Whether they’re CEOs or first-time managers, leaders’ primary accountability is the same: leading and developing team members so the business can continue to grow. While leaders of all levels may understand this aspect of their jobs, many are unsure about the best way to accomplish it.

The first step in mastering the skill of employee development and coaching is to know the strengths, motivators and blind spots of each person on the team. Understanding their strengths enables a manager to assign tasks that play to those strengths, and knowing their blind spots enables him or her to make sure other team members cover them. Using their motivators to engage them in work that’s meaningful will keep them thriving in a role.

Assessments Take the Guesswork Out of Managing

What’s the easiest, quickest and most effective way to understand your team members? Using assessments.

Through a series of questions, assessments evaluate how people respond to problems and challenges, how they influence others, how they respond to the pace of their environment, and how they relate to rules and procedures. Assessments also reveal motivators and competencies. Taken together, this information creates a profile of how someone prefers to communicate, the environment in which they work best and the value they bring to the organization. In other words, it details their strengths.

Assessments also help uncover blind spots that team members may or may not be aware of. One leader had an “aha” moment when her assessment revealed that she tended to struggle with time management and organization. Having this awareness gave her two choices: She could either delegate these tasks to others or take steps to acquire these skills. To decide on the best course of action, she took a careful look at her key accountabilities.

Use Key Accountabilities as a Frame for Evaluating Job Fit

Key accountabilities, defined every 12 to 18 months, are not only a tool for making sure that team members are aligned with the goals of the organization; they’re also a vital frame for ensuring that an individual’s strengths are matched to his or her role. If someone with poor organization skills has been assigned the task of creating a more efficient invoicing process, that person has been set up to fail.

Leaders must ensure that team members are set up to succeed. The research is quite clear that when managers tell employees what they do well and start drawing on those strengths, those people become top performers.

When the leader reflected on her current accountabilities, she noted that she relied on other team members for help with organization. But she also recognized that the role she aspired to would require her to be more focused and efficient, so she sought a coach to learn how to manage time, space and paper.

Individual Professional Development Plans Keep Your Team Learning and Growing

The possibility of acquiring new skills naturally points to another useful tool for developing team members: an individual professional development plan.

If assessments are useful for creating self-awareness, individual professional development plans turn that awareness into action. They ask team members to reflect on how their strengths and blind spots intersect with their current role as well as roles they might aspire to. While these plans can take many forms, the best ask questions like these:

  • Based on your goals, roles and key accountabilities, which strengths would be useful for you to continue to develop?
  • Are there any blind spots that you need to discuss with others so they can help cover them?
  • Are there any competencies you need to develop?
  • Which competencies are you committed to developing in the next three to six months?

Individual professional development plans have additional benefits as well. Team members feel valued when leaders invest time and energy in their development. It can increase retention rates, especially among younger generations; according to Gallup, 87 percent of millennials say development is important in a job, which is why many companies consider it essential for retention.

Individual professional development plans also encourage team members to take ownership of their own learning and career paths by reading on relevant topics, taking courses online, attending outside seminars, or seeking mentors or coaches.

When leaders can see that someone on their team has one set of competencies and someone else has another set of competencies, there’s clarity about the group’s collective skill gaps. Leaders can then hire more effectively to close those gaps or create a development strategy to address them. Either way, there’s less “managing in the dark” and a more intentional approach to growth.

Assessments, key accountabilities and individual professional development plans are important tools for creating a high-performing team and a culture of continuous learning. When everyone on the team understands their strengths, they can say yes to the tasks they’re best suited for. When everyone has an awareness of their blind spots, they can communicate with others about how best to cover them. When you have a whole group of people doing that, then you know you’re building a high-performing team and succeeding as a leader.