Have you ever had an employee who mentally checked out a long time ago but still works with you? The resulting effect is a productivity decline which oftentimes spreads dysfunction across the whole team.

There’s an uncredited quote that I have seen many times:

 “The CEO is asked by the CFO. “What happens if we invest in developing people and then they leave us?”

And the CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

I love this quote because it makes you consider those people who have mentally resigned, but stay in your business.

Many business owners and leaders that I speak to aren’t sure how to develop employees, especially when their business is small and still growing.

 My answer is that development is not just about the next job and a career change. It’s about keeping great people who are interested in continually learning in their roles.

The first step is that you need to understand your team members. 

This is not a new concept in business. Back in 1927, the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company spent five years studying thousands of workers to determine how different changes to their workplace would impact productivity. They made changes to the lighting, rest periods, coffee breaks, free lunch, shorter work days, shorter work weeks, different locations, overtime, financial incentives and even methods of payment. What they found was that when the workers were given special attention, their productivity increased regardless of what changes were made in the work setting. This phenomenon has become known as the “Hawthorne Effect” and remains a foundation of organisational psychology. 

As a leader, one of the easiest ways to show special attention to your employees is to have regularly scheduled one-on-ones with them. Part of the one-on-one should always be questions around how they are thinking and feeling about their job. For example:

“If you were given a million dollars to do another job, what would it be?”

“Is there anything right now that is frustrating you?”

“If you ran this company what is the first thing you would change?”

If your one-on-one focuses solely on daily work and operational issues, then you’ll never get to fully understand your employee and what is driving and motivating them.

The second is to have simple development plans reviewed quarterly.

This doesn’t mean that employees need to attend expensive training every month. It’s about identifying key areas that are important to the employee, but also help your business by broadening their mindset, industry contacts and knowledge. Examples:

  • Identifying a mentor
  • Listening to a TED Talk every month
  • Joining a networking group
  • Shadowing other team members


The third step is considering your role as a leader.

Ask your employee what you can do to help them, how you can give them more meaningful work, and consider what you can delegate to them. As the employee develops, they will become more efficient, have more time to take on more duties, and in turn continue strengthening their skills and experience. This “chain reaction” of progress organically feeds into having a higher productive team altogether.

Are you interested in having more one-on-one talking points in your pocket? Subscribe to our email newsletter and receive a free downloadable of 70 questions to use during those essential check-ins with your employees.