Developing your staff in times of budget restrictions

Many managers are at a loss when asked to develop their people in times of budget restrictions, freezes, when they have little control over promotions, training budgets, let alone bonuses for a work well done. How can you talk about development with a performing employee, when there is limited perspective of advancement?

Too often, the performance evaluations of employees focus on WHAT has been done the past year, on whether or not they have met the set annual objectives. Little attention, if any, is paid on HOW objectives were met. Did the person work in an isolated manner or avoided collaborating with others? Did the employee work 80 hours a week to meet objectives? Did the manager abuse his/her staff? etc…. That aspect of work is rarely discussed, and on paper that information is often non-existent.

The reality is most people are effective. They deliver and meet expectations. The sales are up, the numbers are good and if they are not, it is often due to external factors that are not under the control of the individual employees (ex: the crisis).  Many effective employees however, are not efficient as they do not make full use of the resources available to them or, when under increasing pressure, spend of lot of  energy, time, and efforts, working harder and harder, not necessarily getting a proper return on their investment. Many burnout out and crash, and the road to recovery is long and costly, emotionally for all involved and financially for the organisation and society at large.

Development starts with taking the time to focus on how work smarter, rather than harder, applying the Pareto Principle, putting 20% of energies on activities that generate 80% of ROI, rather than the other way around.  Yet, it is impossible to do this unless one switches mind-sets.

One needs to stop providing more and more of the same efforts (working until 9 pm, on the weekend, checking emails on vacation and in the middle of the night) while hoping at the same time for different results (i.e. finding a little work life balance). It is time to apply the S.T.E.P. Model:    Stop, Think, Evaluate, Proceed differently.

When I coach someone, I ask the person to keep a journal. As a manager, I did the same with all my staff members. It is a simple idea: just ask the person to make a recurrent appointment with themselves in their calendar for 30 minutes a week, and reflect on HOW they worked the past week.

Journaling is an exercise of affirmation of one’s strengths: learning to articulate and document one’s accomplishments on a regular daily basis; especially proactive activities which tend to be less visible than reactive ones.

  • What did I do right exactly? Not WHAT I did, but HOW I did it.
  • Why was this telephone conference with a client successful?
  • Why was the meeting I chaired productive?
  • What exactly did I do to make it happen?
  • What is the recipe of success I could share with my team mates, so we could all learn from each other’s experience and improve our collective best practices?

On the other hand, journaling is also an exercise of humility, paying attention to what could be done better, in a smarter way, which lessons can be learned for on-going improvement of one’s performance.

  • What could I have done better?
  • What stopped me from intervening sooner?
  • What was I afraid of? What could I have said or done?
  • Who could have helped me?
  • What can I learn from this experience?
  • How would I handle a similar situation in the future?

Journaling is extremely helpful when one wants to prepare for the next step in one’s career. In a recruitment interview, the ultimate question is always: Why you, as opposed to someone else, equally qualified or with as much experience?  The candidate who can best explain the method beyond his/her past success has a much greater chance to be recognised as suitable and worth the company’s investment.

As burnout has become so prevalent, it is crucial to understand that everyone is capable of exceptionally high level performance on short term and then crash.  Resilience lies in ability to develop and maintain a high level performance, engagement, and motivation over the long term. It is one’s ability to manage stress and to face an environment which is becoming increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex- Ambiguous) that will make the difference.

The usage of the term VUCA derives from military vocabulary and has been subsequently used in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that apply in a wide range of organisations. It relates to how people view the conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. Outstanding employees are more and more recognised by their ability to:

  1. Anticipate issues
  2. Understand the consequences of their actions
  3. Appreciate the interdependence of variables
  4. Prepare for alternative realities and challenges
  5. Interpret and address relevant opportunities

And one cannot do this by working harder and harder, without allowing for times to pause and reflect. The single minded obsession of increasing of one’s performance is counter-productive, very much like the cyclists in the picture who are riding their bikes faster and faster but spinning around, and not lead anywhere. Development is about taking the time to think, to evaluate what we can learn from past experiences (ours and others’) – about what to do and what NOT to do.



Jocelyne Rase is a psychologist, coach and leadership trainer for IFE. She is presently the social advisor at the OECD. She has a large experience providing training and coaching to managers of international organisations, including the European Commission and the UN,

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