Developing People Through Everyday Conversation

Colby Parrott, Director of Organizational Effectiveness from The Vancouver Clinic, one of our Catalysis Healthcare Value Network members, shares strategies below of how to effectively develop people and support employee retention.

Imagine if you only receive feedback on your work one time a year or if a one-to-one with your manager rarely happens. If these habits occur in your organization, what do you think your personal development journey will look like? How motivated might you be to stay?

Now with The Great Resignation, The State of Discontent, and Quiet Quitting upon us, there is a renewed focus on employee retention. While employees are re-evaluating what is important to them, employers are re-thinking their people strategies. One strategy of interest is in people development. Oftentimes, we associate performance management with traditional approaches that focus on retrospective evaluations of past performance. Or, performance management moves quickly towards punitive actions rather than first understanding the whole person.

While retrospective evaluations play a role, they can get you stuck in a fixed mindset. In today's climate, people want the opportunity to work at their best ability and engage in learning, have potential for career advancement, experience supportive leadership, and much more. To build the future of work, we need to shift our habits towards a growth mindset and engage in performance enablement practices. People must experience regular collaboration, communication, and learning to do their best work in a constantly changing environment. When we normalize ongoing feedback, coaching, and sharing of ideas, we make development a part of everyday conversation.

Strategies to Empower Your People Everyday

As an organizational development (OD) practitioner, I recently incorporated lean process improvement into my practice. Combining these two disciplines is a powerful way to utilize science-based processes and help organizations build capacity to change and achieve greater effectiveness. Through OD and lean process improvement, we can develop and nurture everyday habits that create a climate of continuous improvement, psychological safety, and personal development. Here are some strategies that might help you empower your people every day.

Develop Your Leaders

Identify what makes great leaders in your organization. As you assess: 1) consider what makes your organization unique; 2) define how your leaders support the mission, vision, and values; and 3) align on expectations for how leaders help the organization achieve its goals.

We did a study to understand what effective leaders do as part of their daily practice. We researched team engagement scores, people development activities, connections to goals, and how leaders incorporate leader standard work. From our study, we created a leadership development model and curriculum to help us build strong leadership foundations and deepen a leaders' practice and competencies over time.

Create Connection for People

People want empathy, purpose, autonomy, and flexibility at work. They also want to feel like they belong within the organization. Coqual's research shows that belonging occurs when people feel seen, connected, supported and proud. Some ways that you can build connection for people into your strategies include:

  • Create frequent uninterrupted time with your employees through regular one-to-ones to discuss projects, provide feedback, remove blockers, and build relationships and trust.
  • Take Gemba Walks! This is a Japanese term that means "the place where value is created." Essentially, this how you go and visit where the work happens. Taking a Gemba Walk is an excellent way to connect with people, see what challenges they have, observe the work, help align them to organization goals, ask for feedback, and celebrate great work with the team. Connecting with people at your organization in this way shows respect for people, that you care for their well-being, and you aim to make their work life easier.
  • Engage your employees in more frequent performance conversations. We launched "Booster Check-Ins" to move away from an annual review process so that people can continuously connect with their manager about their growth, impact, and goals. These are future-focused discussions because feedback happens instead within everyday interactions.
  • Build habits of appreciation and recognition and understand that everyone has a different workplace love language. We re-imagined our recognition programs to help us: 1) empower peer-to-peer recognition; 2) focus on both the person and their good work; 3) reinforce our organizational principles and behaviors; and 4) improve safety both for our employees and our patients by building confidence and pride in our colleagues and our organization.

Normalize Everyday Development Conversations

Amy Edmondson notes, "If you change the nature and quality of the conversations in your team, your outcomes will improve exponentially. Psychological safety is the core component to unlock this." You can build psychological safety using OD and lean process improvement practices to normalize everyday development within your team. Here are some ideas to approach this:

  • Develop a growth mindset culture where you encourage the belief that ability and talent can be developed through effort, informed strategies, and coaching. To encourage this, be a role model, help your team learn from mistakes, praise people's efforts, believe people can achieve their goals, and give feedback on improvement opportunities
  • Build a system to collect ideas and put them into action. With our lean daily management system, we ask for people's "Bright Ideas." This is an opportunity to identify issues, develop problem solving skills, and support the organization's mission and goals. This system also shows respect for people because the organization invests in the development of its employees by creating a way for everyone to experiment, remove frustration, collaborate, and continuously improve their work for the benefit of the customer.
  • Be a growth mindset coach so that you create constant communication loops. Coaching practices can take on many forms and we believe that leaders should start with a strong foundation in humble inquiryImprovement kata is also a great way to build routines for your teams to share Bright Ideas, problem solve, and receive coaching along the way. Coaches use humble inquiry and coaching kata to help the person identify 1) where they want to go (target condition); 2) where they are now (actual condition); 3) what obstacles are in the way of reaching the target and which one will they address first; 4) what is the next step (next experiment) and what do they expect; and 5) when can we meet again to see what they learned.

There are many ways to develop people through everyday interactions. Everyone plays a role and continuously developing your leaders is important to sustain a growth mindset culture. One key threat to psychological safety is when you fail to listen and take action on feedback, on the ideas people share, and on the problems that people want to solve. We must be intentional and active in how we listen, how we take action, and how we communicate. This builds trust in the processes of developing people everyday through conversation.

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