Staff Development 2.0

Written by: Jerry Foley




I often start out the year reminding my staff of a line from one of my favorite movies – Jerry McGuire. No, it’s not “show me the money”, but rather - “Help me… help you. Help me – help you!” The premise is that I am here to help “you” develop. I encourage my staff to be proactive in seeking what it is they need from me in order to develop them. Now with that said, it is the leaders’ job to help develop a plan for their staff to grow and learn. I challenge you to make that a priority, if not, you will have constant turnover and will always be in the hiring mode.


When I was a younger head coach I did not make it a priority to develop my staff; I can tell you now that was a mistake. If you don’t spend the time early in the process, when will you have the time to do it later? One of the biggest mistakes I have seen over the years is the lack of a plan to develop staff. It often starts right at the beginning, with the on-boarding process. We expect HR (if you have an HR department) to do a 3 hour new employee orientation and then they are set. Even worse is there is no orientation at all. One needs to be thoughtful and intentional with staff development right from day one and have a 10-30-90days- yearly – plan for them.


At the YMCA of the Triangle we have a process called “performance coaching” that places equal responsibility on the leader and staff member. It sets goals and plans within 3-month time periods (quarterly) where each individual gets to share their goals and how the leader can support them to achieve it. This seems natural to me as this is what we do all the time with our athletes.


I reflect back on years when I dreaded the annual performance review. Where in a one or two hour meeting you would review and then receive a grade on your performance for the year. That meeting would be tied to your salary for the coming year. This is not the way staff development should happen. However taking the time to meet at least quarterly to discuss goals and opportunities, like a coach does with their athletes, is a better way to develop staff. Having a review once a year negatively affects productivity, collaboration, and real growth. Performance coaching is a better process to grow and develop staff.


The four buckets I will outline should be part of a performance coaching plans:


-Bucket one: Prepare them. Help the staffer understand what is expected of them. What are your expectations on how they teach skills, plan practices, recruit, etc… without clear expectations there will be confusion and conflict. Help them prioritize their responsibilities on what is most important. Keep them focused on things that matter most to the team… help them see the bigger vision. Identify their strengths. I do believe people work best once placed in a position that utilizes their strengths. What is it that they can do to make an immediate contribution? If they have experience coaching sprinters (or that is what they swam) and they are good at it – let them. I would often coach the group that my staff had the least experience working with so I can use their strengths. What else are they good at, and perhaps you are not good at that they can do.


-Bucket two: Coach them. This is what we like to do, so coach your staff too. Help them prepare for their future and create a plan with them. You then need to check in regular to support progress. Generally, this should be done quarterly on a formal basis, but there should be many informal (organic) conversations that occur in between these meetings. Give them regular feedback on performance. I do think it is important to focus on effort and not just the outcomes.


-Bucket three: Invest in them. I know this might seem counter intuitive, but it is the leaders’ job to help grow their staff for their next opportunity. Help them define what it is they dream about and what are their career goals. How can you or the organization support them to achieve their goals? Guide and encourage them to go for it. Help them find the resources and support the experiences they might need to take the next steps.


-Bucket four: Appreciate them. How often do you let your staff know how much you appreciate who they are and what they bring to the team. Feeling like you are appreciated is a basic human desire that we all need. Understand how they liked to be appreciated. Explain to them how their work fits within the overall mission of the team and organization. I don’t think you can ever thank your staff enough, but be genuine with specific examples when possible.


In summary, staff development has to be intentionally planned for both short term and long term growth. If this sounds a lot like what you do with your team, then you need to continue to spend the time with your staff as well.


Background of Jerry Foley:

For over three decades, Jerry Foley has been a successful “teacher-coach” who strives to point out what individuals do well.  He has a passion for swim coaching and developing youth.  His teams and individuals have achieved success by creating collaborative environments in which all feel their contributions matter. He values each individual as someone who contributes to the team success through a supportive and inclusive environment.  Jerry has developed national-caliber athletes and has won team championships at every level. Prior to joining YOTA, Jerry was the Susquehanna University Men’s and Women’s Head Swimming and Diving coach from June 2009 – June 2019. In addition to his duties as Head Coach, Jerry was named the Assistant Director of Athletics in 2016. In 2019, the Susquehanna women captured an unprecedented ninth-straight Landmark Conference team title and the men finished a strong second for the eighth time in nine years under Foley.  During his tenure at Susquehanna his teams achieved multiple individual Academic All-Americans, Landmark scholar-athletes awards, the school’s first ever swimming All-American in 2013, and the Universities Valedictorian in 2016.  He and his staff were honored on five occasion as the Landmark Conference Coaching Staff of the Year. He attributes his success on his ability to focus on individual skill development and inspire his athletes to achieve their best for the team. He also led Bucknell University men and women swimmers and divers to an array of athletic and academic successes from 1998 – 2006.  Some team highlights include winning five Patriot League titles including a span of four in a row for the women from 2003 to 2006.  Five individuals also achieved NCAA standards during his tenure.  He was recognized as Patriot League Coach of the Year on five occasions. He was the head assistant coach at the United States Military Academy, West Point from 1994 – 1998. Along with coaching at the collegiate level, from 2006 – 2019 he was the Head Coach for the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA swim team (former called Sunbury Branch YMCA) developing state and national qualifiers and champions.  In 2013 his women placed 6th and men placed 8th in 2009.  While at GSVY, Jerry developed five individuals to earn national titles during his tenure.  His swimmers have been recruited by all divisions within NCAA swimming. Foley holds a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and a Master of Arts degree in physical education and health. Jerry and his wife Beth are lifelong activist of fitness, health and wellness.  In 2008, Jerry started a health and wellness camp for youth, called Camp ENERGY. During 2017 – 2018 he attended the Thrivent Fellowship leadership program and developed the “RISE UP” leadership curriculum. He has two daughters, Emily a graduate of Gettysburg College ’16 and Caitlin a graduate of Kenyon College’19.

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