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My little vegetable plot at home – guarded by my Welsh Dragon!

Like every gardener, I know how good it feels to nurture something and watch it grow.

You plant it. You feed it with the right stuff. And then watch it bloom.

It’s amazing.

Now you know where I’m heading with this, don’t you?

People aren’t plants. But if you’re leading a big organisation, and you want to get the best out of committed and talented employees, you have to grow their confidence, skills and influence.

And to do that, you have to provide them with the right environment, support and intellectual food.

People are definitely not plants! All I’m saying is that nothing grows if you don’t provide it with the things it needs.

At Wrexham Council, I like to think we do our best to help employees grow.

You can’t give everyone everything they want. In the current climate, you can’t fund every course or piece of training. Or give everyone the opportunities they need. But you can do your best.

Here’ a little story.

Some time ago, I asked a colleague who worked on one of our reception desks how she’d like to develop her career.

“Well…I want your job.”

She said it with total conviction.

I was thrown for a moment, and then I thought “how great is that?” Because it showed that she felt positive about the environment here, and saw it as a place where she could develop.

She was a modern apprentice at the time, which made it seem even more powerful. And she went on to gain employment here, which was great.

In fact, 85% of our apprentices go on to gain employment at Wrexham Council, which is a nice example of how we try to grow our people.

The other 15% nearly always go on to study or work somewhere else.

We’ve been running the scheme for 10 years now, and take in around 10 to 15 new apprentices every September.

One of the people who made up that very first intake in 2004 is part of our Architectural Services team. Did the scheme help?

“Yes” he says. “It was a good initial stepping stone that helped open up opportunities further down the line.

“The scheme gives you the chance to build some experience and demonstrate your potential at an early stage in your career. It’s a good thing.”

Here’s another example of helping staff grow their skills.

Six years ago, a young guy called Aled Pugh-Jones joined us from the private sector.

His job? Helping to look after important physical assets like our school buildings, public buildings, commercial properties and so on.

It was clear to Aled’s managers from the very start that he was a committed employee with bags of potential.

So, over the past five years, we’ve supported him through his studies at Glyndwr University.

He’s just achieved a 2:1 degree in Construction Management.

Has it helped?

“Definitely”, he says.

“I came from a hands-on job previously, so getting back into the academic side of things was great.

“It gave me more confidence, increased my knowledge and gave me ideas and techniques that have really helped me in my role at Wrexham Council.

“Studying and understanding some of the deeper aspects of your profession can also really enhance your appetite for what you do, and help open doors in the future.”

Of course, sometimes it’s about helping people learn completely new skills – rather than developing existing skills.

We launched a scheme called GROW not long ago. It stands for Growth and Redeployment Opportunities for the Workforce.

Employees who find themselves at risk of being made redundant can apply for help developing new skills and qualifications.

It doesn’t mean someone can apply for funding to train as an astronaut.

The idea is to help people acquire the skills needed to take on a different but much-needed function at Wrexham Council.

return on investment?

Now it’s great to see employees grow like this, but what’s in it for the employer? What’s the return?

Well, the first thing we need to recognise is this:

  1. Our best employees probably have a disproportionately positive impact on our organisations. If not, then at the very least they have the potential to make a disproportionate impact.
  1. Our best employees will also have the easiest time finding employment elsewhere. They’re more likely to move on.

Giving employees the chance to grow their skills and influence helps you a) tap into their ability to have an abnormally positive impact and b) gives you a better chance of retaining them.

The second point is important.

Providing them with opportunities for professional development – even if it doesn’t add up to promotion or a pay-rise – can help you keep them for longer.

Money is important. But money isn’t the only motivator (read my earlier article ‘M for Motivation’ for more thoughts on this).

Conclusion?

Growing and nurturing the confidence, skills and influence of staff – particularly your most talented people – can help you get more out of them, and retain them for longer.

It’s a rationale business strategy.