Adriano Castelli via Shutterstock]

When was the last time that you thought about the way you develop your employees?


An innovative workforce is a must-have for modern businesses, and in an ever-changing age when new opportunities and challenges are constantly facing us, we need to be able to respond in exciting new fashions.

But developing an innovative workforce requires innovative development techniques or the very process of development will undermine the innovation it seeks to encourage. So how can you make your workforce development processes more innovative?

Tap Into Tribes

Most employees, even those who seem least engaged in their work, are passionately engaged with other activities and the social networks around them. Much of their identity is rooted in these “tribes,” groups sharing similar hobbies, interests, or backgrounds.

This passion and sense of being part of something can be used to encourage employees both in self-development and in helping others to develop.

From a self-development point of view, you can find ways that an employee’s other identities connect with work and involve them in relevant projects. For example, a young mother might be particularly passionate in helping create new policies around maternity leave or designing a great marketing campaign for selling products aimed at infants. Through that experience she would learn new skills as well as create better outcomes.


In terms of developing others, employees are likely to work well with colleagues they identify with. So when looking for mentoring connections try to line up people who share interests beyond the workplace, which will encourage a closer and more productive bond between your people.

Avoid The Zero-Sum Mentality

Imagine a department in which there is fixed, finite room for development into more senior positions and better pay grades, and no other options outside the department. Instantly employees have less interest in helping and developing each other. After all, if Jane becomes better at her job then she may get the one promotion, which Jo also wants, and so helping Jane develop her skills is against Jo’s best interests. This sort of situation, where rewards are fixed and finite, is what game theorists call a zero-sum game.

Now imagine a team in which the potential for reward is infinite, and employees are rewarded based on out-performing their past selves. Suddenly there is an interest in developing each other and receiving support in return, so that the whole team does better and each member is better rewarded.

A zero-sum mentality is clearly worse for business. Which game your employees play will be down to the structures you set up and the attitudes you encourage. For example, in the book industry authors support each other in a way that isn’t seen in competing tech companies, even though both situations can be viewed both ways.

Beware setting up old-fashioned zero-sum games in your reward structures, and make sure that employees know that they can all earn more by working together.


Peer-To-Peer Learning

Many companies try to train by having outside groups or HR departments provide the training. But studies have shown that peer-to-peer learning, where staff are taught by others within their department, works better.

Peer-to-peer learning fits better into the natural rhythm of work. It builds on existing relationships. It uses people who better understand the work and each other. It can even help to strengthen working relationships.

So whenever possible make use of peer-to-peer learning for better development.

Relearning To Learn

Smarter workforce development means rethinking not just what we train people in but who trains them, how they train them, and how we think and talk about development. It means using rewards and existing relationships in smarter ways.

The end result will be a better workforce, and so a better business.

About the author

Mark Lukens is a founding partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. He has 20-plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including health care, education, government, and talent/human resources. In addition, Mark currently serves as Chairman of the Board for Behavioral Health Service North, a large behavioral health services provider in New York