How to Develop Your Employees

How to develop staff

29 Fantastic Ways to Mentor and Develop Your Employees


If there is one thing that sets apart the great managers from the rest of the crowd, it would be their ability to continuously develop employees and to grow the capability of their teams.  Unlike managers who simply focus on results, the leaders who place deliberate emphasis on employee development build morale and constantly increase their teams’ potential.  We recently discussed the 70-20-10 rule as a framework for employee development.  But how do these great leaders really develop employees?  What are some actual things we can do?  From simple, unplanned conversations to hosting deliberate feedback sessions, effective employee development comes down to one simple thing: surrounding your employees with opportunities for learning.  Here are 29 excellent ways you can develop your employees.

1. Send an Employee to a Training Class

Learning style is not just something that applies to students in grade school.  External training classes offer your employees a special setting outside the office to learn some new skills.  Set aside funds each year to allow your employees to take a course or a training class somewhere to develop new skills.  Afterwards, ask them to identify assignments that allow them to apply their new skills.

2.  Setup Recurring One on One Meetings

A regular one on one session with an employee serves as a deliberate, recurring check-in. By scheduling them on a periodic basis, employees can prepare topics for discussion in advance.  Further, planned sessions afford you as the manager the opportunity to gather any feedback and share it with your employee during the next one on one meeting.

3.  Ask Your Employee to Describe Their Career Highlight

Every employee is different and great managers know this. By asking an employee about a professional experience that they felt was particularly rewarding can help you identify other opportunities or projects that may resonate and motivate him or her. What was it that made that experience so memorable? What was it that they learned?  Do they see opportunities to have such an experience again?  Often times, the employee has never even thought about it, so the conversation itself can benefit them.

Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore

John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance
is a light read containing many great tips and concepts that will help managers improve their mentoring and coaching skills. John uses various sport analogies and other simple examples to help convey ideas concerning the role of a coach, the relationship between coach and coachee, and the importance of teams, all of which translate well into the business world. Of particular use to the reader are the numerous lists of bulletized questions and notes, which serve as a quick reference guide for the reader.

4.  Tell Your Employee About Your Own Career Highlight

If there is one advantage you have over your employees, it’s your experience. Don’t be afraid to share a personal experience that you found helped you grow in your career.  Doing so can give your employee a different perspective on their career trajectory, or offer insight into solving challenges they may be facing.  Your younger staff has a lot to benefit from the experiences and things you’ve done in your career.  Tell them about it.

5.  Offer an Example of a Low Light in Your Career

We’ve all had those low moments.  When an employee is struggling through a situation, a great way to coach and mentor them is to share a similar experience you may have had that is relatable to their circumstance.  Having gone through it, your experience may help them reframe the issue or shed light on a potential solution.

6.  Ask an Employee to Walk You Through Their Work

Whether or not you have concerns about an employee’s performance, having an employee walk you through what they are doing can serve as a great touch-point for both you and the employee. Either during a one on one or simply by stopping by and asking how things are going can reveal issues or difficulties the employee is facing, and gives you a chance to offer some thoughts.  The key is to let them do most of the talking, so hold your comments until the end.

RELATED: Coaching Through Questions

7.  Ask the Employee What They Want to Learn

When you are struggling to identify development needs for you employee, or if they seem a little adrift in their career from a development standpoint, all you need to do is ask. The answers you get in response to a question like “what opportunities or experiences are you looking for at this point in your career?” will likely surprise you and may identify opportunities you had not previously considered.  An open conversation about learning will usually be received well.

Please Take A Moment to Answer This Question in Support of Our Management Research!


What is the ideal number of direct employees a manager should have in order to remain effective?
  • Fewer than 3 employees
  • 3 to 5 employees
  • 6 to 10 employees
  • 11 to 15 employees
  • 16 to 20 employees
  • More than 20 employees

8.  Share Your Story

If you’ve hired the right people (and you’ve got the right attitude), your employees will be hungry to learn from you as the team leader. By sharing your own career story and the way your career evolved can give employees great insight into learning opportunities they may want to consider or skills they may feel would help them develop.  Personal stories are a great way to introduce your employees to new possibilities.

9.  Challenge Their Ideas

Every employee (including you) needs to be able to handle a little heat. Whether or not you agree with an employee’s decision in how they went about their work, it’s always a good idea to challenge their thought process. No need to be combative.  But by simply offering a counter opinion that undermines an employee’s decision can help them uncover potential blind spots in their thought process.  Challenging their ideas is also great training for them because he or she will ultimately encounter someone who really does disagree with their decision, and they will have to defend it.

10.  Document Something To Teach Accountability

If there is one thing that is particularly hard to teach employees (especially new employees), it is a sense of accountability. And it’s often difficult, too, for managers to hold employees accountable because there are so many things going on in your department on any given day.  Accountability can be taught by documenting things like actions, tasks and due dates and sharing them with the employee.  Seeing one’s name show up with a due date on the boss’s list will get their attention.  The key, of course, is that you have to follow-up in a timely manner.

Follow This Path by Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina

Follow This Path is a fantastic book and guide for managers looking to improve the performance of their teams. Coffman and Gonzalez-Molina tap into mountains of data from the Gallup Organization to demonstrate how the best results come to organizations that enable employees to use their raw talents to the fullest. This is a very easy read and is full of real examples of how a modern approach to running businesses results in enhanced financial performance.

11. Bring An Employee on a Business Trip with You

Great learning for employees takes place when they get to experience something new. If you’re going to see a client, or you are attending a meeting with a supplier, bring an employee along as a learning opportunity.  He or she can learn a lot from your interaction with the other party and can gain an appreciation for things like negotiating with external counterparts. Sure, there is a cost to it, but there are tremendous benefits to it as well.  More than likely your employee will shower you with questions after the visit about the things they learned and observed.

12. Have Employees Do a Dry Run

An essential skill for just about every employee is the ability to deliver a basic presentation. But before you put an employee in front of a room full of people, have them present their content to a smaller group of familiar faces. Not only will your employees learn the importance of preparation, but they will also learn from the feedback you and the other team members offer. Anything from content to flow, to his or her little nervous twitch are on the table in terms of feedback.  The best part about doing a dry run is that you can pull them aside later and give them a few extra pointers.  Start out by asking them how they think they did.

13.  Have an Employee Present to an Executive

Few experiences can be as intimidating for an employee as presenting to an executive within your firm who happens to be about 4 or 5 pay grades above them. But it’s a necessary experience for those employees who want to advance because they need to get comfortable with the targeted and direct questions that executives tend to ask. And the nature of the topics (being an audience internal to your organization) will differ than topics that will emerge in externally focused presentations.

RELATED: Tips For Making A Great Slide Presentation

14.  Have an Employee Present to a Customer

Presenting to a customer is where content and delivery really matter. Your customer is depending on you to get the job done and giving employees a chance to experience that dynamic is extremely important. Customer feedback can sometime be harsh, but it’s all part of the learning process. Further, by being an external audience, sensitivities to various topics will not be the same as those for an internal audience.

15.  Ask an Employee to Share Their Opinion

When you’re in a meeting, your more experienced employees will tend to dominate the conversation. Make it a point to ask one of your junior employees who is sitting in the back of the room for his or her opinion. The lesson taught, of course, is that their opinion counts and that it’s acceptable to speak up even in a room full of more seasoned veterans.  Bring them into every discussion.



The Oz Principle by Craig Hickman, Tom Smith and Roger Connors

The Oz Principle offers guidance on driving employee accountability, one of the most difficult managerial challenges.  A good read for managers and business leaders who are struggling to get the most from their employees and their business. 

16.  Have an Employee Teach Someone Else

You don’t know what you know until you teach. Have your employee take someone else under his or her wing for a while and serve as a mentor to another employee. Doing so is a great primer for developing leadership skills and knowing what it’s like to get results through other people.

17.  Ask Him/Her to Host A Meeting

Simply running a meeting can teach junior employees a number of important skills: preparation, organization, time management and the art of facilitating.  It doesn’t matter what the topic is.  Just give them some responsibility and let them learn through the process.

18.  Take an Employee to Lunch

Getting out of the office into a more relaxed environment is a great way to mentor employees. It gives you and the employee a chance to talk in a setting that is more comfortable than a stuffy cubicle city, and enables you to talk to the employee on a more personal level than you can in the office.  Informal conversations like this can identify potential challenges the employee might be facing that may be hard to pick up in the office or if your only interaction tends to be in meetings.

RELATED: How to Manage Poor Performers

19.  Have an Employee Interview a Job Candidate With You

Interviewing is a key managerial skill to have and something that takes a lot of practice to do well.  From time to time, bring an employee into the room with you for a phone screen or an in-person interview and let them ask questions of their own.  It will not only give them a chance to learn how you conduct an interview and the types of questions you ask, but it gives them a chance to evaluate the candidate with you after the interview. Finally, it offers you an opportunity to give them any feedback to help them improve those oh-so-important interview skills.

20.  Work Through A Translator

Though opportunities may be limited, working across a language barrier can be one of the most challenging and frustrating experiences one has the first time they go through it. However, there are hidden learning opportunities from this kind of experience.  When a translator is needed, the experience drives one to adjust his or her presentation style, pace, and word choice.  Working through a translator is a profoundly unique and educational experience.

21. Give Your Employee a Special Assignment

One challenge managers face is to keep the job engaging. When employees process purchase orders or develop blue prints all day long, things can get pretty boring in a hurry. So spice it up. By giving an employee a chance to work on a special project, or something a little outside their normal duties, they will develop new skills and ideas by simply doing something different.

22. Offer a Chance to Work in a Different Department

In few places do we as managers feel we have enough resources. But sometimes, even if for a short time, we have the ability to lend an employee to a different team. Even a brief stint working in another function gives employees a chance to learn and master new processes and experience how other departments work. The experience gives the employee an entirely new perspective on their own job, how they can improve the way they do the work, and how their work impacts others.

23.  Shadow Someone Else For a Day

From time to time, give your employees a chance to shadow someone else in your organization for a day. One limiter to career development is lacking a true understanding of how the organization or the business operates at a macro level. What is Supply Chain Management? What role does Customer Service really play? What does Finance really do? Give an employee one day every month to spend a few hours shadowing an experienced employee in another department to give the employee a glimpse of the big picture.

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24.  Have Your Employee Develop or Improve a Process

An important skill that you want your employees to have is the ability to analyze and identify ways to improve something.  Doing so with a process or procedure also helps the employee develop an appreciation for things like work flow and protocol.  Plus, being given a chance to make something better is always rewarding.

25.  Send Them to a Trade Show

Trade shows offer a great opportunity for your employee to see what else is happening in your industry.  Such events also give employees a chance to make business contacts, discuss common challenges, and obtain ideas from others in your field.  Trade shows and conferences of all types take place on a regular basis.  Ask your employee to identify one that is of particular interest to them.

26.  Give Them Something to Own

There is a rite of passage for all of us that takes us from the position of “Supporting” a project to “Owning” a project. When the time is right, have a deliberate conversation with one of your junior employees and give him or her a chance to own something. It’s a great way to motivate them, and give them a chance to put their stamp of something. Little do they know that from a learning standpoint, it will also teach them the importance of planning, communication and accountability.

27.  Go International

The ability to work across cultural boundaries is becoming more and more important in today’s business climate. Getting the chance to work for an extended period overseas is therefore a great way for an employee to learn how to deal with cross-cultural issues in the work place. Doing so will also give your employee a chance to experience working in a business environment that is unlike their own.

28. Tell Them to Look In The Mirror

One way you can get your team to perform at a higher level is to let them learn a little about themselves.  There are a number of highly accurate personality profile tests out there (examples include Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Insights) that can teach your employees about their work preferences, their strengths and their weaknesses.  It’s a small investment that can inject a tremendous amount of self-awareness into your organization.

29.  Be a Coach, at Work and in Life

Leading people is more than just about work.  The best leaders out there are personal coaches to their employees, in work and in life.  Strong relationships between a manager and an employee encourage employees to listen more, pay attention to details and give an extra 10% every day.  Plus, more importantly, when your employees are so highly in tune with you, they are more receptive to the feedback you give and open to constructive criticism that helps them improve their skills.


Looking For More? Check Out:

The 70-20-10 Rule for Employee Development

How to Justify A Need for Training

How to Develop a New Process

Manager How To Guides

Do’s and Don’t for Giving Feedback



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