The Adaptive Agency Blog

My Employee Growth Model

by | Mar 10, 2023 | Talent

Employee turnover is the worst: you lose someone good, AND you have to try to find someone new, AND you have to train them, AND you have to hope they work out.

Even worse, you lost that employee’s future potential forever.

When I came to Client Focus, I wanted to leverage talent assets, not just manage labor costs. I knew that the key to leveraging talent is to make sure they’re growing and developing. My hypothesis was something like this:

  1. If they’re growing, they can visualize their future pay going up.
  2. If #1 is true, they’ll stay longer.
  3. If #1 and #2 are true, they’ll do amazing work without supervision.

But “leveraging talent” was too broad and generic. We needed a repeatable way to help employees grow.

So I developed a framework: “The Employee Growth Model.

Our leaders use it to identify where employees are in their journey and pinpoint how to elevate them.

Today I’m sharing it with you. It’s one of the best things I’ve invented, and it’s yours to steal.


Stage 1: New

At this stage, a brand-new employee hasn’t gotten to know us yet. Our job is to make a great first impression and help them feel that they belong.


Stage 2: Safe

Most employees come from jobs where supervisors used threats and coercion as motivators. If employees shared good ideas, they got in trouble. If they were a high performer but showed up 3 minutes late, they got in trouble. If they took initiative, they got in trouble. If they made an honest mistake…you get the picture.

Not getting in trouble is a full-time job in some places.

By the time they come to us, employees are looking over their shoulders, instinctively figuring out how not to get fired.

So our job is to help them realize that we care primarily about their contribution and their fulfillment. We’re not looking for reasons to fire them. We want to elevate them. And we’re willing to wait for them to believe it. (That usually takes 3-6 months.)

If we don’t make that a priority, they’ll revert to staying out of trouble. That means avoiding risks, doing the minimum, and covering up their mistakes. It means we can’t get them to the next stage.


Stage 3: Aligned

Once we’ve earned their trust, their shields come down.

Now we can really help them align with our purpose and our values. We can get them on board with our agenda for elevating their careers.

Lots of evangelizing happens at this stage. We have programs in place to help them understand and embrace our vision. We also spend time understanding them and aligning with their needs. (Alignment is a mutual thing.)


Stage 4: Empowered

This stage comes after Aligned for a reason: if someone is empowered without being aligned, they might do the wrong things very well. Ouch.

But with alignment in place, we can help them get way better at the job. That includes things such as:

  • making sure they understand what success looks like
  • helping them master the tools and resources available
  • providing ongoing coaching and mentoring from leaders and experts
  • praising them as they grow and rack up bigger wins


Stage 5: Independent

We hope that all of our employees reach this stage.

Independent means they don’t need to be managed. They understand the underlying principles of the job, and they govern themselves. Their manager’s job is to support them, show encouragement and appreciation, and make sure they’re thriving and fulfilled.

Imagine a team full of independent employees! How would that transform your business?

But we haven’t reached the top. One more to go…


Stage 6: Self-Determining

This is the top of the mountain. At this point, we work for them. They’re the experts, and they tell us what they need. They optimize, innovate, and solve problems better and faster than we can.

Our job is to make sure we’ve cleared the road ahead of them and to say “Thank you!” often.

These folks are going to leave us to make a lot more money. But until they do, their work will be amazing, and they’ll elevate everyone around them.

When they leave, we’ll throw a party for them and put their “Career Hacker” plaque on the wall.

New employees look at these folks with amazement and ask, “How can they be like that?” It’s fabulous marketing for recruiting.


A Few Notes

These stages obviously aren’t discrete steps in a staircase. They’re on a continuum. But identifying where an employee is makes it easier to sort out what to do next.

We do this assessment every month. My People Operations Manager meets with each leader to see how their people are coming along. Then he reports to me about every employee.

(It’s a lot—we have about 100 employees—but it’s the most important thing we do.)

If you want to give this model a shot—even just as a thought exercise—here’s an easy way:

1. Create a table with 3 columns:

  • Employee Name
  • Current Growth Model stage
  • What you’ll do next to help them advance

2. Fill it out every month.

You may find a way that works better for you. Go for it!

But come what may, I promise that your time is better spent thinking about how to develop talent than how to replace talent.