People Development: Six Steps to Extraordinary Employees

People development

People development is the life force of high-impact organizations. Therefore, developing people must be intentional and strategic. It must be a central theme for every leader. In this article, I will argue people development includes both professional and personal attributes. For when the individual employee becomes stronger, more self-confident, and empowered, both the individual and the organization thrive.

How Millennials Value the Developing People in the Workplace

Traditional models of people development focus on the development of professional skills. However, millennials are rejecting the traditional model for several reasons. According to Harvard’s “2018 State of Leadership Development Report” millennials are rejecting traditional models of leadership development for four reasons:

  1. Consisting of poor content.
  2. Insufficient thinking.
  3. Expertise from outside sources, and
  4. A failure to prove return on investment.

Why Traditional Models of Developing People are Not Working

There are, however, additional reasons why traditional models of developing people are not working. These include:

  1. Reliance on lecture based training that is divorced from organizational values, systems and cultures.
  2. Paying for a cooking class (as an example) was thought to provide development of the whole person. An assumption that was never based in fact.
  3. Preference for class room instruction over mentoring and coaching.
  4. Developing people was seldom built with the performance evaluations of individual leaders.

Developing Professional Skills? Personal Development? Or Both?

Millennials are different from their boomer parents and grandparents. They want their professional lives to reflect their personal values. Millennials do not work to make a living but then go home to live a different life. They will walk away from an employer if their company if it does not reflect their personal values. Therefore, they are thought to be disloyal, and self-centered.

In addition, millennials strive to maximize their personal value. They fully expect their employers to utilize and develop their strengths. This includes personal strengths as well.

People Development Examples – A True Story

I was speaking with a young millennial who is a recruiter for the high-tech industry. He was explaining to me how his firm conducted performance reviews. As he was speaking it was pretty clear that these reviews included both professional and personal growth and development. So I asked, “what is the ratio in your conversations between what is personal and what is professional?” His response was “90/10.” In clarification, I asked, “you mean 90% professional?” He looked at me in a state of shock and said no, “90% is personal and 10% is professional.”

What struck me about this conversation was how normal personal development seemed to him. As a boomer I want to separate professional and personal development. Employers, whether they be a company I work for, or my clients expect growth in my professional capabilities. However, to expect them to care about my personal growth seems profoundly odd. I would not expect them to care about my personal self-confidence, sense of empowerment, or emotional intelligence. Yet this young man was telling me that it was perfectly normal, in fact, he expected his employer to assist in his personal development. This tendency has been confirmed by Gallup as a unique trait of millennials in their report, “Millennials, How They Want to Work and Live.”

Capturing the Full Value of People

It is an astonishing reality. People are hired for their technical skills. However, the most valuable part, the part that can problem-solve, innovate, and think creatively is largely underappreciated. These are skills, that every human being has in abundance. By virtual of being human, they walk in with these basic untapped skills.

People Development Plan – A True Story

During an interview with an elementary school principal, she spoke of developing the “whole person” of her team. When I confirmed what I was hearing she said, “of course why would I want half a teacher walking in my door?” She understood that the best parts of her people, are the parts that walk in the door free of charge. This is a reality that too many businesses and their leadership do not understand. While hiring people for professional skills is appropriate, the best parts walk in the door at no additional charge. These are the parts that can problem solve, innovate, and create.

However, this elementary school principal realized there was untapped opportunity by encouraging personal growth and development. For example, when a teacher gained self-confidence he was able to contribute innovative ideas. This additional value was the passed on to her students, their families, and their community as a whole. This was value that cost her district nothing. However, by developing teachers, counselors, and even custodians into self-confident human beings, she developed a stronger team. A strong team meant greater collaboration. Which led to more innovation. Which in turn led to high academic achievement. In five years this school went from the worst-performing school to the best performing school in a district with seventeen other elementary schools.

This is the same perspective that I found in every high-impact organization I have studied. They are obsessive with value wherever they can find it. Especially In their people. They recognize that people walk in the door every day, with enormous untapped value. They take serious opportunities to develop and nurture this untapped value.

Six Parts of a People Development Plan

Most businesses believe people development is the acquisition of new technical skills. Doctors become better doctors. Nurses become better nurses. Developers become better developers and skilled trades workers learn new trades. However, high-impact organizations are learning something new about people. If they can develop workers who are stronger, more self-confident, and personally empowered, they create better human beings. In doing so, they create massive new value in their workforce. This additional value gets passed onto their customers.

These high-impact organizations are intentional about whole person development. The following six strategies are from the perspective of individual leaders. Which means, of course, that ever leader must know they carry this responsibility.

Time needed: 3 minutes.

Six Steps to People Development and Extraordinary New Value

  1. The leader must model personal growth and development

    When the team leader models personal growth and development others will follow along. Consequently, don’t bother talking about real human development, if you as a leader are serious about it yourself.

  2. Develop Courageous and self-confident people

    People who are self-confident are more inclined to contribute their best, to speak up, to contribute to innovation and creativity. This will require eradicating fear in the workplace.

  3. Reward risk

    Positive encouragement is the single best way to develop self-confidence in your people. Therefore, when one takes a step into risk, reward them with encouragement.

  4. Mentor and coach rather than teach

    Millennials recognize teaching for what it usually is – a chance for someone to demonstrate their superior knowledge and expertise. Studies show that traditional lecture-based teaching has little impact on learning and organizational performance. The best development, especially leadership development happens through coaching and mentoring.

  5. Know your People

    The best way to develop your team is to first know who they are. What are their passions? What are their fears? Then give them what they need and aspire to.

  6. The best way to learn a subject is to teach it

    A manufacturing company of 200 employees has broken every job into five minute teaching modules. The idea is that anyone can learn a part of a job function in five minutes. The next day, they can teach that same five minute increment.

Making Developing People a Strategic Advantage

An exceptional workforce is the pathway to delivering exceptional value to customers. Therefore, people development must be a part of the business strategy. The National Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award is the nation’s highest award for excellence. It is the “gold standard” of all excellence frameworks. One of their key criteria for excellence is, “How does your learning and development system support the organization’s needs and the personal development of your workforce members, managers, and leaders?” One of the important ingredients in organizational excellence is aligning business strategy with the personal development of the workforce. Without this alignment, people’s development is haphazard and chaotic. However, when people development is aligned to strategy, the delivery of exceptional value is assured.

How to Scale the Development Of People to Achieve Strategic Advantage

The National Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award is one of the few frameworks for excellence that values systems thinking. Adding the value of systems thinking multiples the opportunity to develop people to their fullest potential. However, training individual leaders how to develop their people when the business is small is one thing. Developing people becomes something entirely different when there are 5,000 employees and 500 identified leaders and managers. This requires a fully integrated system. Starting with the leadership system.

How the Leadership System Develops People?

Leadership DNA (small)

When leadership is understood as the personal attributes of the individual leader, then people development is dependent upon the personality profile of the manager. In essence, the organization says “some managers do it well, others don’t – too bad.” Or, developing people becomes a program inspired by the HR department. This usually begins with a generous training allowance and plenty of strings attached so the money is not abused on personal yoga classes.

However, there is a third approach. This is the approach used by elite organizations with sustainable high-impact. They build employee development into an integrated system of leadership and management. Then they will coach and train every leader on how to develop their people. From my observation, they are selective in what they can do in the development of their people. I think they recognize that developing the personal strengths of their people does have some boundaries. For example, a quality business may have a program of support for a worker that finds themselves abusing drugs or alcohol. However, they recognize that these issues requires professional input. On the other hand, I have seen organizations design ways to intentionally develop the self-confidence and empowerement of their employees. They do this in the ways listed above. But they also coach every leader or manager in their role and their responsibilities. In this way, the “how-to” becomes part of the ongoing and training of every leader. There is a clear expectation that every leader will develop their people in ways that are clear and unambiguous.

Employee Development Examples

Example #1: A major urban hospital has learned that self-confident people means people who will speak up if they see an opportunity to improve patient safety. Consequently, they are consistently ranked as one of the safest hospitals in America.

Example #2: In a conversation with a retired 4-Star General I asked about how the U.S. Army develops is officers. He mentioned that every rank, not just the officer ranks, have specific schools with each rank. These schools are not simple eight hour classes with a simple test at the end of the class. This is an entire school. When I asked, he said when he became a 1-Star General, he had to attend a nine-month school on how to execute the responsibilities of a 1-Star General. Furthermore, each additional star came with another nine month school.

Example #3: NextJump is a highly profitable software company. Their motto is: A Better Me + A Better You = A Better us. Contrary to many theories, they understand that turn a person’s weakness into a strength is mining for gold.

About the Author

Dan Edds is the author of Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, cracking the code of sustainable team performance. He is recognized nationally and internationally for his expertise in the design and implementation of leadership systems. He can be reached for comment at, and he is happy to take a personal phone call at (425) 269-8854