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Counseling for success.


Career planning: You did it before graduating. You did it vigorously when you were looking for a job. You did it as you were climbing the ladder of success. Now you're an association executive, and you're doing it with your staff. Right?

Maybe not. Most association executives probably do not perceive themselves as career guidance counselors. But many would agree that they care about their employees and want to help them grow so that both the association and its employees stand stronger.

You can play a key role in guiding the careers of your staff by employing career counseling skills to motivate and challenge staff and by incorporating techniques to round out your personnel management program.

The development process

Once your association's structure is sound--its vision is concise and realistic, its mission and objectives are clear, its process for recruiting and slotting the right employees in the right jobs is in place--you're in a good position to guide and shape your staff's careers. Just as when you're planning your own career, following an organized process can be very useful when you're helping your staff with theirs. At the Minnesota Grocers Association (MGA), St. Paul, we follow these steps.

1. Assessing self. Staff members start by evaluating their skills, abilities, interests, and values. They answer such questions as "Who am I?" and "Where do I want to go from here?" The primary goal of this step is to help people construct a picture of the long-term direction of their careers with the association. This information can also help when considering long-range staffing needs. Our staff have used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and other instruments to enhance their understanding of themselves and co-workers.

2. Assessing the environment. At MGA, staff members assess their work setting, geographic, and socio-cultural preferences. Some might argue that staff should accept what the association is able to provide. However, we encourage input and make every effort to provide people with those resources that help them enjoy their jobs. We maintain an attractive, modern office with the latest technology to enable people to perform at a high level.

3. Analyzing options. Analyzing options means matching skills, abilities, and interests with job titles or positions, both for incoming and current staff. The idea is to talk with the employee and create a list of every possible job he or she might qualify for. As the architect of the staff structure, your job is to slot the correct employee into the correct position. It is much easier to match employee to position if you know what you and the employee are looking for.

4. Focusing the search. In this step, we research all options with the goal of finding one or a few jobs to thoroughly evaluate. We make it clear to our staff that career growth can be achieved within the association.

5. Zeroing in. You can encourage and guide staff to take the necessary steps to prepare for a different or higher position even before such a position is open. You do this by helping staff set targets based on conclusions formed in the first four steps. Targeting positions is a positive not just for the staff member but for the organization, too. Change is the constant in every organization, and having people ready to assume new or expanded positions or replace people who have departed is critical.

6. Pursuing the position. We encourage staff to pursue new positions or expand their present jobs. People who can sell themselves will also use those skills to sell your organization. And by promoting from within when possible, you create a positive, growth-oriented climate.

Development in action

At MGA, we have gradually employed career development concepts in our personnel management program. Our objective is to develop and maintain a dynamic, cohesive, responsive, and results-oriented staff. We give high priority to fitting people with the right jobs, maintaining regular communication, and keeping attuned to the need for adjustments.

In 1985 we initiated a staff reorganization to better serve members. Previously, the staff consisted of a chief staff person, an assistant, and three clerical personnel. With the reorganization, several major changes were planned, and we needed energetic, skilled people to implement new member programs and services.

The initial reorganization added staff specialists to perform communication, government affairs, member services, and meeting planning functions. Thereafter we added financial, sales, and marketing positions. In addition, we retained specialized expertise for legal, auditing, public relations, insurance, and other services.

Early in the reorganization, we retained a personnel consultant to assist with analyzing and evaluating all jobs to help us design positions that would best meet our needs. We also assembled model position descriptions and a salary structure.

The initial challenge was making significant changes on limited financial resources. This is a common difficulty with most small associations. We accomplished it by hiring entry-level people with the understanding that considerable on-the-job training would be required. Subsequently, as new programs have been developed and income increased, salaries have grown, enabling us to retain our staff.

Our personnel program incorporates the following 10 elements to enhance and reinforce staff growth and development.

1. Guiding management principles. We believe it is important to clarify the values and principles staff can expect from management. These principles are embodied in what we say and are printed in the preamble of our employee handbook, so employees are familiar with them from the start. They are * Believe in people. * Grow in self-esteem. * Promote a sense of achievement. * Help each other. * Encourage open communication. * Commit to excellence. * Reserve the right to make mistakes. * Promote training and development. * Properly insure the organization against difficulties and conflicts that might arise--and ensure that organizational structure is sound. * Manage with goals.

2. Orientation and training. When a new employee begins a career with MGA, he or she is thoroughly trained and oriented to association practices and procedures. Our belief is that each new employee should start with a solid foundation and be given the ability to create and adjust thereafter. When necessary, outside training is used to better prepare the new employee for his or her position.

For example, we have put our new salespeople, who are typically entry level, through a three-day sales training course. We've also used a one-day course provided by a placement agency. This course offers incoming support staff training on how to work well in a business environment.

Depending upon the position, other staff may perform the in-house portion of the orientation or I may do it. To ensure that orientation is complete, we designed a checklist of all planned orientation activities, and I go through this list with the new employee after the orientation process.

New staff are introduced to our career development process and encouraged to develop a plan with short- and long-term goals.

3. Employee handbook. The employee handbook is carefully tailored and concise. It's updated on a regular basis to clarify the policies, procedures, and boundaries necessary to function within the organization. It covers office and personnel procedures, compensation, reimbursement, benefits, leave, and separation policies. It also states the guiding management principles and commitment to promotion from within.

4. Position descriptions. Each employee is given a position description when he or she starts with the association or moves to a new position within it. The description provides a format and base from which to grow and develop. Thereafter each person maintains and amends the position description as needed with the guidance and approval of his or her supervisor.

Also included in the position descriptions are measurement indicators. For example, if part of a government relations staffer's position description is to prepare budgets for department activities, the measurement indicators will be items such as the existence, quality, accuracy, and timeliness of those budgets.

I review position descriptions annually or more frequently if needed. In addition, by dating and saving position descriptions we are able to track the level of growth for each person. It is an excellent way to monitor progress.

5. Goal setting. Each staff person establishes annual and quarterly goals with guidance from his or her supervisor. All goals are tied to the association's goals. Evaluations, assessments, and adjustments are made at quarterly meetings between me and staff members. My role is to develop and discuss the association's goals and provide a sense of overall direction during this meeting. This guidance is vital for helping staff understand where the organization is going and how they can contribute to its success through their work.

6. Performance appraisals. Coinciding with the annual review, each person conducts his or her own self-appraisal using a specially designed form. Using their position descriptions and annual goals, staff identify successes and shortcomings, update action plans, and review tactics with their supervisor. This is the time to conduct a formal discussion of a person's career with the association, although staff are encouraged to address issues as they arise. It is at this point that I formally assist individual staff members in applying the six steps of career development outlined earlier.

7. Staff meetings. Once a week, the staff meets at a regularly scheduled time to update and communicate association activities and schedules. All staff take their turns leading these 30-minute meetings. In addition, the assigned leader of the next meeting provides an inspirational, motivational, or entertaining message at the end of the meeting. The most unique meeting capper was when a staff person brought in a ventriloquist for a 10-minute performance. Through serving as meeting leader, people learn to take the lead and develop self-confidence. It has proven to be an excellent way for people to get to know one another better and work together. The meetings also enable everyone to know what is going on throughout the association.

8. Flexible scheduling. One of the best ways to attract and retain quality people is by using flexible scheduling. While this is not possible for all positions, it can be used as needed. We have staff who job-share, work reduced hours, work in their homes, or work part time. However, everyone affected by a flexible schedule must understand what the schedule is and feel comfortable with the arrangement. As career plans change, we have made adjustments to keep veteran staff involved. This has made a win-win situation for staff and the association. Financially, flexible scheduling may not make a great difference other than possible reductions in benefits cost to the association. But the association will retain people who know its functions and missions well and can train newer staffers in these areas. It also never hurts to have two sets of thoughts and ideas as well as two sets of skills for the price of one.

9. Informal updates. I periodically visit each staff person to discuss progress on projects, future plans, or general impressions. Most of these visits are in the staff person's office or work site and take 5-20 minutes. It is an excellent opportunity to offer input and be alerted to special situations. Career development is an ongoing process and should be monitored frequently.

Recently, for example, one of my staff members had become disenchanted with his position. He worked with publications but had also done some public relations work and found himself more drawn to the latter. I happened to chat with him one day, and this issue emerged. We were able to discuss it and make some changes in the focus of his work. It is possible he would have sought employment elsewhere if we had not talked.

10. Staff retreat. Once a year, our staff goes to a retreat center for a two-day outing. The retreat enables us to get away from the distractions of the office; permits us to devote our attention toward team building and personal and professional development; and provides an opportunity for each individual to review what he or she is doing and how it relates to other staff. While organizational objectives are important, the emphasis of the retreat is to build a cohesive staff and enhance understanding and appreciation of each other.

At the outset, the staff reviews and reaffirms ground rules, and thereafter an outside facilitator guides the group through predetermined activities. All staff members are included in the overnight retreat, which has yielded many excellent policies. For example, we use the opportunity to revisit the goals we set the year before and to reassess the ground rules we've set for working with each other. So these valuable parts of our work do not get lost.

At MGA, we have found that with a solid personnel development program people understand, accept, and work with each other better and develop negotiation skills to resolve conflicts in a positive manner. We have been able to create a work environment in which people can develop their careers with the association and establish the right fit to the job, the organization, the work environment, and the membership the association represents.

I encourage you to consider the career counselor approach in your personnel management scheme. Career planning is preparing yourself and your staff to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. As a popular 1970s self-help book aptly stated in its title, If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else.

Joel R. Hoiland, CAE, is president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, St. Paul.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:career planning of staff members
Author:Hoiland, Joel R.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:A good place to work: how to get, keep, and support a committed staff.
Next Article:Flexible benefit plans.

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