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Employee development: Highly valued but highly neglected

Employees everywhere want to improve and get ahead, so why aren’t you providing employee development opportunities?

The practice of effective management doesn’t exactly lend itself to jokes, but one of my favorites is:

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

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It was only after I retired from the corporate world in 2012 and began to reflect on my management experiences that I began to appreciate just how true this joke was.

Employee development, of course, can take many forms. It can be formal (training) or informal (day-to-day coaching). It can involve mentoring, job enrichment, job expansion and stretch assignments, among others.

As a former manager myself, I don’t believe I provided consistent enough development opportunities for my employees. For some I did and for some I didn’t. But one thing was consistent: When I did take the time to provide it, invariably it was much appreciated. Employees took it seriously and were generally loyal, motivated, and diligent.

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I was by no means alone in my neglect of the development function. As a large global study of 1200 high achievers showed, reported in Harvard Business Review, lack of employee development can have far-reaching consequences. The researchers found it commonly led to employee frustration and could “fuel many early exits.” I should add, unwanted early exits – as this is the kind of high-potential talent companies most want to retain.

Your employees are heading for the door and engagement is the culprit. Learn how to increase engagement and get your people to stay with our Five Tips for Increasing Employee Retention tip sheet.

I happened to give a webinar on this subject to a diverse global audience. It confirmed what I’ve come to believe: The need for employee development isn’t a narrow issue, limited to one company or one industry or one country. It’s universal in scope. Good employees everywhere want to improve and get ahead. Why wouldn’t they? Which is why the issue deserves serious management attention.

The central role of time

If employee development is so highly valued, why is it so commonly neglected? There are a number of reasons, but at the top of my list is time. Managers tend to be constantly multi-tasking and overworked. Between their employees, their own projects, and pressures from their own management, combined with the all-too-common need to “do more with less,” it often feels like there’s not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done.

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In this frenetic environment, employee development is easy to overlook. Why? One key reason is the difference between short-term and long-term horizons. Management frequently demands short-term results, but development tends to be a long-term endeavor; skills take time to build.

Additionally, ROI on development activities is hard to measure. Increasing an employee’s competence in a function may be subtle and occur over a period of time. While measurements can be made, they may not always be precise.

Both of these issues – pressure to show short-term results and ROI – are barriers to overcome.

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Which is why I always like to come back to time. If you as a manager can simply make yourself carve out the time for it (let’s say, for example, half-hour meetings devoted to development with an employee every two weeks), that’s a substantive step to ensure the activity won’t be overlooked.

I can’t assure you that meaningful development will take place, but if no time is ever set aside I can assure you that it won’t.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Predictive Index.

Victor Lipman is a management trainer and author.

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