In the world of management and employee development, the notion of taking something to the next level is a common growth goal. It is also a very ambitious goal. It describes an act of advancing and recognizable achievement. Is this a realistic goal or something unobtainable?
If I am a track sprinter and through training and conditioning I can shave a several tenths of a second from my 100 yard dash time, that’s a pretty significant gain. That might move me into an elite level of competition. The business I own buys a new piece of equipment and we train employees to use the machine for a new process. The result is expanding us into a new market and we grow by 10 percent the first year. That might put on a path to take the business to new level of success.
If I suggested to an employee that he or she could elevate their performance to the next level, I would need to define what that target might look like. If I simply challenge them to improve their performance, they would be right to look at me with a puzzled look. They might even be offended that I felt their performance was inadequate, especially if I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to see from them. There are a lot of ways to motivate an employee but this wouldn’t be an effective one.
That same employee might not be working at their potential, or perhaps could benefit from learning a new skill. Belief in that employee is great. As coach, our job is to know that employee, their strengthens, skills, learning style, potential and desire. I assume every employee has untapped ability and potential. The measure of that is different for each employee. Their desire to learn and be challenged is also different. We can coach growth, even with employees who have seemingly low desire.
In every organization I’ve heard it expressed that some employees do not want to advance to a higher position, they just want to do their current jobs. I accept that. What gets confusing is when that employee also wants the highest performance rating and bigger raise. That employee may be very competent and performs the duties well in the job description. That’s worth something. An employee goes beyond the expectations of the job description to push the organization forward; they are eager to learn new things and want to grow. Are those two employees equal in what they contribute, and should they receive the same performance review and compensation?
Not everyone has to be a superstar, or even want to be. I value an employee who shows up everyday, works hard and keeps a positive attitude. They don’t have to “try” to be a leader, which many employees feel like we push them to be. I see different levels of leadership in all employees. Some choose not to utilize or work on those abilities. Others are leaders in subtle ways, and it is important for supervisors to acknowledge that. Will those employees “take it to the next level”? Maybe not in any seismic way. To me, the distance between the current level and the next one is not gradual, but significant; not easily reachable, but achievable under the right circumstances.
How focused should we be on moving to the next level? Well, continuous improvement should be an ongoing goal, both for the organization and for employees. The question might be more about the setting of goals rather than levels. Each employee should have goals, ones they participate in developing, that encourage as well as challenge them.
Is a promotion an appropriate next level? That depends. What if there aren’t promotions available in the organization? For many employees, the job they are currently in has no upward mobility. The employee might have to learn new skills or transition to a different career path, and then compete for an opening. Some organizations have positions that are a part of a job family, some are competitive and others are open for employees to ascend based on development or time in service.
Sometimes, going to the next level for an employee, is going to a different organization to pursue a career opportunity. That is the risk of any organization that places an emphasis on development, and hires quality people. You might invest a lot of resources in that employee only to have them eventually find an opportunity elsewhere. Training and development should never be based on whether you think an employee might leave. Look at whether the organization’s needs align with the employee’s potential and interests.
Today’s work forces are more fluid than ever before. Employers want flexibility to expand or contract when necessary, and align the workforce with organizational needs. Employees are also more career mobile than past generations, they want portable benefits and will leave for better opportunities. This isn’t true of every organization or employee. Many want stability and growth, not turnover or unpredictability. But the employment scene is different today and continuing to change.
So maybe the issue is really about ambition and the commitment to the challenges of growth. What does the next level look like and what are you sacrificing to get there? Are the goals realistic and are your employees on-board? And what kind of captain are you – can you get them there?
[Editor’s note: When looking for development graphics, most of them showed men. That’s nuts!]