What Companies Are Getting Wrong About Employee Development

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Gallup has discovered one of the most important factors in creating a high-performance workplace is instilling a high-development culture: one that values the growth of individuals. In fact:

"Organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development, Gallup finds, report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees."

Development, in its purest form, is the process of understanding each person's unique talents and strengths and finding roles, positions and projects that allow employees to apply these talents and strengths. It means taking the familiar saying, "to get people done through work," seriously.

So What Are Companies Getting Wrong About Employee Development?

Let's just say there are lots of potential stumbling blocks where things can go wrong.

Here are some of the things that can get in the way:

  1. Hiring the wrong person from the start.
  2. A temptation for managers to hoard talent on their teams, preventing other growth opportunities.
  3. Project resourcing assignments that meet business needs but don't develop humans.
  4. Promotions that only look upward.
  5. Career arcs that leave tenured associates without a clear path forward.

These obstacles can make successfully approaching employee development sound overwhelming, but it's not.

Instead, employee development must be rooted in your workplace culture. This means it needs to be a part of every phase of the employee experience so that it's simply, "how things get done around here."

To do this, leaders need to consider every activity an employee engages in as an up, a down or a neutral for the employee's personal development.

Yes, this means that all day long employees are growing, growing a lot or not growing at all.

Leaders must stop and appreciate this.

Development isn't just about having a learning and development team or promoting a program–those are good things, but development also needs to be at the heart of every decision made so it becomes a part of the very culture of an organization.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?

Let's consider these points of developmental friction and address them directly.

Problem: Hiring the wrong person from the start.

Solution: Systematize how you hire for potential stars.

Taking stock of how hiring happens may be the greatest opportunity most organizations have today. Are leaders hiring potential stars? Most organizations can't say with certainty if they are. With no real clue about the hire's potential, development is at risk right from the start.

When a manager gets a hire wrong, rather than focus on development, they become busy just trying to make things work. Rather, it is becoming clearer that leaders need to find a structured way to track the performance of hires.

One way to do this is to use a validated assessment for key organizational hires such as managers and leaders. This analytics-based hiring approach gives leaders a way to establish a baseline for potential and measure progress over time.

Problem: A temptation for managers to hoard talent on their teams, preventing other growth opportunities.

Solution: Build in strategies to bust talent hoarding.

Once a hire is made, managers can be tempted to hoard star employees, which prevents development. Talent hoarding happens when talent could be deployed to make a difference elsewhere in the organization, but it isn't. Whether it is because of a scarcity mindset or simply unintentional, many organizations are plagued by this.

One customer-facing organization Gallup worked with embarked on a change initiative with employee development at its core. In this case, they tackled talent hoarding with a program they labeled 2+2.

The program enabled employees who had been in a role for at least two years to apply for new assignments. As part of the program, managers were required to release them within two months if the fit was right.

What works about this program is that expectations are clear for everyone involved. Transparency about mobility like this is key to ensure alignment in expectations across the organization.

Problem: Project resourcing assignments that meet business needs but don't develop humans.

Solution: Leverage managers who use project resourcing as a vehicle for development.

If every task is an up, a down or a neutral for employees, it is important to regularly assess the internal market of what needs to get done and how and to whom each task is assigned. This is where your managers really make a difference.

Managers either resource project work to individuals with an eye on development opportunities or should play a strong role as an internal agent (or coach) for the individual who influences work assignments.

We know what it looks like when this goes wrong. Employee burnout makes regular news. Gallup has researched burnout and what causes it.

"When their workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can't accomplish and for finding others to help them."

On the other hand, regular conversations–including casual "check-ins" where managers partner with associates to continually align on expectations, workload, goals and needs–help ensure that assignments align with both organizational needs and individual strengths-based development as often as possible.

Problem: Promotions that only look upward.

Solution: Promote value in alternate development paths.

Individual development doesn't always need to mean getting a promotion. Let's just say career ladders are a little retro. Implying there is just one ladder or one path for advancement sends all the wrong messages to everyone.

We know incentives relate directly to behavior, so when pay, title and responsibility advancements are all tied to one track, well, that sends the wrong development message from the start.

High-development organizations instead encourage everyone to continue to experiment and take on increased responsibility in what they naturally do best. This requires more from leaders than the standard ladder, as they need to think critically and creatively about cultural norms for job growth in the company.

Rather than a ladder, some point to career jungle gyms that allow managers to partner with associates and consider horizontal job growth by taking on more of certain tasks they excel in … or diagonal growth, which could mean doing the same tasks with a new division or for a new client.

Vertical growth is still an option, and this may happen by becoming a subject-matter expert or leader in the organization. The point is to acknowledge and value multiple pathways so that individuals are encouraged to continue to choose tasks and roles they are naturally inclined to do best.

Problem: Career arcs that leave tenured associates without a clear path forward.

Solution: Anticipate career arcs and strategically plan options for tenured associates.

And, in fact, career development applies to everyone in the organization and across generations. The popular Atlantic article "Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think" by Arthur Brooks reminds us that it isn't only Generation Y, Gen Z and millennials who need development.

Anticipating needs across the arc of an entire career matters in a culture of high development. One article in Fast Company cites an example in technology conglomerate Bosch where, "Some 1,700 of its retirees around the world–700 in the U.S.–continue to act as paid consultants to the company through a heavily-marketed internal service."

This is one way to consider an alternative development path for more senior employees who can then act as mentors. Individual experiences will vary greatly but leaders who anticipate needs across generations will stay ahead.

Individual development doesn't always need to mean getting a promotion.

In sum, instilling a high-development culture–one that values the growth of individuals–means anticipating common points of friction and building in systems to alleviate them. When leaders do this, they will pave the way for a high-development culture that will lead to high performance.

This article was republished with permission from Gallup, Inc. Click here for the original post. It was written by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe.