150: [Ask Halelly] “How can I develop myself or my employees to keep growing and engaged in the current role?” on the TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

How can I develop myself or my employees to keep growing and engaged in the current role TalentGrow Show Halelly Azulay

How can I develop myself within my current job? How can I offer employee development when there isn’t a clear path for promotion? How can I help employees stay and grow within my company? I address these questions on this Ask Halelly episode of the TalentGrow Show, where I answer a question from a listener, a member of the audience at one of my conference speaking events, a learner in one of my corporate workshops, or a member of the media.

First, I explain why we all need to take ownership of our own development, and how good bosses know that one of the best ways to keep their best employees is to keep challenging and developing them. Then, she gives three steps you can take to guide employee development without requiring a lot of resources or organizational supports. Plus, she shares five examples of non-training employee development methods you could try for yourself or your employees and three different scenarios for how this might play out with your team members and their unique development needs. Take a listen, weigh in with your own opinion, and share with others!


How can I develop myself within my current job? How can I offer employee development when there isn’t a clear path for promotion? How can I help employees stay and grow within my company?


The days of putting the responsibility of your own development in your employer’s hands are over. We are moving into a world where many will partake of the new “gig economy”, where artificial intelligence will render some of our jobs a historical relic, and where jobs will be more like “tours of duty” and short project-based partnerships (as described in the book The Alliance).

Therefore, all employees must become stewards of their own careers, owners of their “start-up”, and cultivators of their “product” (their skillset and value-proposition to an employer) and personal brand.

As such, we must be proactive about assessing the gaps between our current and desired skills and continue to intentionally seek development opportunities to help us close the gaps and keep growing.

By being strategic and intentional about self development, we can each be the master of our career trajectory and destiny.

Taking ownership of your own development is the first step. Developing yourself is second and can take many forms, and I suggest being proactive and strategic but including a development-lens to almost any activity that you become involved in. Today, I’ll give you some specific examples and suggestions you can use.

From a leader’s perspective, research shows that all employees and especially Millennials say opportunities to learn and grow top their list for what they seek in a job (or reasons they start looking for a new one). So when managers neglect to provide development opportunities, regardless of promotability, they ultimately fail to engage and retain their top talent.

Therefore, developing every employee is part of every manager’s job, all the time. In this episode, I’ll also share three important steps for doing this in a way that is not overwhelming, not expensive, and not hard.

Developing yourself

Let’s start by thinking about self development before we discuss employee development.

Definitely don’t limit yourself to equating development with training.

I suggest all employees invest in non-training self-development that matches our learning needs and preferred learning style. The development topic would differ from person to person based on a host of factors such as our career goals, our strengths, our individual skill gaps, and what our specific organization needs (now and in the future).

There is never one specific training topic or approach that fits all and it’s a mistake to approach it that way. There are lots of ways to develop skills that don’t require your current employer’s support or even involvement (although those can help, for sure). In a bit I’ll share five specific development methods as ideas to get you started on developing yourself – or your employees.

Developing your employees

As I mentioned, developing every employee is part of every manager’s job, all the time. Here are three important steps for developing your people including specific examples and ideas you can use:

Step 1:

Talk to your employees regularly about their development and learning needs and desires. Then, develop appropriate, relevant, and specific development goals for them – for the next 90 days, or for the quarter, or for the year.

Step 2:

Then, instead of just searching in course catalogs for events to address these learning needs, think outside the box and stretch your imagination. There are so many other ways for developing those employees in a way that is tailored to their unique learning preferences, organizational budget, and time constraints—all while using existing resources and opportunities.

I described 11 non-training development methods in my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, that can be used for self development as well as for developing your team members. Here are 5 specific non-training development method ideas from the 11 in my book that can work for you or your team members:

1.      Self-directed learning. By reading books or blogs, listening to podcasts or audio books, watching educational videos on TED or YouTube, or apprenticing and trying to practice a new skill with a master or a role model, we leaders and our employees can use self-directed learning anytime and almost anywhere. Libraries, online resources, and other employees are all examples of freely available resources that are all around us.

2.      Volunteering. Taking on volunteer roles helps us or our employees build new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from our day-to-day jobs. We can try something that is different from our usual work and bring back those skills to our current job. That allows us or these employees add value by improving current job performance. Volunteering usually takes place on your own time and doesn’t require anything from the organization (but if you are a leader, you can offer your moral support and coaching guidance!).

3.      Mentoring. Whether acting in the role of the mentor or the protégé, participating in a mutually-beneficial mentoring relationship (within or outside your organization) allows you or your employees to develop a variety of new knowledge and skills and takes no resources (except a little bit of time). We can learn tricks of the trade and technical information as well as develop ‘softer’ competencies such as leadership, networking and partnering, coaching and listening skills.

4.      Make time and space for creativity with “Innovation/Creativity Zones.” Working on something that doesn’t fall within the parameters of your day-to-day job for a specific amount of time—that’s a dedicated “Innovation/Creativity Zone.” During this time, you or your employees can chase down an idea, do an experiment, or conduct research. The only requirement is that the employees report back what they have accomplished during that dedicated chunk of time away from work.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Atlassian, 3M and Twitter, among many others, have used this method to not only allow employees to develop their own creativity and problem-solving skills in a hands-on way, but to realize organizational benefits in the form of new solutions and products.

5.      Social learning. Collaborate with others using various online tools to share knowledge, build relationships, and interact with content and with other members of the online community. This way you or your employees are able to learn independently, more quickly, and more efficiently, and to be more productive and effective as a result. Most of the content in these systems is user generated and user rated for interest, relevance, and helpfulness. There are lots of externally available social networking platforms we all use and love like LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as firewall-protected enterprise network solutions like Microsoft SharePoint and Yammer.

So how do you help your team members create non-training development plans? Let me share a couple of examples of how this may work in practice:

Sample scenario #1: Let’s say that Shawn is a software programmer on your team. She has completed several software certifications and is quite competent with software development in the language that she needs to use in her current role, but she (or you) sees that your organization is about to adopt a new software or that there is some new coding language on the market but that is not yet adopted by your company.

If I were coaching Shawn, I would suggest she invest in learning that language to set herself apart from her peers and to help her become more highly sought-after. And as her manager, you can, of course, suggest this idea to her as well.

But how to learn that particular software development language could take multiple forms depending on how much time Shawn can invest, how she learns best, and what she can find/afford. Perhaps there is an online certification course, but maybe there are free courses such as MOOCs or Coursera or even YouTube tutorials? That would be a great place to try.

In addition or instead, I’d suggest that Shawn look for online forums that discuss that language and get involved in reading the discussions and Q+As. There she’ll get insights and access to people who can mentor her and help her more directly and quickly.

Finally, a great way for a software developer to learn and get ahead is to actually dive in. How could Shawn dip her toes in this new language and begin building experience through practice? There are probably some open source opportunities out there and it’s a great way to practice where her learning and mistakes have no direct negative effect on her current job but the resulting improvements can directly be conveyed back to her job!

Sample scenario #2: Let’s imagine that Jose wants to grow his leadership and people-management skills. He is new to the organization or perhaps quite junior yet in his tenure, so not promotion-ready yet. Or perhaps there just isn’t a leadership role you can offer him at this time.

I would suggest that Jose should definitely be proactive to get himself promotion-ready. (I will discuss this a bit more in an upcoming Ask Halelly episode, episode 155.)

One way Jose can do this is volunteering in an organization that allows him to build his management skills hands-on in some kind of leadership capacity. Lots of community-based non-profit organizations are run on volunteer labor and are therefore much less picky about the previous experience and qualifications of the people they gladly accept into unpaid roles. So, by leading in a volunteer capacity, a less-experienced employee like Jose can build skills hands on, get feedback, and grow. These skills can then be brought back to his job. This is just one of many ways I could suggest to do this, and I described leadership development methods more specifically in episode 143 so check it out.

Sample scenario #3: When you have a team member who needs to develop their communication, emotional intelligence, and influence skills (and that should apply to most of them, since these are critical to every job and every relationship, and under-developed ‘people skills’ are usually what trips people up in their roles, regardless of their industry or position), you have lots of options when you think outside the classroom.

Some ideas include becoming a mentor or being mentored by someone (inside or outside the organization), taking on a leadership role on a special team or project and practicing these skills and seeking feedback.

Sometimes it can be as simple as developing a specific development goal for these “people skills” and tracking it. For example, developing healthier workplace relationships involves having a higher ratio of positive to negative interactions.

So to build these soft skills, an employee could set a goal like “I will make more positive than negative comments in my overall interactions with important stakeholders” and then journal to track his or her progress.

Step 3:

Follow up with your employees on their progress toward these development goals, helping them trouble-shoot solutions to problems or ways around obstacles and supporting their successful achievement of their learning targets.

Sum up

Every person no matter how young or old should (and generally does) seek to keep developing themselves, and good bosses know that one of the best ways to keep their best employees is to keep challenging and developing them. The good news is that we can all take initiative and engage in ongoing self development and employee development without requiring a lot of resources or organizational supports.


  • What’s your biggest A-ha or takeaway from this episode?

  • What other ideas do you have for developing yourself and/or your employees even when a promotion isn’t available, or to help them grow and stay satisfied in their current job or company?

  • Would you like to submit a question for a future “Ask Halelly” episode? You can use the voice messaging widget right here on the website and then I can even play your audio (with your permission, of course) on the episode! Or you can send me an email, or a ‘contact us’ form on this site, or a comment-based question, or a tweet…. You get the picture. Anyway you like it, I would love to hear your question!

About Halelly Azulay

Have we met? I'm Halelly Azulay. I'm an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in leadership, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. I am the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. My books, workshops and retreats build on my 20+ years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

I am the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

People hire me to speak at conferences and meetings and to facilitate leadership workshops, but what I love most is to help fast growing organizations create a leadership development strategy and approach.

I'm a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. I was described as a “Leadership Development Guru” by TD Magazine. I blog, publish a leadership podcast (um, hello?!), and have a popular free weekly subscription newsletter – so you should definitely sign up at www.tinyurl.com/talentgrow.

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