It’s easy to look at the powerful New England Patriots dynasty and fall into the trap of trying to hire a Tom Brady. Having a superstar employee in place must lead to success, glory and bonuses for everyone … right? Well, not quite.
Before Brady was the superstar he is today, he was a sixth-round draft pick who battled to even make the team. When he did get the chance to play, his coaches taught him how to develop his skills and seize opportunities as they presented themselves.
Leaders are made, not born – and the same can be said for superstar employees.
While strong players are key to building lasting businesses, you don’t have to hire superstars from the get-go. Instead, focus your resources on building a winning team – from the ground up if necessary.
Success is in your people, plan and skills. Here are three ways to develop your players into a highly effective team worthy of superstar praise:
1. Develop the right people
Your first thought might be to seek out the employees who drive the best results, naming them as the clear candidates for leadership positions. However, this strategy doesn’t always work.
Case in point: A very successful SVP of Sales leaves a Fortune 500 organization and the company replaces him with the person who had the highest sales numbers the year before. The former sales superstar was excellent at selling and building relationships with clients, but he struggles in the SVP role that requires overseeing the sales team and completing internal tasks. He was out the door within six months, and the company was left searching for a new SVP yet again.
The lesson here is that top producers are not always cut out to be the best leaders. More than numbers and results, succeeding in a leadership role requires the right personality, skills and forward-thinking mindset. Plus, the candidate should have a designated interest in professional growth and development at the company. Consider all the elements at play when choosing the right people to develop as leaders within your organization.
2. Develop the right plan
Another problem with the example discussed above is that the organization didn’t have a plan to develop their people until they found out a leader was headed out the door. Unfortunately, that’s too late.
Succession planning and leadership development should be a constant, thriving and evolving part of your organization at all times – not just when a leader is leaving. It’s important to put systems and processes in place to identify, develop and build bench strength.
Doing so often involves improving communication with your current executive team. For instance, Jim Skinner, former CEO of McDonald’s, was known to tell managers: “Give me the names of two people who could succeed you.” In this way, he was able to manage succession planning by talking with the people who were not only intimate with the leadership position, but also with the employees currently reporting to them.
3. Develop the right skills
It’s not unusual for companies to set future goals that feel like aggressive stretches. But stretch goals are still attainable. Look at the Seattle Seahawks as an example. They won the Super Bowl in 2014 despite being two years removed from a steep losing record.
The important part is that your team has the skills necessary to achieve a stretch goal. If your current players don’t have what it takes to win, set them up for success by identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Note which skills need the most attention and provide experiential learning opportunities, like training and continuing education, to help them develop their talent for sustainable results.
By instilling an empowered, continuous learning workplace culture, you’ll be able to maintain a motivated, performance-oriented workforce that practices creative thinking and isn’t afraid to leave comfort zones.
Creating results and shaping change
Developing your current team members is certainly more cost effective than hiring the superstars who have already established their name in the industry. However, there are even more benefits to developing employees than upfront cost savings.
Employee research consistently shows that career-development opportunities are among the most effective drivers of employee engagement for successful teams. For instance, a recent study on employee retention conducted by Chronus reported that the most important aspect of a company’s reward and recognition program is employee development opportunities.
Having worked with thousands of employees in high-potential programs over the years, we have seen the incredible impact engaged employees have on their companies – both immediately and long after they move into significant leadership roles within the organization. Don’t focus on hiring someone who’s already the Tom Brady of their position. Instead, look for the people on your team who have the potential to become superstars despite their current status. Help them develop their skills and understand the growth that’s available for them at your organization.