08 JUN, 2016

A Simple Plan For Helping Your Team Achieve Their Personal and Professional Goals

Employee Goals

The following is a guest post by Sean Kelly, SnackNation CEO.

As someone who spends lot of time thinking about people development and employee engagement, people often ask me, what makes a great leader? This is, of course, a complex question, and pinning down a single key leadership trait is impossible.

But to me, the simplest answer one can give to this question is that a great leader is someone who makes everyone around them better. In other words, leadership isn’t about the leader, per se – it’s about his or her ability to facilitate the team’s success, both personally and professionally.

That’s where development comes in. Given the breakneck speed of change in business today, your team members must constantly learn, grow, and augment their skills in order to be meet these challenges head on.

So how do you go about doing this? How do you foster development in your organization, and make it part of your culture?

At SnackNation, we’ve taken a three-pronged approach to development, simultaneously working on the organizational, individual, and discretionary levels. Here’s how you can too:

Organizational Level: The Sensei Session

Ok, before you assume that we hold a weekly SnackNation karate tournament, let me explain. (Note to self: schedule weekly karate tournament….)

“Sensei Sessions” are the name of SnackNation’s company-wide development sessions, held every Monday at noon. (The name is a nod to the images of learning, growth, and discipline that the word “Sensei” evokes.) Led both by senior leadership and employees, Sensei Sessions have three main benefits:

First, they serve as a critical internal communications channel. The first ten minutes of each session is spent on company announcements and updates on the business. This helps ensure that all our employees feel looped in and included, and are armed with the information they need to do their jobs well.

Second, Sensei provides that rare opportunity for self-reflection and critical thinking. With so much work to do at a quickly-growing startup like ours, in can be tempting to remain heads down, focused on the day-to-day minutia of growing the business. Sensei forces everyone to pause and think about the bigger picture.

The main portion of this is spent on a personal or professional topic. Past topics have included leadership, goal setting, and the “Morning of Magic” (how to optimize your mornings and set your day up for success).

Finally, Senseis are fun! They get people excited and energized on Mondays, and ensure the org starts the week in high spirits and ready to take on the week ahead.

Tips for launching your own Sensei Program:

  • Start with source material. Executive summaries, TED Talks, or podcasts, all make great jumping off points for learning and discussion.
  • Don’t forget remote employees! Use conference software like gotomeeting to make sure that no one is left out.
  • Make them fun, personal, and a little weird. Let your personality shine through to help engage your audience and make the presentations memorable. Start your presentation off with jumping jacks, stretching, or mandatory high fives.
  • Don’t just teach; integrate. People, especially today’s Millennial generation, don’t want to be preached to; they want to be involved. Ask your team questions, introduce fun activities, and make everyone feel like an active component of the session.

Individual Level: Individual Development Plans

I’m a firm believer that success doesn’t happen by accident. Good things come to those who work, not those who wait, and if you want to achieve anything in life, you need a pathway to get there. Personal development is no different. That’s why at SnackNation, we recently launched a company-wide Individual Development Plan initiative.

It works like this:

Employees come up with four personal and four professional goals that they want to achieve by the end of the year, and meet with their manager to refine those goals. Do these goals align well with that employee’s unique ability? With company objectives? Are these the employee’s highest leverage activities?

From there, the manager and employee break down each goal into component parts, setting quarterly and monthly benchmarks. Dates are set and before long, the employee has a realistic pathway to achieving her goals.

Of course, goal setting is just the beginning – now comes the fun part. The employee and manager meet monthly to track progress against those goals, holding each other accountable for the action required.

The entire process is a collaboration between the employee and his or her manager to ensure that the goals make sense.

Tips for launching an IDP:

  1. Start with self-assessment. Each employee should write down his or her top four strengths and abilities. This is an essential step because it will help determine what her highest leverage activities will be, as well as identify any skills gaps that need to be addressed.
  2. Make sure goals are SMART – i.e., Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
  3. Don’t be afraid to iterate! This is a fluid process, and individual goals can (and should) change to reflect changing business and personal objectives.

Discretionary Level: The SnackNation Book Club

Simply put, reading is magical.

The beauty of books are that they take the sum total of an author’s knowledge – lessons that took decades of learning, mistakes, failure, and epiphany – and distill them into 250 pages. As our rock star Head of Sales, Kevin Dorsey, is fond of saying, books enable you to absorb someone’s life’s work in a weekend.

The problem with reading is that texts are static. For the most part, it’s a one-way conversation. You can’t ask the author follow up questions, and books don’t hold you accountable for applying the lessons learned.

Book clubs are a way to solve these limitations. They allow you to bounce ideas off colleagues, explore interpretations that you might not have had on your own, and put this knowledge into action. At SnackNation, our book club is 100% voluntary and employee led. Two of our sales crushers, Jordan and Mallorie, organized the group, and the reading list is crowd-sourced to ensure that everyone is interested in the materials.

A bonus benefit – book clubs should be fun. Half the benefit is the bonding that takes place over a hummus and veggie plate (remember, we’re a healthy workplace) and perhaps an adult beverage or two.


  • Crowdsource the reading list.
  • Make sure there are questions to start the discussion.
  • Record action items and track progress of the group. Remember, consumption without creation is wasted effort.

These are just a few things you can do to kickstart growth and development at your organization, and we’ve really just scratched the surface. For an even more in-depth look at how to integrate personal development into your culture, as well as an 8 week plan to reach employee engagement Nirvana, don’t forget to check out our Definitive Guide to Employee Engagement.


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