If you were to define critical success factors for any organization such as, the issues that will ultimately lead to the success or failure of the organization, developing your staff will undoubtedly make the list. Whether you are a manufacturer or a consultant who is providing similar products and services for the last 20 years, at the core of your organization is the people. An organization's growth is dependent upon how your people work, grow, and challenge your thinking.
It can be difficult to find good people with the proper focus on their positions. They must be developed, or more accurately, supported into the kind of people who will fuel the organization's progress towards bigger and better things.
Simply acknowledging the fact that your employees are critical to your success won't magically make them better employees. In fact, even telling them that they're a critical success factor for your organization won't help either. Just like a plant, people need the right kind of environment to grow. With a plant you must provide good soil, appropriate amounts of sunshine, and appropriate amounts of water. An organization can provide the key components necessary to encourage a person to grow by providing: a solid foundation (soil), appropriate recognition (sunshine), and appropriate challenge (water). Let's evaluate each of these items in turn.
Soil: Solid Foundation
One of the dichotomies of humans is that we never seek to stretch and grow when we feel threatened about our core needs (food, shelter, belonging, self-esteem). Abraham Maslow is known for creating a hierarchy of basic needs that we all face as humans and the last item on that list of is the need to be self-actualized. In other words, it is the stage at which we crave personal growth and achievement. Without the previous levels on the hierarchy we are simply not conditioned to work on a level of personal growth.
Personal growth, the desire to become more than what you are today, is one of the key components of a highly effective person. It is the kind of person that you want to be around because they will strive to be a better person everyday.
The first component of supporting a staff member into becoming a more valuable person is to make sure that their basic needs are met. It is assumed that staff salary is sufficient to meet their food and shelter needs. The salary may not be all what the person wants or believes they are worth; however, it is generally sufficient for basic food and shelter.
Of course, food and shelter doesn't solve a person's basic need of feeling like they belong. This is something that you must do for everyone. A feeling of belonging differs from individual to individual. For one person it might be having a company picnic. For another it might be a bowling league of company employees. For others it may be something radically different. Whatever it is to make your staff feel like they are a part of the organization and a part of the group is essential to meeting their basic needs.
Sunshine: Appropriate Recognition
Self-esteem is the next level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At this level, the person has to believe that they are a genuinely good and valuable. Just like belonging, how people define self-esteem and how they get it differ radically from one person to the next.
In the general case, every person uses a form of recognition by others to mold their self-esteem. In western culture we tend to say that persons with high self-esteem are not driven by what others think. Despite this idealistic view of the world we are all driven to some extent by the feedback we receive from others. A person with high self-esteem just has a higher tolerance for negative feedback than someone with lower self-esteem.
In order to help develop someone's self-esteem you need only provide appropriate positive feedback and recognition. The trick is that the feedback and recognition should be considered proportional from the point of view of the person receiving the feedback. They will evaluate it within the context of their own views of the world and if the feedback is too positive (or too negative) it will be ignored. It won't fit with how they view the world.
In order to help someone with his or her self-image (self-esteem) you should provide appropriate feedback. For instance, the pastor at my church is a great guy who is challenged with accepting feedback from hundreds of church members who want to "help him" create a better worship service. That kind of feedback is typically negative. As a result, I often share my appreciation of the service. It's never "That's the best sermon ever given by anyone." My comments are more along the lines of "Wow that really struck home. You did a great job today." He can process this feedback and integrate it into his self image (or his self-esteem) because it was something he believed himself capable of. Positive feedback that is acceptable is the kind of feedback that you want to provide to help someone's self esteem.
Recognition can be as simple as a "Congratulations," but sometimes it may need to be more. If the accomplishment was something spectacular, then a spectacular recognition may be appropriate - or even expected. Recognition with a plaque or trophy may be essential to helping the person feeling appropriately recognized for their accomplishment.
A parting word on recognition is that it can be overdone. Some people are not comfortable receiving recognition in front of their peers. While in cases of large accomplishments it may be appropriate to give them very public recognition even if they are uncomfortable with the level of recognition - as long as it falls within the scope of being appropriate. However, excessive levels of recognition for trivial accomplishments, particularly with people who do not generally like public recognition can do more harm than good.
Thinking in sunshine terms, each plant needs a certain amount of sunshine. Some plants do well with vast amounts of sunshine. These plants thrive where sunshine is abundant. You might think of grass this way. Other plants, like certain forms of ivy, need relative shade to protect them from being burnt by the constant fury of the sun. Figuring out what amount of "sunshine" people that you work with needs is essential to helping them thrive.
Water: Appropriate Challenge
With soil (a solid foundation) and sunshine (appropriate recognition), a person may be in a position to grow but without the final ingredient they will probably not grow. Water is the missing component for plants, and challenge is the missing component for people. When people are ready to take on the challenge of personal growth they must be confronted with the challenge to grow. Of course, some people are like cactus - they gather up their own water. They create their own challenges even without anyone intervening.
Figuring out the appropriate challenge isn't easy either. Each person likes a different amount of challenge just like every plant likes a different amount of water. Rice grows when there is plenty of water available and a cactus grows when there is relatively little water. Neither could survive very well in the others' environment.
Learning how much you can and should challenge a person is an iterative process of "watering them" by providing challenges and seeing how they adapt to those challenges. As a person gets more comfortable with being presented challenges - understanding they will be recognized for their successes and supported during their failures - the more challenges they will want and need.
Understanding the foundation of what people need to be successful can help you to support and develop your staff into better people and resources.
About the Author
Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.