The Discipleship Repository – A Powerful Employee Development Tool

Several months ago I sat down to write my position agreement, the CEO’s position agreement. The intention wasn’t necessarily to write this for a future CEO, I’m having too much fun so I’m not going anywhere. The intention was to codify for myself what the CEO should be focusing on daily and what, when I get caught up in something else, I need to always fall back onto when it’s time to refocus. Maybe this is revealing too much, but I don’t think CEO’s are any different from anyone else, there are times when I’m not quite sure what I should be doing next. There is such a breadth of options that I tend to get to something that makes me busy, and thus feeling like I accomplished something, instead of working on the things I need to be working on. I have to admit, after I put this together it has truly kept me focused and focused on the right things. It hangs on my wall. It is reviewed once or twice a week. If you haven’t done this for yourself, I’d highly recommend it.

As I set out to compile this agreement, the first thing, the most important thing was staring me in the face – Employee Development. For me, for JEBCommerce, and I think for any company that wants to go beyond financial success to something truly significant, Employee Development must play a vital role, if not the core role of the CEO and the organization. So that is where I started. After several drafts, this section came to light quite clearly:

Continually and regularly working with employees to teach them the skills they need in order to excel in their position, help them identify obstacles, stumbling blocks and blind spots that are keeping them from achieving their full potential, both professionally and personally and empower them to do the same with their direct reports. The obstacles and struggles that they present in their work are rarely limited to their professional life, they have an effect in their personal as well. It is the CEO’s role to help the staff use their job and their time at JEB to become a better individual in all aspects of their life. Primarily done through the Employee Development weekly meeting, Discipleship Repository and the DM skills training.

“…to help the staff use their job and their time at JEB to become a better individual in all aspects of their life.” This is my favorite part of this portion of the agreement I’ve made with myself. This is what gets me up in the morning – to help each of my team mates better their lives, not just their work life, but their whole life. I love it and it makes JEBCommerce truly a special place. And I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen wounded thoroughbreds use their time here to get back on track. I’ve seen overwhelmed and stressed individuals find a happier and more productive path in their life. It’s amazing to see and I’m fortunate to be a part of that process.

As stated above, one of the methods we use is the Discipleship Repository. I learned what I’m about to share from the amazing pastors and teachers in my church who spend their entire life building and strengthening relationships with those in their flock to enable them to have more full lives. Which is exactly what we believe Employee Development to be and why the DR is so important.

The Discipleship Repository (DR from now on) is quite simple, but extremely powerful. Mine is an Evernote note. I have one for each of my direct reports and any team member that I’m working directly with in this capacity. Sometimes there are several people across all strata of the company that I’m helping work through blind spots and obstacles. Each one I create a DR for.

In that document are four questions:

  • What do I know about them?
  • Where are they in their journey? (for work, it is usually where are they in their career, where are they in their job at JEB)
  • Where do they need to get to?
  • What is my plan for facilitating the progress towards that destination?

Why these four questions? Why questions at all?

One word. Intentionality. Employee Development doesn’t just happen. It requires a leader/coach/mentor who takes time to understand, listen, guide and prepare. These questions help you prepare and can provide the intentionality. And there is something magical that happens at the end. The sum is truly greater than it’s parts. The plan for how to help them progress, just sort of comes into being. I’ve experienced this so many times. By going through each of the first three, I believe it completely puts you in a different state of mind about that person. Your relationship and development time, become transformational instead of transactional. It becomes about being better instead of producing more (which oddly enough is a huge side effect of transformational development). Instead of worrying about how to get them to get their TPS reports filed on time, it becomes about them as a whole person. You focus on the Meta. You see the forest, not the tree.

So what do I know about them? Well, list what you know. Be as in depth or as shallow as you feel necessary. It is more about getting into the mindset of thinking of them as a human being than a production lever. So put down what you know and move on. Spend as much or as little time as necessary. What makes them tick? What have you noticed. What is their husband’s name? What do they like to do? What do they hate? Just write it down. There is really no right or wrong answer here. What have you noticed about them? Where do they travel? What do they do outside of work? All of these are great things to put down.

Where are they? I like to start out with ability. What can they do, what can’t they do yet. And the closer I get to front line team members, the more about ability it becomes. But then I progress to personality characteristics that I’ve noticed. Interpersonal relationships. Career development etc. I get more meta as I draw out from their abilities. They truly may have some technical things they don’t have down yet, but there may be more things that show exactly where they are in their professional development. Punctuality, ownership, care, transparency, stewardship, frustration, overwhelm etc. These are all things that you can notice to see where they are at in their professional development.

Where do they need to get? I like to start out by writing down where they would be if they were their version of the perfect (insert job title here). That helps me clearly contrast that goal with the Where They Are section above. But honestly, after working with someone for a while, I can identify where they need to be. Here are some examples:

  • They relate to time different than others. I’d like to help them learn the difference between being “in time” to a meeting and being “on time”.
  • They need to work on their calendar. They have things on it, but often don’t make meetings because the forgot. They need to relate to that calendar better.
  • Need to relate to promises differently. When they commit to a deadline, they need to make it.
  • Difference of opinion within the team frustrates them. They need to handle this more professionally.
  • Needs to better handle employee issues with grace and firmness, not one or the other.

Now that I know what I know about them, I know where they are at and I know where I’d like to see them get to, I can ask myself “what is my part in this journey for them?” And that is the last question and the last thing you write down in the DR.

You know where they are and where they should be and a little about them, but what can you do about it? Sometimes it is questions. You just need to mention things to them or ask them a pointed and piercing question they have never asked before. Sometimes it is creating an experience for them to help them grow. It is different for each individual and each time. There isn’t a silver bullet. You have to trust yourself and the situation to determine what to do next. But there is simply power in this process. The intentionality of it all produces some great ideas for this last step. Have you ever done something like this for an team member you are helping grow? Start the process and you’ll be surprised. I can’t tell you how many times I created unique experiences or opportunities for team mates that I would never had come up with without this process.

Some quick answers:

  • How often do you fill this out? I spend a good portion of time the first time around. Probably an hour per employee. When I first started doing this I would reference and update the DR before each and every meeting and write down a list of questions to ask them. I’d spend about an hour prepping for each dev meeting. After a few months of getting seasoned at it, I update it only when there is a specific and complex blind spot I’m trying to work with them on, or there is something that hits really close to home for them. When I learn a significant thing about them, I update it. When there is something I need to confront them about, I refer and update it.
  • Do you share this with anyone? NO! This is for my personal preparation, organization etc. I allow myself to write quite freely in the DR. It is intended for me only.
  • How often do you use this? I have development meetings with my direct reports each week. So at max, it would be once a week.
  • How do I get started? Open a notebook. Write down the first question. And answer it. Then move on to the next.

Employee Development (yes both words are capped on purpose, it’s that important) is the one thing that will improve your business. It’s the one thing every CEO needs to be focused on and it is the one thing that can change and improve your culture quickly. Don’t underestimate it. Be intentional about it. Go help others be great!

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