The Responsibilities of Management Series, #3: Develop the Type of People You Want in Your Organization

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 11b
March 15, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


The first responsibility of management is The People Responsibility.

This includes four parts: talent management, bench strength, culture, and teamwork. Talent management includes attracting, selecting, placing, developing, and retaining the right employees for your organization.

Every role in an organization is tremendously important. If it’s not important, then get rid of the role. When you see every role as important, then you realize the importance of placing the right person in the right role and developing that person along the lines of what you want in your organization. I’m going to assume you want four things as you place and develop a person in your organization:

  • You want the person to do quality work within the role that he or she feels purposeful about.
  • You want the person to continually develop his or her character strengths and values in a way that supports the culture of the organization.
  • You want the person to leverage their passions and talents in a way that supports the long-term success of the organization.
  • In doing these first three steps, you want the person to be prepared to successfully fill other roles in your organization.

Develop the Person for Your Organization

Keep in mind you are not trying to develop a person to be successful in every organization. You are focused on developing the person to be successful in your organization in the short term and over the long term. What makes a person successful in one organization is different than what makes a person successful in a different type of organization.

Think of four organizations where you interact with employees. Here’s my list:

  • McDonald’s
  • Wal-Mart
  • Nordstrom’s
  • Amazon

Now describe the people you interact with in terms of what they do well, their character strength, their values, their passions, and their talents. Here are my answers:


Very efficient at task fulfillment. Friendly in a very quick way. Collaboration is a character strength. Passionate about serving people. Has an ability to do repetitive tasks very consistently and at a high level.


Activity-driven. Helpful, but not overly friendly. Strong work ethic. Passionate about getting stuff done (shelves filled, store cleaned). An ability to work as a team to have things ready for customers to buy what they want.


Friendly at all times. A passion for other people’s appearance. Willing to give customers feedback on how their clothes look. Value sharing their opinion. A talent for seeing what clothes work together effectively. Willing to spend a lot of time with one customer.


Ability to do invisible work for customers. Passionate about efficiency and communication in keeping customers in the loop about their purchases. Talented at the many aspects of digital retail. Value studying data and developing new ways of adding value to customers.

Those descriptions aren’t perfect, but I think they give a sense of how different companies need to develop workers in different ways.

A Role in Your Company

Now I want you to answer these questions about a specific role in your company:

  1. What does the person have to be able to do well in order to be effective in this role?
  2. What character strengths and values does this person need to have in order to fit in your culture?
  3. What passions and talents does the person need to have in order to be effective over the long term in your company? (There may not be one set of answers to this question, but generally speaking what are the passions and talents that have generated success for people in your company?)

By writing out your answers to these questions for the various roles in your company, you will clarify what you want to develop in your employees.

Steps to Develop Another Person

Here are five ideas to keep in mind as you work to develop employees in terms of their necessary skills for this particular role, their character strengths and values, and their passions and talents.

 Use Time-Spaced Learning

One full-day of orientation is NOT the best approach. It becomes overwhelming. Not all of the input is retained, and no one can remember the names of the 20 people he or she met on the first day. If I talked at you for eight hours, would you be able to remember even 10% of what I said the next day? Why do we think that a new employee can take in eight hours of input and survive to talk about it?

People need time to develop. Time-spaced learning is a much better approach. Learn a little today. Try it out tomorrow. Reflect on what worked and didn’t work. Make an adjustment. Try it out. Then learn a little more. Try that out tomorrow. Then reflect on…

Meet one person today. Spend 20 minutes getting to know that person. The next day meet one person. Spend 20 minutes getting to know that person. The next day meet…

Baby steps taken day after day can lead to great performances. The key is steady forward progress in learning new skills, building new relationships, and understanding cultural nuances. Each day becomes a slice in an on-going process of orientation. It’s not a one-day orientation followed by 10 years of work. It’s on-going development. Deliberately practice specific aspects of the performance over and over until the employee has mastered each piece.

Introduce Key Individuals

Have the employee spend time with important influences. Here are five key individuals you may want to introduce to this employee in order for the person to develop the traits necessary to succeed in this role.

An exemplar. This is a person in a similar role who can demonstrate how to do it successfully. The employee who is new in this role might not end up doing it exactly like the exemplar, but at least after watching the exemplar in action this person has something to consider on how to do things.

A mentor. A mentor doesn’t meet with the employee every day or every week. The mentor talks with the employee periodically, maybe a few times a quarter. The mentor listens, asks questions, offers suggestions, and discusses ideas with the employee. These conversations help the employee understand how he or she fits into a bigger picture and what to keep in mind.

A peer. This is a person the employee works with every day in the same role or a role at the same level as the employee. This is the person whom the employee bounces questions off of and who affects the employee’s perspective of the work and the organization.

A past great performer. This is someone who did the role at a very high level in the past. The employee meets with this person to discuss how the role can be done at the highest level.

A performance coach. This is the person who regularly observes the employee in action, asks questions, offers feedback, and discusses past, present, and future performances. This person gives very specific feedback on what the employee is doing well, and what the employee can do to improve. Think of a hitting coach in baseball or a piano teacher.

Create Environment for Growth

Provide freedom to develop. The employee needs a significant degree of autonomy in order to eventually flourish. Avoid the trap of micro-managing.

Reinforce the desired values you want to see in the company with public praise and recognition for times when those values are demonstrated, and with private conversations when the opposite of those values are shown.

Use The Bar-Raising Process for Continual Performance Improvement. The idea is to generate reflection and discernment on the part of the employee. Don’t just talk about results. Talk about what has been attempted and what has been learned. Here are the four questions in this process:

  1. What was your goal and what did you actually achieve?
  2. What did you do to try to achieve the goal that worked well and why did it work well, and what did you do to try to achieve the goal that did not work well and why did it not work well?
  3. What lessons did you learn or relearn as you look back on what you did?
  4. What will you do the same and what will you do differently going forward, and why will you do that?

In answering those four questions, the employee is searching for ways to improve performance. The 15-20 minutes needed to answer those questions are remarkably valuable for their impact on future performances. The discussion you have with the employee about their answers can enhance the person’s growth.

Recreate an Old-Fashioned School

Remember school? Teacher, classroom, homework, test. Use those methods to develop your employees. Assign a book for the employee to read about the topic you want him or her to improve at doing. Then discuss the book with the employee.

Have the employee study videos of other people doing the task or talking about the task. Maybe assign a full-length film to watch and then discuss it with the employee.

Film the employee in his or her role and have the person study the performance. Just like professional athletes study film of their past performances, perhaps you can do the same thing for your employee.

Have classroom discussions on performance aspects, character strengths, values, passions, and talents. Being in a group discussion can help people to see different ways to leverage their own uniqueness in doing a role at a very high level.

Conduct Audits

Far too often the only time an employee is asked about his or her purpose, passions, and talents is at the initial job interview. Then those topics never come up again as the person goes about doing the job for many years to come.

I suggest that this is a huge mistake.

I encourage you to consistently (at least twice a year) conduct a Purpose Audit, a Passion Audit, and a Talent Audit.

Ask the employee why he or she is doing this particular job. If the person sees no purpose in the role or the work, then you are unlikely to get the best out of that person. By helping the person see the purpose in the work you may very well help to improve the quality of the work.

Ask the person about his or her passions. Passions energize a person. What fuels this individual? Then ask how the person can apply his or her passions to the role. Just by asking this and helping facilitate a new way of looking at the work, you might be able to help the person do the work with greater passion.

Ask the person what he or she does better than anything else that he or she does. These are the person’s talents. Then ask the person how he or she can use those talents more often in the actual work.

By conducting these audits you are helping the individual to personalize the work in a way that leverages his or her uniqueness. This can generate breakthrough performances for people as they do the same work in a more intentional way.


It’s not enough to work really hard at attracting and selecting the type of employees you want in your organization. That’s just the starting point. You need to actively work over the long term to develop the specific type of employees you want in your organization.

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson is a magnificent resource on this topic of developing people for continually improving performances. Anders is the world-wide expert on expertise and expert performance. I think this book will help guide your thinking on how to improve the performance of another person.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

Back to Newsletter Page