Taking Care of the Forest and the Trees: Team Development in Purpose-Driven Organizations

Written by Vivayic
Here at Vivayic, we are in the business of learning. It’s what we do. We wake up each day excited about the opportunities to increase human potential through learning.

As we partner with clients to plan, design, and build their new learning initiatives, we also prioritize the learning of our own people. We’d feel like icky hypocrites if we didn’t. We drive employee development in ways that fit our culture, drive our business forward, and we do so in a fully-remote team environment.

On our recent employee engagement survey, the item, “There is someone at Vivayic who encourages my development” scored 9.42 as an average on a 1 to 10 scale. The item, “In the past year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow at Vivayic” scored 9.22. These are metrics our leadership team follows very closely. And, the results show that our collective effort is paying off in both engagement and in the growing capabilities of our team.

At Vivayic, I lead our professional development function. Through keeping a keen eye on the approaches that yield the best impacts for our people, we have quickly learned what works and what misses the mark. Our efforts are planned around two core tenets that have proven to be durable and effective!

Tenet 1: Take care of the forest and the trees.

When you consider employee development, you may be questioning where the focus should be.

“Should employee development be driven by an individual’s aspirations or by organizational strategic goals?”

The answer? Not to be non-committal, but it’s both.

It’s important to develop in the direction of strategic goals so you can thrive collectively and develop individuals in the direction of their passions so they can thrive personally. Thriving individuals are essential for a thriving organization.

When done well, balancing organizational strategy with individualized growth planning can create a beautiful state of happy employees doing really great work. Sounds pretty great, right? It is. And it’s fully attainable too.

Employees should have a steady stream of opportunities to grow in the areas that are core to the success of your organization. They should also select growth opportunities that stretch them toward further leveraging their own strengths on the job and leaning into their passions.

It’s important to pause here and call attention to a distinction we make within our employee development. We strive to balance a focus on both performance management and employee growth and development.

Performance management is driven by things like core competencies and key performance indicators. It holds each person accountable to adequately performing within the core functions of the work they are doing.

It seeks to answer the questions of:

  • “To what extent are you performing the duties of your current job?”
  • “Where are you missing the mark and what skills need developed to meet the mark?”

Employee growth and development, on the other hand goes a step further. It is driven by an individual’s desire to grow in new and exciting ways – a desire to grow beyond meeting the baseline requirements of their job.

It asks questions like:

  • “So, what would you like to be excelling at here tomorrow? What are the skills you need to grow to get there?”
  • “Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years and what are the skills you need to grow to get there?”

Here is what your portfolio of offerings could look like as you balance strategy and individualization:

Number 1

Take Care of the Organization

Launch more widespread prescribed learning initiatives to drive consistent growth across areas that have highest impact on core strategic initiatives.

Number 2

Take note of trends and address them

Offer optional enrichment programs that appeal to significant subsets of employees. Monitor industry trends, listen to employees, and select topics that will feel purposeful and exciting.

Number 3

Take care of the individual

Provide opportunities for employees to reflect and set individualized growth targets. Nurture their desire to learn new things, stretch into new challenges, and leverage their own strengths.

What works for us:

  1. We take care of our organization by offering function-wide learning academies to provide more intensive training aligned with our strategic goals and model of practice.
  2. We take note of the trends across our team by checking in through surveys. We pay attention to what our teammates are hungry for and offer monthly internal enrichment electives on topics that are crowd-sourced from the team.
  3. We take care of our individuals by meeting regularly in 1-on-1 settings to reflect upon and establish individualized growth targets and opportunities.

Tenet 2: Put down the prescription pad and inquire

You know that friend who tells you what to order at a restaurant with no regard for your own personal tastes, mood, or even dietary restrictions? That friend fails to acknowledge that you are the expert on you. Only you really know what you want and need for dinner.

Don’t be like that friend.

If you are struggling to identify what your employees should dig into for their personalized development, just ask them! You’ll quickly find they have a better idea than you do. They’ll also be far more engaged in development opportunities that feel relevant and exciting to them.

As mentioned in tenet #1, there is a balance. You’ll, of course, focus on growing the full team in the direction of organizational goals. You’ll also have times when you hold individuals accountable to performance and prescribe growth opportunities to get them where they need to be. In addition to all this, there is incredible opportunity to support forward-looking growth at the individual level. And when it comes to an individual’s own development planning, give them the gift of putting your prescription pad down.

Provide them the space (and permission) to consider:

  • Where they’d like to be in a few years and the skills they need to grow to get there. You likely have hidden potential, emerging skillsets, and individuals on your team who have the desire to grow into taking on new responsibilities. Encourage it. Nurture it. A few years from now, you’ll be glad you did – and they will too.
  • The type of work that makes their motor run and how they can further sharpen their skills in that area. Employees who enjoy the work they are doing will be more engaged in their work. They’ll do better work and they’ll stick around to do it longer.
  • Their natural strengths and how they can further tap into them. We tend to feel more confidence and joy with our work when we know we are doing something well. Your team members may have untapped talents, or even skills from prior experiences, that you haven’t yet tapped into.
  • A new “itch” they’d like to scratch by learning a new skill they can use within or beyond their current role. You may have an aspiring writer, manager, leader, analyst, salesperson, (insert any number of other things here) on your team. Giving them the opportunity to scratch that itch can lead to increased employee job satisfaction and tapping into new talents on your team.

If you are a small company like us (we sit at just under 35 full-time employees), it is quite manageable to meet 1:1 regularly with each employee to drive individualized development planning. If you are driving development across a larger number of employees, you are a lot like many of our clients. You may need to equip managers to drive the individualized component of your employee development.

What works for us:

Each employee meets regularly for a 1-on-1 conversation that focuses fully on growth and development. As a coach, I take the approach of starting with questions. The use of inquiry and co-creation gives teammates the space to consider where they would like to grow. We provide each full-time employee with a professional development stipend to use toward a conference, training, or course that supports their individual growth goals.

As our team has grown, we’ve been able to increase the amount of specialization we do. This allows us to grow people into the roles that leverage their strengths and bring them the most joy each day. Many of our employees have successfully transitioned into different specialty areas than they began with. They were able to voice where they wanted to be and intentionally build the skills to get there. They are thriving in their new roles!

If you found this useful, consider how you might approach employee development in a way that aligns to your organizational strategy and grows the individuals working toward success of that strategy (your people).

If you have questions, please reach out for a chat. Happy learning!

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