Guest Blog  – Created by Gerald Walsh Associates Inc.

One of the best ways to retain key employees is to give them interesting and challenging things to do. When you expose high-potential staff to development opportunities, you help them learn. In turn, you increase your pool of leadership talent and you reduce the risk and cost of turnover.

But with organizations slimming down, how do you develop key employees when few opportunities exist within your company? Consider these options:

Small projects and start-ups
There are numerous small projects an employee can undertake from planning a company meeting to installing a new process to making speeches. Depending on the nature of the work, projects of this type develop skills in planning, negotiation, persuasion, and communication. They also develop leadership skills when the employee is held personally accountable for the success of the project. Other ideas for small start-up projects include: chairing a task force to study a business problem, working in other business units, launching a new product or service, handling a negotiation with a major customer, and presenting an important proposal to senior management.

These projects involve fixing or solving a problem. Often this means being involved in emotionally charged, high conflict situations where patience, tack and facilitation are required. Examples of effective projects of this type include: arbitrating a major conflict between two staff members, supervising a cost-cutting initiative, and dealing with a major business crisis.

Strategic assignments
Activities of this type help encourage a manager to think strategically rather than operationally. Examples of strategic assignments include writing a policy statement, preparing a competitive analysis, conducting a post-mortem of a failed project, or facilitating a SWOT analysis at a planning meeting. These assignments help managers develop the skills to cope with ambiguous, uncertain situations where there are no clearly defined rules or procedures in place. They will also help them understand the big picture.

Activities outside of work
Engaging in volunteer work or community service, joining professional organizations, or coaching minor sports, will help up-and-comers develop their leadership skills and strengthen their capabilities in working with new people. They may also develop business relationships that can help grow your business.

Coursework and coaching assignments
Managers who teach or design courses, or who coach others, develop skills in communication, public speaking and leadership. Those who become students by taking courses themselves have an opportunity to reflect on their values and learning patterns through exposure to other participants, respected instructors, and leading-edge ideas.