I work for a state university. One of the requirements for evaluating our employees is that we establish “development” competencies for each employees. We must establish at least two for every employee. The state considers that every employee can improve their performance all the time.

Here is my problem. My one employee is our 63-year-old receptionist who has been with us for over 10 years. Her job duties are to meet and greet visitors, enter routine requisitions and take care of our photocopier and other machinery.

She is incredibly good at what she does. She has been receiving our top rating – Exceeds Expectations – for the last 8 years at least. She is already exemplary in performance of her duties, and is actually the top performer in the routine requisitions – I can’t remember the last time I had to make a correction on her work. She can’t get better at taking care of the machinery because she already has the magic touch.

And, you’ve never seen anyone who is so good at greeting and serving our customers and making them feel special.

So I need to find two areas that she can “develop.” One of the suggestions from the state is to have the employee read a book, so I figure I can give her a book every year. So question one:

Do you or your readers have any business books you can recommend for a basic frontline employee? I’m thinking book one can be “Who moved my cheese” but what else is out there for non-management employees?

Question two: What in the heck can I use for the second development activity that won’t insult her?

I’m totally going to ignore your first question, as I’m not sure what book to recommend. Hopefully my readers will have some good suggestions.

But, as for question two, there is a very simple solution to this problem: Ask her.

See, all solved! Sit down with her and say how fabulous she is and how you can’t think of areas she needs to improve in, and ask what type of development activity she is interested in.

Keep in mind development doesn’t just mean “doing the same job better.” It also means that you are helping to prepare the person for her next job. Don’t get caught in the trap of “she’s a 63 year old lady. She doesn’t want a different job ever.” She may not, but she might. You don’t want to trap her where she is. You’d never expect a 23 year old to stay in that particular job forever.

Even if she wants to stay in the same job forever, there are probably areas she feels like she could do better in. For instance, if I was a receptionist at a university, I’d jump at the chance to take a course in just about anything. If you are an academic department, she may want to take a course in that subject matter so she can relate better to what is going on. If you’re an administrative department, she may want to take an introductory class in finance, or whatever it is you do.

She may say she wants to sit in on staff meetings. She may say she wants to learn some new skill. She may say she wants to take on new responsibilities. Or she may laugh and say, “there’s nothing I want to develop,” in which case her job is to develop something to develop.

And I bet your department is the envy of the entire university. A good receptionist is hard to find. But, don’t let her fabulous performance stand in the way of her development.

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18 thoughts on “Development

  1. I agree entirely with the EHRL's response. You don't want to insult her, and you don't want to create artificial "busy work", or the impression that she's not performing up to expectations.

    So tell her exactly what you told us. Tell her how great she is, and how appreciated her efforts are. Then, let her know that it's required that you work on a development plan. What does she want to do? I think the key here to is let her "behind the curtain". Then you can both pick things that are mutually beneficial, or at least not detrimental, to her performance.

  2. Yes, ask her. That is the correct thing to do.

    Every organization that I have worked for which has employee development as part of their review process has asked for employee input. To NOT do so is a bit of elitist snobbery. (oh, wait, the OP is in higher education; I should make some sort of joke about how folks in higher Ed know "better" than the rest of the common folk; especially non-academic types.)

    So, OP, here's a development area of your own that seriously needs work – your prejudices, especially age bias!

    Everything that was mentioned was good; except for age. It isn't relevant, why mention it? Unless, of course, the OP thought it WAS relevant. Bigot!

    As an "older" (in my 50s) adult looking for work I have found such ignorance to be appalling; and, unfortunately, somewhat widespread.

    My age shows experience – not inability. got it?

  3. Two of my favorite professional development books that are great for anyone:

    "Rules of the Red Rubber Ball" by Kevin Carroll – Newsweek calls it the adult version of Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go!"

    The other one is "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. Excellent advice on relationship building.

  4. One thing I have asked our Receptionists to do this year – although this is an objective, over and above their daily tasks, rather than a pure 'development' activity – is to capture all the things they do so wonderfully (and they do) in a process manual, so that anyone else coming in to cover Reception, whether as a temporary or permanent member of staff, can quickly get up to speed. It's been something different for them, and they have enjoyed the challenge. At least, so they tell me, but perhaps they are just being polite! 🙂

  5. Great advice from everyone, thank you very much. I will definitely get her for input on development areas.

    Charles, thank you for your comments about my prejudices – I had not seen that but you are correct that it's inappropriate. I am 51 and would bristle if anyone considered me too old for a job or too old to improve or progress. That's not what I meant to imply, but I see that it comes across that way.

  6. One of the best business books (and the most depressing, because every Glamour Don't that the author listed was something my company was doing) I've ever read is "From Good to Great."

  7. I love SarahC's suggestion. It's something I tend to do by default (because by the time I know my job well I always feel that there were things left out of training) and it's great practice for anyone with a passing interest in writing, training, or the combination of both.

  8. A very nice book tha I read many years ago – and still reading from time to time – is Rick Pitino's "Success is a choice". Very inspiring book and fun to read. Greetings to all from Greece!

  9. "CEO":

    The chief cause of worker unhappiness in the workplace is environmental (employees tend to adopt the attitude of their coworkers over time, and if everyone around them is unhappy and frustrated, they are too, regardless of their actual work situation). This costs the company money in turnover and low productivity. The best way to combat these to to improve workplace morale. Without it, the business loses money. It's just that simple.

    Most of the readers here are involved in HR, OD, OE, TA, or TM. These types of things are what we are here to encourage. Personally, I appreciate having an environment that is not as banal and rude as most of the rest of the forum-space on the internet. People here are civil, and want to help.

  10. I definitely agree with the advice to ask her and that a class might be the answer. I know many companies have in-house education courses, but utilizing a local college or seminar is often a nice change for employees. Maybe it's brushing up on a foreign language or technology or even an entirely new endeavor that the company's considering taking on. Sometimes being the guinea pig for the department is exciting and lets employees give input in areas they normally aren't that involved in.

  11. If she is so fabulously wonderful, perhaps she could develop some mentoring skills and provide some training or coaching for other staff. Or she could take on a role as part of company induction/orientation where she models good customer service.

  12. Something that I've learned is never take anyone for granted. Add some tasks that add value and relieve boredom.

    As for the so-called CEO – why are you so angry at HR?

  13. CEO's comment is not even logical.

    Of course most of the comments are going to be praise. If someone reads the posts and usually disagrees they won't keep reading. They'll go read something else. Why should there be a bunch of people saying they hate the posts?

    EHRL does give good advice, so why shouldn't we say so? It's not as if most people don't also post their own opinions or ideas as well.

    Honestly, I've seen better comments from spam bots.

  14. I am a new reader, but I must say –
    I love it already. This advice blew my mind not once, but twice. The first time – 'wow, what a great idea' the second – 'why didn't i even consider that a solution when i read the question?!'

    Thanks for your blog, its wonderful to have insight into your profession. As a recent college graduate, it is easy to assume that the HR people are out to ruin us 'new professionals'

    Have a great Monday!!

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