Here Are Eight Tips for Helping Your People Reach Their Potential

So you’ve just hired a new operator who shows great promise. The way you lead will determine to what extent that person excels.

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It’s tough finding young, high-quality operators to replace those retiring. It’s harder to keep them in the face of competing offers from other utilities. It’s harder still to make sure they live up to the potential you saw when you hired them.

Fortunately, as a supervisor or manager, you have the power to help set new people on a course for successful careers and for a long stay at your facility. Here are some tried and true ways to keep new team members engaged with your operation and help them make career progress.

Help them set goals. Early in their tenure, sit down with them and discuss what areas of the profession they find the most interesting. Some may aspire to leadership roles. Others may want to specialize in one area of operations. Some might not be sure at such an early stage what direction to take. Whatever the case, to the extent possible, work with each person on a plan that moves them in the direction they desire.

Devise ways to measure progress. This might entail setting a target timetable for mastering a process — being able to operate it. It might include a schedule for achieving the different levels of licensing. Given goals to work toward, people tend to see work life from a bigger perspective than merely showing up and completing daily tasks.

Cross-train. Even those who prefer to specialize can benefit from knowing many or all aspects of treatment plant operation. After all, a plant is not a collection of disconnected processes but an integrated, functioning whole. It’s the same with an operations team. Well-rounded people will be more valuable to your facility and better prepared for new opportunities, whether in your facility or at their next job.

Give feedback continuously. Don’t wait for an annual review to give critiques, suggestions or praise. Make it a habit to speak to team members regularly. Give guidance. Show that you notice when they’re performing well, or when they go above and beyond to meet a challenge. Let them know how they’re progressing in line with the goals they set and the performance measurement you mutually agreed to. Ideally, in annual reviews, there should be no surprises.

Help them build a network. Take new team members on visits to neighboring facilities. Get them involved in local and statewide operator associations, and encourage them to take part actively, by serving on committees and boards of directors. Such connections can help them grow both personally and professionally.

Invest in their success. Allocate funds to pay for their attendance at state and national conferences, short schools, seminars and other educational events. Also budget money to help them defray the cost of attaining higher levels of licensure. Provide salary incentives for taking steps up the certification ladder.

Give them free rein. Provide room for new team members to take initiative, to think for themselves, to offer suggestions. Let them know that they are integral parts of the team and that their expertise and ideas are valued.

Walk the talk. Show your new team members that you practice what you preach by following your own professional development plan and building and sustaining a professional network.

If you follow these steps, you’ll help your entire team perform better and set your new team members on a solid course. You might even improve the odds of their staying even if lured by higher pay from a larger organization.

If they feel they are gaining more than a paycheck — if they value being appreciated, being on a defined development path, learning constantly, having their voice heard — they may find it in their interests to stay with a good thing, instead of seeking greener pastures.

Even if they do leave, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you helped them progress toward their career objectives. They might even become recruiters for you — telling aspiring young professionals that yours is a great place to start.   


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