Whitney Johnson explains how to develop employees to help grow your business


Leaders who really want their people to learn and grow need to be willing to let them say “no” when they’re asked to do assignments or tasks that could sidetrack or derail their development, maintains leadership coach Whitney Johnson.

The CEO of talent development company Disruption Advisors is a proponent of the S Curve of Learning, where the bottom of the S is the launch point where growth is slow, the middle of the S is the sweet spot where learning takes off, and the top of the S is where mastery of a subject or job occurs. Johnson said leaders need to understand that “if I can grow my people, I can grow my organization.”

Johnson shared her insights into talent development and its benefits to organizations large and small in the August episode of the 21st Century Business Forum, a monthly webcast that features one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s most prominent business minds and thought leaders. Click here to watch the program with Whitney Johnson on demand.

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Johnson said being at the bottom of the S curve requires employees to say “yes” to a lot of things in order to expose themselves to new ideas and concepts. However, as employees move along into the sweet spot of learning it is important to say “no” to some things so that their progress isn’t impeded.

“The reason we need to say ‘no’ is that, in order to maintain that momentum on the curve, you have to focus,” much as you would if you were driving a car really fast, said the author of “Disrupt Yourself” and her latest book, “Smart Growth.”

“And the ability to say ‘no will allow you say ‘yes’ when it matters most,” Johnson said.

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As for managing people at the top of the S curve, it’s critical to give them new challenges — either through new assignments or helping others along the S curve — in order to retain what Johnson calls their “latent innovative capacity.”

Johnson maintains that the S Curve of Learning can be a great retention tool if leaders show their people a willingness to help them grow. Because if people are able to grow, “they will stay and continue to grow with your company rather than leave and grow someplace else,” she said.

This willingness of people to leave the organizations for which they’ve worked has been manifested since the COVID-19 pandemic in what has been called “The Great Resignation” — but which Johnson calls “The Great Aspiration.”

“The Great Resignation implies that people are giving up, that people are saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore,'” Johnson said.

But in Johnson’s view, the pandemic gave people time to reflect on their lives and realize that they are more resilient than they thought they were. Instead throwing in the towel, Johnson said, “People now are saying, ‘I can’t, I won’t go back to what I was doing.'”

“People now are aspiring to a better life, saying ‘I want more; I want better,'” she said, and those organizations that can help them fulfill their aspirations will be the beneficiaries going forward.

The Business Forum is presented by BizTimes Media and sponsored by Johnson Financial Group.

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