Expressions like “succession planning” and “career ladders” make us think of large enterprises with mile-long org charts. That’s the stuff of massive corporations, right? It needn’t bother entrepreneurs striking out on their own.

Well, not exactly. Even small businesses need to offer some form of career progression. Research shows that about 40 percent of your staff members are looking for some sort of career growth. If you want to keep them – and keep them happy – you’ll need to support them in these efforts.

If you don’t satisfy these ambitious desires, you’ll have a hard time retaining staff members. That could leave you with an irritatingly high churn rate and a dearth of potential leaders who can step up and take on responsibilities when you actually need them to.

In order to create a sustainable team in your small business or startup, it’s vital that you put a process in place to satisfy ambitious employees. Here are a few tips to help you do that:

1. Hire a Healthy Mix of Ambitious Employees and More Relaxed Staff Members

Too many ambitious types in a business – especially a small business – is a recipe for instability. When there’s not enough responsibility to go around to everyone who wants it, you can end up with high rates of disengagement and turnover.

On the other hand, if you don’t have enough ambitious employees, you’ll have a shortage of leaders when you actually need people to step up.

The solution is to hire a balance of highly ambitious achievers and more relaxed – but skilled and competent – staff members.

2. Develop a Delegation Mindset

CactusWhether a startup founder or team manager, most leaders are afraid to let go and delegate. The problem is that staff members can’t grow in their careers unless opportunities emerge, and opportunities only emerge when you delegate.

One way to overcome your fears of delegation is to follow a simple rule of thumb: If someone can do a task 70 percent as well as you can, delegate it. After a little while, you’ll find them making up the difference – and maybe even exceeding your performance.

3. Empower Employees to Step Up

From time to time, invite staff members to come up with ideas to increase profitability. Your most ambitious employees will jump at the chance to share their thoughts and implement their plans. This, in turn, will give them the chance to develop their problem-solving, project-management, and team-leadership skills.

If your employees are regularly taking on improvement projects, they will be honing and developing the leadership skills they crave.

4. Hand Out Stretch Assignments

This approach will probably appeal to the most ambitious of your employees. “Stretch assignments” are projects that are designed to take team members outside of of their comfort zones, forcing them to acquire new skills in order to solve challenging problems.

Not sure what a stretch assignment might look like? Here are a few examples:

- Inviting an employee to accompany you on and/or participating in a client pitch.

- Letting an employee lead a client pitch on their own.

- Asking an employee to act as direct supervisor for a new intern.

Let your staff members know about stretch assignments and encourage them to put themselves forward for these opportunities. Try to spread the assignments around for maximum development effect.

5. Deputize Employees

BooksThe final step in grooming leaders is deputizing staff members. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to deputize people – for example, when you are on holiday or at client meetings. At these times, you can and should temporarily assign relevant responsibilities to your employees, allowing them to step up and practice important management tasks.

Tasks you might want to assign to a deputy when you are away include:

- overseeing invoices;

- acting as an interim supervisor for junior employees or interns;

- developing incoming leads and setting appointments with clients;

- and dealing with customer complains.

Grooming future leaders in small businesses and startups is about creating an environment where staff members have the opportunity to practice leadership and advanced business skills on a regular basis. Not only will giving employees these opportunities keep your more ambitious team members engaged, but it will also ensure that you have a ready supply of leadership talent from which you can draw whenever the need arises. A culture of delegation will also enable to you to free yourself from the business more easily for holidays and sick days, enabling you to achieve a greater work-life balance.

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