Grow from the inside out

Winter’s over, so it felt necessary to kick off a blog post about personal growth in the workplace with a skiing analogy. If you’ve never been skiing, feel free to swap out “skis” with an outdoor activity of your choice. Other than sitting on the patio drinking beers, since that won’t really work with our example. Let’s get back on track though.

Take two relative newcomers to the sport. They’ve got the basic fundamentals down – they know how to turn, stop, and generally do a good job of not killing themselves. But then they take two diverging choices going forward: skier A (we’ll call her Sally) decides to try things outside of her comfort zone, runs that are scary and a little beyond her ability but give her something to work on. Skier B (who we’ll just call Anna) decides to play it safe on the runs she knows she can handle.

They’ll both improve because the practice can make perfect.

Anna will get better at turns, and be more comfortable getting down the intermediate runs she’s been on. She might even get comfortable with intermediate runs faster than Sally will. But after a while, skiing might start to get boring. It’ll be too easy. Maybe she starts challenging herself more, or maybe she just decides she’s over it and moves on to another pastime.

Sally, on the other hand, has some pretty spectacular wipeouts and definitely struggles from time to time. But one day she realizes she just bombed down three straight double blacks without thinking twice, and she falls head over heels in love with the sport. Sally is likely to keep seeking out new challenges as a result. She might go down the easier runs with Anna sometimes, and she notices Anna’s improvement, but she’s amazed by how good she is now.

Think of work as the runs on the mountain

Like everything else in life, most employees and job seekers are looking for opportunities for personal growth. They want to take on new challenges, to get better at various skill sets, to feel genuinely accomplished when completing tasks, not just happy they’re done with them. The main point in life is to keep growing, to experience new things, to improve oneself and continuously find meaning – people need to get that from their jobs to stay satisfied.

When people feel these opportunities in a genuine way, they’re more motivated, more engaged with the various tasks and projects at hand. We’ve gone over how important employee engagement is in a previous post if you want to check it out. In turn, the motivation and growth of each individual in a company will naturally create the same phenomena for the company as a whole, completely organically.

An easy part is the challenge

That is, encouraging people to be challenging. Not in an abrasive or confrontational manner, but in the way those famous old dudes from Greece’s heyday did it. You know, the good ol’ socratic method. Looking at projects from all angles, with different people from different corners all providing their unique perspectives until the best course of action is landed on.

Challenging yourself, and taking in projects from all different angles not only fosters personal growth, it also prevents you from falling into that trap: routine. Routine is stagnation, sputtering out, or simply going “splat” when something is gone. It’s when employees eyes start wandering elsewhere. So, though we know it might sound a little counterintuitive, challenging people is a great way to keep them happy, as they feel more rewarded when they’re able to accomplish their tasks in new ways.

Remember work is part of life. Not all of it.

We know, we know. It’s so common it’s a cliche by now, and we’ve touched on it before. So we won’t dwell. But make sure people can enjoy their outside passions. Because you never know when those may come full circle to help a project in an unexpected way. Everything we do informs, well, everything we do. So it’s in everybody’s best interests to stay well rounded, so they have a broader array of influences to draw from in every project they work on.

It can actually be harmful for people to only do what their company is doing. When you’re too wrapped up in what you’re doing, it can be easy to lose sight of what the outside world, or most importantly, a potential customer, thinks. Allowing your employees to lead well-rounded lives ensures they’re able to keep things in perspective, which will make them happier overall.

Try the anti-assignment method

Many companies have begun encouraging employees to take some time during their work weeks to pursue passion projects. Google’s probably the most famous example, and is sometimes credited with starting the trend. But these projects are famous for a reason – many of Google’s most essential projects came out of their lauded “Google 20” program, which encourages employees to work on things outside of their assignments 20% of the time they’re in the office. The results speak for themselves: Gmail, Adsense, and Google Maps are just a few of the services that came out as a result.

Invest in your personal growth

Contrary to popular belief, we’ve seen 12-year-old dogs learn how to roll over. So not that we’re calling anybody elderly, but there’s always room to learn more. And, in learning more, you might discover hidden talents and passions. Worst case scenario? You’re now familiar with a different field, so as far as we’re concerned, it’s about as “win-win” of a situation as it can be.

How can you do this? Consider investing in education programs – these days there are millions of options to choose from. From helping people pursue advanced degrees in night classes, to providing online access to tools like Lynda or Code School, the sky is truly the limit. Better yet? Start one of your own! Encourage employees across disciplines to teach one another their skills. After all, teaching is the best way to strengthen your knowledge of anything.

Practice what ya preach

Your role as an office manager should never limit you in any capacity. You should feel just as inspired and engaged as the people you’re in charge of. Find ways to keep growing yourself – be it in any, all, or none of the ways covered above. Because if you’re not experiencing personal growth, how are you going to help your team accomplish that?

Growing up can be fun!

Enjoy growing up. There, we said it.

For some reason, the notion of “growing up” can have negative connotations to some. There’s this fear that, in doing so, you have to become serious. But who says growing up means you can’t have fun? Sure, there may be more responsibilities in adulthood, but there’s also more freedom. More possibility to find and pursue different passions.

So embrace personal growth in the office. Celebrate the ways the people you’re working with are growing. If you hear they’re worried growing up means losing their sense of fun, talk to them to figure out how you can help start making it happen. When people are getting the opportunities to grow, to be challenged and heard, it comes surprisingly naturally. Work on creating an environment where everybody’s on the same team rather than jostling amongst the office to be heard.

And when you’re always growing, there’s no telling where you’ll end up going.