business meeting community people

I spent last week as a guest of a global food manufacturer, at an event to close their key talent program. It got me thinking about the way our industry develops talent, and how we can be better.

Companies always say people are their most important asset, but it is actions, not words, that count. So what can we do to unleash the potential of our people, grow them and grow the bottom line? To answer this, I’ll refer to my experience with my manager – Peter Harrison at PepsiCo – years ago, and how it fast-tracked my development as an insight professional.

First, clarity. Are you crystal clear with your people about how they can develop? Peter was clear our strategy was to “automate the shit”. Insight roles can be repetitive and administrative. Our strategy was to systematise and automate as much as possible, so we could invest our time and energy into making a real difference to the direction of the company. Clarity requires repetition – he didn’t say it once, he said it a hundred times.

Second, encouragement. Are you encouraging your people? This means delegating projects, meetings and issues to your people, whilst being there when they need help or reassurance. Initially this felt scary at PepsiCo but, eventually, knowing your boss believes in and trusts in you builds confidence.

Third, investment. Are you investing enough time and resource into your people? It’s easy to assume the skills and organisational knowledge you have built up over the years can be quickly assimilated by your team. But in truth, most people need significant time and help. They need leaders to explain and illuminate. It will normally take longer than the impatient leader would like to help people get up to speed.

Fourth, feedback. Are you feeding back every week to everyone in your team, on how they are doing, good or bad? It is amazing how often good people find this difficult. Most do it less than they should. I can remember my surprise and discomfort as Peter pointed out in detail how PowerPoint slides could look better, sharper and clearer, or confronted me about poorly written emails. I had underestimated how important these things are – it was a blind spot.

Most people need someone to point out blind spots. By the same token, we all enjoy being told by someone we respect that we are doing well. We get a huge energy boost from that. Feedback is the most important development tool of all.

If we mean it about people being our most important asset, we have to keep them at the top of our minds. Clarity, encouragement, investment and feedback. These will pay back for the organisation and for our people.