Developing People – Lead from the Top

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Nurture Your Team and Reap the Rewards

Developing people is essential for growing businesses. Millions of words have been written on this subject, but it’s really not rocket science! The minute you bring someone in and give them instructions, you’re developing them into a colleague you want with you. Sure, whatever size your business is, your people must do what you pay them for. But as their leader or manager, you must also support them and give feedback, so they become more effective. The payoff is, if people feel you value them, they engage and develop.  The takeout is, it’s up to YOU to make your people grow.

This article looks at how ‘people development’ involves more than training them to do their job. We consider why you need to do it, starting with developing yourself as a leader or manager. And in these difficult times, we suggest 10 low-cost ways to start developing your team. The key to success with this is to be proactive. Start today!

Develop Your People and Safeguard Your Business from the Great Resignation

People talk a lot about employees not performing to their fullest because they’re unhappy at work. We’re constantly hearing about skills shortages and the Great Resignation. But it doesn’t have to be that way, in your business. You can personally do a lot to help your team members get the development opportunities to make them stay around.

It’s important to remember, it’s not just the obvious charismatic future leaders and managers of your business we’re concerned with here. All of them, especially the quiet ones and the introverts, need to keep developing and feel fulfilled. Or they stagnate and wither. EVERYONE involved in developing people – leaders, HR and line managers – needs to develop self-awareness and empathy about this. And this commitment needs to go companywide.

Respecting People as Humans Pay Off in Cash

Male and female colleague working together with iPad
It’s important to make employee development feel personal


By developing your people, you’re increasing your business’s prospects for growth. Everyone gets better at what they do. True, not everyone has it in them to be a business leader. But you can help all of them extend their abilities and empower them to be more involved in the business.

People sometimes use the term employee development when they talk about developing people. Employee development can feel quite impersonal, as if you’re reducing people to machines, and disregarding their humanity. That’s where inspirational leadership and emotional intelligence come into play. At a human level, the most important reason for developing people is, they feel happier and more fulfilled. And KERCHING! it pays off in hard cash. As various companies’ recent results show, you get more productivity from people who are engaged and satisfied at work. Businesses that invest time or money, or ideally both, in their employees, stand to gain in the bottom line.

Developing People is Too Important to Leave to HR

No disrespect to HR people, but in larger businesses, people development is often left to the HR department. Managers entrust them to equip employees with the skills, knowledge and attitudes they need to reach the business’s goals. And HR people are experts at this stuff. But for maximum effect, leadership and line managers need to oversee the process. Not sitting in, but in the loop. That way the people under them feel they care about their development.

We’re a Small Company. I Guess That Means Developing People isn’t For Us, Then

Far from it! Whatever size your business, developing your team means you’re bringing them on, giving them more responsibility and promoting them. You’re advancing their careers. And that means they’re more likely to stay.

Woman using whiteboard in a small team meeting
Developing people is key regardless of the size of your team


You can also develop your people’s individual professionalism. You can help them understand more deeply the practice and theory behind what you do. And your people can grow their teamwork expertise by learning to work effectively with others, even in difficult situations. Sure, things go wrong. When they do, don’t shout at your team, belittle them, or make them anxious. Being a toxic leader won’t encourage anyone’s development. Instead, help them work through challenges and be proactive, so the situation’s less likely to happen again. And if it does, next time they’ll manage it better.

Now let’s look at how leaders can use coaching to develop their team members. It doesn’t mean micromanaging, watching every move and getting shouty, like dads watching their kids playing football. Coaching means guiding and gently challenging your people to improve their performance. This happens through self-discovery, feedback, encouragement and developing skills. And they feel good about themselves as they do it.

Time To Roll Up Your Sleeves and Look at Developing People by Numbers

Before we look at low-cost ways to develop people, let’s glance briefly at the principles behind them. If you’re a leader or line manager, it’s good to begin by thinking about your own development.

2 Signs That You’re a Boss Who Cares About Developing Your People

  • Showing commitment to your own development.
  • Supporting others in developing their knowledge, skills and behaviours to fully benefit the business.

If you can say ‘yes, that’s me’ to those two statements, great! If you can’t, it’s not game over. People can always change. Here are some tips to try:

6 Ways to Develop Yourself as a Boss

Businessman holding up a boss sign
As well as developing your people, remember to develop yourself as a boss


  • See ALL situations as potential learning opportunities.
  • Be a role model in developing your people, by devoting time to your own development.
  • Engage in formal and informal learning and development activities.
  • Update your professional and specialist skills.
  • Learn about, or brush up on your understanding of, self-awareness. Dr Tasha Eurich’s bestselling book Insight is well worth reading.
  • Seek, accept and act on feedback, and learn from it. Dr Eurich talks a lot about feedback, so after you’ve read it, this will mean even more to you.

If you commit to caring about developing yourself, you’ll become more compassionate in helping the people around you develop. And as we said at the start, you’ll get more out of them.

Now let’s look at how you can develop other people.

 5 Practical Ways to Develop Your Team Members

Whatever size business you run, try these simple steps:

  • Match people’s assignments to their abilities and attitudes.
  • Provide feedback in the moment, not waiting till later.
  • Support people in owning their development and performance.
  • Build an environment of support and self-discovery.
  • Create, or invest in, leadership development opportunities.

9 More Ways to Develop Your People

  • Give praise for work well done.
  • Make time to think about individuals’ development.
  • Ensure equal access to development opportunities for everyone.
  • Use delegation as a way to develop people.
  • Empower people by moving decision making to the lowest appropriate level.
  • Provide creative work opportunities that will stretch and develop people.
  • Encourage people to take calculated risks. And the other half of this is,
  • Allow others to learn from their mistakes without demeaning them.
  • Encourage colleagues to coach and mentor others as well. We’ll look more at this in a moment.

You need to develop EVERYONE in the team, not just the stars. Whatever age they are, young or old, and however long they’ve been there, they can all grow.

Diverse business people in a team
Developing every aspect of your team is key


We Need to Do Something. But I Don’t Want to Spend a Fortune.

In difficult times, it’s easy to understand companies cutting back on developing people for financial reasons. Here are some possible strategies:

10 Low-Cost Options to Develop Your People

  1. Broaden people’s experience: Let them learn new skills and widen their perspective. Maybe spend time with another department or work on a side project. Move them around, so they discover other parts of the business and different ways people manage and lead. COST: You needn’t pay them more, but you’ll have to put in management time arranging things.
  2. Let them try new responsibilities: People are essentially still in the same role but shifting responsibilities. New responsibilities are a good way to stretch them. But don’t overload them. Redistribute some of their responsibilities, so other people learn. COST: You don’t need to pay them any extra, but again you’ll need to spend time sorting things out.

Get the individuals’ feedback from these two options and decide if they’ll benefit from the following two.

  1. Mentoring: Pair people with a more senior colleague, so they develop trusting relationships through informal meetings. Not everyone will be good at mentoring, but it can benefit both sides. Give guidelines on how to get the best out of it. COST: You needn’t pay anyone any extra, but if they meet outside the office, maybe you should pay the mentor’s expenses.
  2. Peer mentoring: The other option is pairing people up with someone nearer in age, seniority or experience.  There’s still two-way communication, but it’s more horizontal, like talking problems through with a friend. Ask them to check in with you on progress now and then. COST: There’s no significant management time involved.  But you should pick up the tab for the occasional lunch, a cup of coffee or trip to the pub.
Mentor on a notepad with black pen
Finding mentors within your team is a great, low-cost developing solution


Once the mentoring is up and running, think about offering people learning.

  1. Group learning: Group learning gets people learning together around a low-cost tool or programme they choose. These days there are plenty of online courses and webinars. Let people learn together and encourage them to meet regularly, to chat about what they’re learning. The social aspect of learning in a group keeps people motivated. And it gives them a chance to reflect out loud on what they’re learning and encourage each other. COST: Doing it online is cheaper because there’s no expensive travel and subsistence. And you haven’t lost the whole day’s work.
  2. Learner power: Alternatively, give your team autonomy. Give each one an amount to spend on training, and freedom on how to spend it. Some might pool their resources and get a trainer in. Encourage them. Hopefully this will get your people talking and taking ownership of their development. COST: You may not see an immediate ROI. And some individuals may not take full advantage of the training. You’ll need to check in with them and see what they’re doing. But don’t micromanage it!
  3. Let’s keep this informal: Encourage a social learning culture. Create ways for people to exchange information about resources that interest them or have found useful. Encourage use of things like WhatsApp groups, so they “own” it. COST: You might feel people are wasting working time and getting distracted. Again, you should check in with them and see what’s happening.
  4. Offer flexibility: If you’ve not got the budget for any of this, you’ve still got the time. Encourage people to identify free conferences, networking events, or webinars. If you’re a leader, agree with your line managers about how much flexible learning time to give people. Being open like this is essential to make this work.

Now you’ve got this far, you can make it really great, with these last two strategies:

  1. Enable your line managers and your team: Usually, two people are involved in the chat about developing individuals, the employee and the line manager. Get team members to decide what they really want and need to develop. And get the line managers to give feedback and guide them.
  2. Get people working together: Find ways to get your people together in a forum that isn’t to do with their usual tasks. This doesn’t have to be specific to work. It could be about supporting the community, sustainability or whatever.  Either way, you’ll get them taking a new perspective. And that’ll spill over into how they think about day-to-day work problems.

And Finally: Remember, Training People is NOT The Same as Developing Them…

If you watched the Queen’s funeral on TV, you were bound to have been impressed by the different military personnel taking part. They had all been trained and drilled, so everything went without a hitch. But they weren’t robotic, far from it. In their military service, they developed and gained confidence and self-belief. And it showed.

Developing people often involves training but goes wider and deeper. It energises your people to know you’re sincere about them. And word spreads on the grapevine that your business is a cool place to work. As we said before, HR people and line managers can help people develop their leadership potential or other aptitudes. But the drive to develop people needs to come from the top and be expressed in your Employee Value Proposition.

Care About Your Work

Overly-excited office workers feeling joyful about work
Caring about your work will make you more productive and motivated


It would be great if business leaders and managers were like our late Queen and cared about all their subjects. Otherwise, people can easily end up disengaged at work, unproductive and draining colleagues’ energy and morale. And they move jobs, and you have to replace them.

Learn what you can about motivation. If you’re not already familiar with it, find out about Maslow’s Hierarchy of motivation and the importance of self-actualisation. Everyone needs to feel fulfilled in their work. It’s good for our mental health and wellbeing. And be aware of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. People perform better knowing it’s going to lead to a reward, whether money, promotion, recognition or whatever. Click the links to our articles on both.

And finally, transactional leaders can be brilliantly effective at getting their team to smash their targets. But that doesn’t work forever. If people don’t feel fulfilled, they won’t perform at their peak. Listen to your team and understand what they’re looking for in their work. And from there, you can help them develop into the great people they’re meant to be. Good luck!

Action: For even more useful content on people management, check out our ultimate guide on People Management Skills.

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