by Lori Prosio

As a small-business owner, it’s important to hire talented employees that can bring experience and skills to your organization. But it’s equally important to identify growth opportunities and chances to promote from within.

Not only does this provide the opportunity to generate enthusiasm and incentivize staff to do greater things, but it helps build a more stable, reliable business by building loyalty among those that have become “tried and true” employees in your organization.

It may seem counterintuitive in a down market to spend more money on your business. However, when it comes to employee retention, strategic investments — both in time and resources — that foster the growth of staff can go a long way to benefit your company.

Here are a few tips to consider:

Identify and nurture interests

I firmly believe that initiative and interest can’t be taught. In fact, I believe that the desire to grow and succeed in business, paired with the drive to do what needs to be done to get there, are born traits.

Think about the staff you have currently, and evaluate the ones who stand out.

Is there an employee who consistently works harder than average? Does an employee find opportunities to showcase new skills or knowledge, or show a greater level of interest in the business?

It’s important to nurture that.

Talk to standout employees about their growth goals, how they see themselves contributing to your business in the long-run, and show interest in how you can help them be more successful in their jobs.

Find the good ones, make them great

Sometimes it takes a little shove to make a good employee a great one, but when that happens, it’s amazing and inspiring.

Often, what keeps a really good employee from becoming a great one is a lack of confidence.

Maybe you run a consulting firm, and you have a hard working employee that always goes above and beyond but is afraid of public speaking.

Or maybe you run a retail shop, and you have an employee who is a whiz with inventory and customer service, but who is afraid to step up and lead other employees for fear of being disliked.

If you can identify weaknesses and encourage employees to overcome them, your business will benefit.

Send employees to Toastmasters to help them overcome their fear of public speaking. Or find a management seminar for your managers in training, and help them build the confidence needed to excel in their position.

Hiring great employees who have an interest in your business and want to grow with it is often harder than creating great employees within your company.

Provide challenges, acknowledge effort

Fear of the time investment required to cultivate an employee’s skills can get in the way of a business owner promoting from within.

Initially, it can seem daunting to invest even more time and energy into building up an employee when it might seem faster to hire someone new who already is experienced. But new also is unknown and just because someone looks great on paper doesn’t mean they will fit into your organization.

Start small by giving your employees a chance to meet a new challenge in a way that won’t make or break your business but that can help build confidence and provide an opportunity for growth.

If they meet the challenge, be sure to give them the proverbial high-five.

If it doesn’t work out, acknowledge the effort, use it as a learning experience for all of you, and commit to trying harder next time.

After all, just as Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

Don’t force it

Part of being a smart, savvy business owner or manager is to recognize that no matter how much you may want someone to step up, he or she may not want it.

It’s important in those instances that you don’t force it to happen. Understand and accept that some people are happy in their current positions, may have aspirations to do something entirely different down the line or have personal obligations that detract from their ability to invest the time and energy into being the employee you want them to be.

It doesn’t mean you have to cut them loose, it just means you need to set your sights on how to improve your business, and enhance your staff, through other means. Stop spinning your wheels trying to bring someone up that doesn’t want to succeed as much as you desire.

This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.