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The 7 Skills Every Successful People Development Professional Needs To Develop

Nothing against soft skills, they’ll absolutely help you become a great people development or L&D leader. But they’re a little too vague and surface-level to really help you nail an approach that wins over the right people and helps them grow in the right moments.

For that to happen, you need to develop behaviours and traits that drive performance!

We’ve covered the power of being approachable, lending an ear or empathetic shoulder in our ultimate guide to people development.

But this blog post is for the people who want to become better problem-solvers, feedback collectors, change managers, relationship builders, and potential spotters.

These are the people development skills and behaviours that help you create impact, and impact shows learners the value in learning and other stakeholders why what you’re doing is worth their investment…

1. Creating psychological safety so that people feel comfortable trying and failing

Nobody wants to be the next Blockbuster! Standing still while the industry around them changes and new players enter the market with disruptive ideas. But you’ll never be an innovator without trying new things.

And people development teams can help by building a culture where it’s ok to try something different and fail, as long as we learn from our mistakes. If we fail fast, we learn fast! And that means we’ll get closer to the right idea quicker…

How to do it

Empower people to test ideas on a small scale and in practice environments.

Let’s say someone in your customer success team has noticed there’s never a clear agenda or takeaways from customer calls, leading to lots of follow-up questions that eat into everyone’s time and put a strain on the relationship. 

They suggest a new call structure to solve that problem, but you don’t just throw it out there for every customer meeting moving forward.

Set up practice environments where colleagues can act as customers and provide objective feedback. Or maybe you choose to try it with a handful of customers who you either have a great relationship with or are particularly affected by the problem.

Test it, collect feedback and if it’s working, roll it out on a larger scale. If it doesn’t work, we either iterate or pivot to a new idea. 

2. Building an adaptable and agile culture

The world around us is changing at an ever-increasing speed, meaning we often have to pivot between problems and contexts. 

And as Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The faster we respond, the better placed we are to seize opportunities. And people development and L&D teams can play a massive part in building a culture where this happens organically.

It feeds into the point above, but HowNow CEO Nelson Sivalingam nailed it when he said we need to “prioritise speed of execution over perfect execution”. 

How to do it

Ultimately, we’re talking about a mindset shift in a couple of ways. One, that we don’t always have to do things perfectly to seize an opportunity, but we can act quickly in ways that add value.

At HowNow, we call it a bias towards action. The sooner we test something with our audience, the sooner we can collect feedback about the validity of this idea. This also normally allows us to bypass the paperwork and red tape that slows momentum and enthusiasm as we try to seize opportunities.

Now, people are often resistant to change, but they’re also motivated by doing things that make a difference. And acting swiftly often allows us to add value in a short space of time! 

L&D and people teams can facilitate this through clear, speedy, and frequent communication on why something is changing and how acting now will allow us to add more value. Get people on at the ground floor, help them add value fast, and create a positive feedback loop around change.

3. Becoming an expert relationship builder 

The better connected you are, the better you get at hearing and spotting people’s problems. 

Now, we’ll get to problem solving shortly, because that deserves a dedicated section of its own. But nailing this relationship angle makes you more adept at promoting internal mobility and helping people gain new skills.

Let’s say the marketing team are a little short on resources needed to hit a comms deadline, and someone in another team has some copywriting experience they’d love to build on. By understanding that issue and knowing the skills and career goals of someone else, you can connect the two together. 

How to do it

As a people development pro, one of the best things you can do is schedule regular check-ins with department managers and ask a couple of simple questions:

  • What are the biggest problems and challenges you’re facing right now?
  • Is what I’m doing still supporting you in overcoming those?

That will give you a formal touchpoint to understand where challenges lie and your role in solving them.

But treating this as an everyday organic behaviour is probably far more useful. Where are those people talking and voicing their concerns? Or perhaps employees are quite openly discussing their career ambitions and the skills they’d like to build.

There are probably Slack channels, open meetings, and feedback channels where they’re being shared! By listening proactively and engaging in regular conversation, you’ll get better at adding value in relationships and facilitating those opportunities.

4. Transforming in a better problem-definer and solutioneer

The above point assumes that people are great at defining their biggest problems, when we’re often too close to them to be wholly objective.

Maybe a sales leader comes to you and says, we’re not closing enough deals, and we need to send our people on a course that tackles this. You could say yes, or you could probe further…

What are the current baseline statistics for the percentage of pipeline that’s being closed? Maybe you realise that compared to the industry average and your past performance, you’re actually great at closing, but your pipeline is too small.

The assumption that deal closing is the issue is wrong! It’s actually about creating more leads.

How to do it

Like a three-year-old who’s finally found their voice, get unashamedly comfortable using the word why!

Every time you’re having this time of conversation, use questions to work out whether something is the symptom or root cause. Ask about context, the goals, what’s changed, the skills in the team – why is it stopping them from supporting business goals and why is it happening now?

You are not an order taker, so view yourself as a consultant. Your role is not to say yes to requests, but to help provide the conditions for people to reach goals and move the performance needle. 

5. Spotting potential and mastering career conversations

Remember that internal mobility idea we mentioned? Well, this one is the skill that helps you recognise where employees might enjoy and be suited to moving across the business – permanently or temporarily.

It’s not always cost-effective or practical for companies to buy (hire externally) or borrow (use freelancers) talent to plug gaps and solve problems. However, it is often sustainable to build from within…

Those people are often au fait with the business, so they can hit the ground running and understand crucial context. Moving internally, for either a short-term project or a brand new role, can help boost employee engagement and retain not only your best people but all the knowledge they’ve built in the company.

But if you don’t understand people’s skillsets or career aspirations, this’ll be infinitely harder and almost impossible to do at the speed of change. 

How to do it

Recognise you can’t do it alone! People development and L&D teams aren’t always having career conversations, but managers are. Leverage their knowledge of their teams to understand where people’s skill aspirations lie.

When you are speaking with employees directly, be open and transparent – ask them where they’d like to go and if they feel those opportunities are available by sticking around. 

Being detached from people day-to-day might also allow you to be more objective and able to spot potential. Look at people’s performance data, assess their output for potential in other areas, and look at the things other people are saying about them. 

Combining these things is how you build a well-rounded picture of where someone is now, where they want to be and any untapped potential that’s gone unrecognised so far. 

6. Being more than just a feedback collector, but being a first-class feedback communicator 

Just 14% of people believe their employer uses their feedback effectively to drive change! And while 85% of HR people feel they’re improving the employee experience through feedback, only half the staff agree.

This disconnect can be explained by two final stats:

  • 38% felt the company was rarely or never open to their ideas = there are flaws in how feedback is collected.
  • 70% of staff said they had little or no influence over how things were done at their company = the way feedback is actioned or how that is communicated doesn’t make it clear where employee responses have driven real change.

Given that people development and L&D teams are often tasked with curating and creating the resources to tackle business and people challenges, there’s a crucial role we can play here.

How to do it

Where initiatives and resources have been created based on feedback, communicate that, and even over-communicate it if there’s existing scepticism around how feedback is currently used. 

Coming back to our internal mobility point, leverage resources from the design and marketing team to ensure that message is on point! 

7. Not just measuring impact, building it in from the start

One of the most commonly asked people development questions is how can we capture and present impact to other people.

Now, the common pitfall people often fall into is trying to measure impact after action has already been taken. We rolled out our sales training course, are we closing more deals? Unfortunately, this is a flawed approach if you’re hoping to have meaningful impact.

How to do it

If you’ve followed our earlier advice around problem defining, you’ll have a great idea of what success looks like and the metric you’re trying to move. 

Let’s say you’re losing 50% of leads after the demo stage, and it’s just too high. If you understand that baseline from the start, it’s far easier to build impact into the learning experiences. These resources are now designed with the express interest of lowering that number.

Once they’ve been applied, you can simply look at that number to work out whether you had an impact. And if you did, that’ll manifest itself in the number of deals closed, and revenue won.

Check out our other people development resources

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