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Development: The gift that just keeps giving

Rethink gifts and help your employees grow in ways that last.

4 min read



Photo by David Everett Strickler/Unsplash, illustration by SmartBrief

As the holiday season enters full swing, many leaders struggle to determine the best way to punctuate the year and thank their employees.

Some settle on physical tokens. Others gravitate toward parties or meals. And a dwindling few find ways to offer cash bonuses. But, when it comes to motivation and engagement, the half-life of these gifts tends not to last very long. While organizations and leaders invest significantly in this effort, the effects are short-lived and quickly forgotten.

On the other hand, leaders who want their gifts to last all year understand that helping others grow is the gift that just keeps giving. They appreciate that development serves both the employee and the organization alike. And they know how to use its power to inspire engagement, tap discretionary effort, elevate skills and capabilities, enhance retention and drive bottom-line results.

Want to trade in the fruit baskets and group lunches for something that truly leaves others feeling valued? This year, give the gift of development. Commit to investing in helping each of your employees grow in ways that are meaningful and satisfying to them. And to get you started, here are a few ideas to add to your developmental gift list.

  • Meet with employees and have a meaningful conversation about their aspirations and development goals. Commit to working together in the new year to move toward making these things a reality. Then, really do it.
  • Identify evolving issues or common development opportunities within your team and host a speaker on that topic. This can turn a routine holiday luncheon into an insightful discussion and generate group energy, support and accountability for growth.
  • Skip the corporate swag and instead give employees a book that’s specially selected for them, their interests and their developmental opportunities. This kind of personalization demonstrates attention and care (gifts in and of themselves) while offering tangible support for growth and improvement.
  • Allocate and award a specific amount of money to each of your employees, allowing them to spend it as they wish on their development. This not only sends a positive message about your commitment to their growth, it also communicates your expectation that they’ll own their professional development. (And, don’t worry. You can include whatever controls make this comfortable and workable in your organization with things like pre-approvals and reimbursement upon presentation of receipts.)
  • Work with each employee to identify one developmental activity the he or she might like to engage in — and create a plan to make it happen. While formal training, coaching and mentoring are important, experiences are where the most powerful learning happens. (Listen to this 3-minute podcast about using real work experiences to help others grow.) Working together, you and the employee can translate development goals into specific activities that will offer exposure and focused skill-building. For instance, if an employee aspires to a leadership role, let him or her take responsibility for orienting and coaching new team members. Or if developing greater financial acumen is of interest, allow the employee to manage a project budget. In this way, collaboratively chosen experiences can be the most cost-effective way of developing others while addressing real work that needs to be done — a gift to the individual and the organization.

So, this holiday season, skip the crowd and the stress. Instead, consider a gift that requires no reservations or wrapping. Instead, give your employees the gift of development and watch the effects radiate into the new year.

For more information, get a preview the soon-to-be released second edition of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.”

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning.  Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want,” You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at

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