How to Nurture Employees

nurture employees

Six ways to nurture outstanding employees

Earlier this week I came across Liz Ryan’s column on, which outlined ten qualities of an outstanding employee. It’s a great list; I recognised plenty of those qualities in the people I’ve worked with and the teams I’ve led. And while it would be awesome if all these great qualities were present in every single person in every single business, the truth is, truly engaged and top-performing employees account for less than a quarter of the Australian workforce.

So what’s a boss to do?

First of all, don’t just sit around hoping that an outstanding candidate will turn up at your doorstep, asking for a job. Chances are they’ve already been head-hunted, or (because they’ve got initiative and take their careers into their own hands), have already sussed out which companies are on the “best places to work” list that will best suit their professional goals and skillset.

Instead of waiting for the unlikely, look inwardly at your current team. Consider the great qualities your people already have that you can recognise and encourage. Where there are gaps consider the things that you can be doing to nurture a work environment where excellence and engagement are the norms.

1. Start with “why?”

As Liz suggests, “outstanding employees know more than just the procedures their job requires. They know the reason their job exists, and that knowledge lets them suggest tweaks and innovations that let them work more effectively.” Knowing why their job exists, and where it fits in the bigger picture (in their department, as well as within the business) is important for motivation, and provides a framework that allows people to prioritise tasks and work autonomously.

2. Facilitate relationships across the business

For your business to grow, you don’t just need the right people doing the right jobs; you need those people to be able to work and achieve greatness together. As the African proverb goes, “If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.”

If silos are an issue, encourage cross-team relationships by creating spaces and opportunities for those teams to come together in both formal and informal settings. For example, we’ve recently repurposed one of the areas in the office as a communal breakout space to use for meetings, solo work and one-to-one conversations. While you might not have the real-estate available in your office to do this, consider other ways to use the space and time you have to bridge the divide between teams. Make the kitchen the type of place worth spending a lunch break in, host cross-departmental lunch-and-learns or skills-sharing sessions, or use tools like Redii to highlight key projects and achievements from different areas of the business.

3. Make it easy to communicate quickly

Another way to break down silos and facilitate productivity is to create channels so employees can easily find the information they need to do their job and get quick answers to their questions. Where possible, replace slower, formal communications channels (like email) with company notice-boards/screens or chat tools like Slack or Workplace, so you can share information and get questions answered quickly, while still having the option to turn off notifications and minimise distractions. Set a rhythm for company-wide updates and use these to provide visibility of how each team is tracking against their priorities for that quarter or year.

4. Make it easy to provide both good and bad feedback

It takes practice and encouragement to seek and receive feedback for the work you’re currently doing, and it’s important leaders consistently welcome and act on the feedback from their employees. That includes encouraging qualitative feedback openly during conversations (like at meetings and one-to-ones) and also providing channels to submit specific, actionable and data-driven feedback on specific projects or pieces of work.

5. Make mistakes ok

If you want to encourage growth and innovation, it’s time to stop fearing failure. Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent points out that the most successful athletes go out of their way to fail during practice. They deliberately push their physical and mental boundaries – and land flat on their face in the process – so they can improve. Expecting growth without failure is a recipe for disaster – the most successful companies (think Google, Apple and Atlassian) are willing to try and fail because, in the end, it’s a numbers game: the more times you try, the more likely you are to succeed. But if an employee is too afraid of being reprimanded for making a mistake, they aren’t in a position to think outside the box, come up with new solutions, or innovate.

As chairman of Google’s Alphabet, Eric Schmidt, said in 2010, “We celebrate our failures. This is a company where it is absolutely OK to try something that is very hard, have it not be successful, take the learning and apply it to something new.”

6.Foster gratitude as a workplace habit

Appreciating things that are going right is a basic requirement for sustained happiness; the more we feel like we’re making progress, the more engaged we become in the activity we’re doing. Apply that principle in your daily work, and make it your business to provide your team members with constant feedback and recognition for the achievements they’ve made. One of the managers I know has an appointment in his calendar each Friday and uses the time to review what went well and recognise each of his team members. Get your people to do the same – not just for their direct reports, but for their peers in other teams too. The more you encourage spontaneous but continual recognition, the more you reinforce good work and create an environment that fosters great results.

What are some of the things you do to nurture excellence in your people?

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