Why employee development is important, overlooked, and can cost you talent

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It is hard to think of an important aspect of management more overlooked than development planning. – help your employees shape their future career direction. Yet, for a variety of reasons, this valuable activity is often ignored…or treated as a bureaucratic exercise…or an afterthought. Companies pay a high price: the loss of the best young talent.

I know that when I was in management, I didn’t spend as much time as I should have on developing my own employees. I do spend time, but in retrospect, I wasn’t as consistent and thorough as I should have been. And I’m sure it would have been helpful over the years if my own managers had spent more time with me.

These long-standing but general impressions were confirmed recently when I came across a harvard business review study last July. The article, “Why the best young managers are in a nonstop job search” by Monika Hamori, Jie Cao and Burak Koyuncu, described a study based on the analysis of international databases of more than 1,200 high-achieving young people, and concluded that many of the best and brightest are not receive the career development support they desire. The article said:

Dissatisfaction with some employee development efforts seems to be fueling many early departures. We asked young managers what their employers do to help them progress in their jobs and what they would do Like their employers to do, and found significant shortcomings. Workers indicated that companies generally meet their development needs on the job and that they value these opportunities, which include high visibility positions and significant increases in responsibility. But they don’t get much in the way of formal development, like training, mentoring and coaching – things they also value a lot.”

Why is employee development a chronic problem and why should it not to be? Based on decades of my own management experience, here are three reasons why development planning is often overlooked…and three reasons why it’s a costly mistake.

Why is development planning often ignored?

1) We tend to focus more on the here and now. So many companies are in a constant frantic state of upheaval, reorganization and trying to do more with less. In this environment, managers naturally tend to focus more on essential day-to-day operations and less interested in longer-term activities perceived to have a less certain return on investment.

2) Some bureaucratic exercises are carried out but are not followed up. When I was in corporate management, we spent a lot of time trying to fit employees into almost incomprehensible matrices with too many descriptive boxes (“Intergalactic Star”, Diamond Amid Coal”, “Wolverine Tendencies”, “Wicked Lot of Problems” and so on – my own fancy categories.) The problem was that the exercises were so confusing and time consuming that we just finished them and rarely did much constructive stuff with the data .

3) There’s just no time for that. This is (as people younger than me often say) the most “dismal” excuse of all. There are always time for important activities. If you think development planning is a valuable management function, make it a priority and spend minutes and hours on it.

Why development planning is good business.

1) People care if you genuinely care about their future. The emphasis here is on “authentic”. Development planning should be something a manager takes a personal interest in, not an HR-focused mandate. (Note: I a m a strong believer in the value that a good, strong HR organization brings to a business. But I’m also opposed to making the simple unnecessarily complex.)

2) It helps build loyalty and loyalty increases productivity. The logical corollary to point #1. Honestly taking an honest interest in someone builds loyalty. Loyal employees are more engaged. Engaged employees are more productive.

3) Good, talented people naturally want to progress and appreciate meaningful support in the process. As the HBR study showed, young, ambitious and capable employees to want training, mentoring and coaching. They want to learn skills. They want to become more versatile and valuable to an organization. Many years ago, my company invested heavily in my MBA, and it has always meant a lot to me. Who doesn’t appreciate caring support that helps you advance your own career? But the flip side is that if a company doesn’t provide it, enterprising employees will look elsewhere.

One last thought: Development planning doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Basically, it’s mostly a question of good managers take the time person to person to understand their employees…recognizing their skills and needs…and guiding them to fill the gaps. If done right, the payoff can be substantial in terms of long-term loyalty. If not, the costs can be significant in terms of long-term talent.

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