Overcoming the delusions of employee development

3 minute read

Overcoming the delusions of employee development


'Employee development' is often touted in recruitment and performance reviews, but once employees are officially on the payroll, who in the organisation is actually responsible for employee development? Managers? The employees themselves? There is often consistently poor execution of employee development processes due to miscommunication as to who is in charge.

Many organisations preach a self-led employee development process, where managers are confident their employees will direct their development if managers invest in expensive learning platforms. However, employees themselves in many cases have no idea in what way and direction they are supposed to be developing in. Marc Effron, the President of the Talent Strategy Group, offers six realistic solutions for employee development which we summarise in the article below (or take a look at the article, here).


1. Radically reduce expectations

As a manager, have you asked your employee to write out their development plan with all their goals so that you can help them through it? How often do your employees achieve all the goals they set out for themselves? Not often. 

Instead of setting a whole range of development goals, ask your employee to Set one development goal. This way their focus is on this one major goal and they will be more likely to achieve it. Make sure it is a SMART goal (i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) and identify whether the goal is to develop current performance or capabilities for a future role. This one goal will help you, as a manager, focus on one area of development for your employee and direct your conversations better as compared to having a wide range of goals. 


2. Differentiate your development investment using a Talent Philosophy

A talent philosophy is one that defines the importance of performance and behaviours and how much accountability and transparency is expected in talent management processes. Communicating this to managers and employees with a clear differentiation between the levels of investment between high and average performers creates transparency about a company’s talent philosophy. This creates a level playing field for all, ensuring everyone knows what they need to succeed. 


3. Let managers set development goals

This sounds like more work for managers. Well yes, it is, but managers should lead the development process because they are in the best position to accurately assess their direct reports’ development needs. Managers also have insights into what the company itself needs and therefore will be able to guide the employee during development planning.  With this insight, managers can make experiences the language for development and ensure their employees have the relevant developmental experiences.  


4. Double-down on experiences

We all know that learning something through experience is generally the best way to learn. Traditionally, competency models describe what must be demonstrated to prove competence, but this is quite different from using experiences for development. Focusing on experience helps managers move people through actual developmental experiences, enriching their learning and also allowing them to succeed. 


5. Create development plans in talent reviews

A classic failure of development plans is that in many cases the plan isn’t strong enough, or can’t be followed. Doing them during talent reviews makes it a group’s decision as to how an individual should be developed and how the group is committed to developing them. Although not every employee can be discussed during a talent review process, particularly in larger organisations, at least those that do can receive a better and more meaningful development plan. 


6. Make managers accountable for development

As mentioned above, letting managers set development goals allows employees to have a meaningful development plan. Many times a development plan will fail because there is no-one accountable for the failure nor are there consequences. A core role to being a manager is to ensure that employees are being developed; therefore primary responsibility and accountability lies with the manager. This may seem burdensome for managers, but it can be simplified even further by making managers accountable: 

  • For just the upper half – if managers can’t develop their whole team, make them accountable for developing just the upper half. They will need to set an experience goal for everyone in the upper half and ensure it is completed.
  • For actual completion of the experience – they won’t be accountable until the employee completes the development experience.
  • With career consequences – Make sure there are consequences to no development by managing employee development results.

To summarise, the argument for focussing on employee development is both intuitive and compelling. Increasing employee development increases engagement as it quickly improves an individual’s performance and behaviours. However, this can’t happen until managers and companies are aligned on their mindset and practices when it comes to talent management.

Applying these six changes will drive your employees towards their goals, and also your company towards desired outcomes — a win-win for all.