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Why Employee Development Is Important And Can Cost You Talent


Victor Lipman has two decades of Fortune 500 front-line and executive management experience. In 2012, he retired and spent the next couple of years thinking about researching and writing “The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.” In his article, “Why Employee Development Is Important, Neglected And Can Cost You Talent,” he discusses the common problem of managers failing to train and develop their employees and the effect it has on their organizations.

In the article, Lipman references an article from Harvard Business Review, “Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt” by Monika Hamori, Jie Cao and Burak Koyuncu.  The authors described a study based on analysis of international databases of over 1,200 young high achievers and concluded that many of the best and the brightest are not receiving the career development that they support and desire.  The article stated:

“Dissatisfaction with some employee-development efforts appears to fuel many early exits.  We asked young managers what their employers do to help them grow in their jobs and what they’d like their employers to do, and found some large gaps.  Workers reported that companies generally satisfy their needs for on-the-job development and that they value these opportunities, which include high-visibility positions and significant increases in responsibility.   But they’re not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring and coaching – things they also value highly.”

Based on several decades of Lipman’s own management experience, he came up with the following three reasons why development planning is often ignored… and three reasons why that’s a costly mistake.

Why is development planning frequently ignored?

1)  We tend to focus most on the here and now.   So many businesses are in a constant & frenetic state of upheaval and are trying to do more with less.  In this environment, managers naturally tend to be most focused on essential day-to-day operations and less interested in longer-term activities perceived as having more ambiguous paybacks.

2) Some bureaucratic exercises are done, but not acted upon.  When Lipman was in corporate management, he spent a fair amount of time trying to fit employees into nearly incomprehensible matrices with too many descriptive boxes (“Intergalactic Star,” Diamond Amid Coal,” “Wolverine Tendencies,” “Wicked Lot of Problems” and so on – his own fanciful categories).  The problem was that the exercises were so confusing and time-consuming, that his research team was satisfied enough just to complete them, and did little to nothing constructive with the data.

3) There’s just no time for it.  This is the “lamest” excuse of all.  There’s always time for important activities.  If you believe that development planning is a valuable managerial function, make it a priority and carve out the minutes and hours for it.

Why development planning makes good business sense:

1) People care if you take a genuine interest in their future.   Emphasis on the word “genuine.”   Development planning should be something a manager takes a personal interest in – not simply an HR-driven mandate.

2) It helps build loyalty, and that loyalty helps to increase productivity.  This statement is the logical corollary to point #1.  Taking an honest interest in someone certainly helps to build loyalty.  Loyal employees are more engaged.  Engaged employees are more productive.

3) Good & talented people naturally want to advance, and therefore appreciate meaningful support in the process.  As the HBR study showed, capable, ambitious, young employees want training, mentoring and coaching.   They want to gain skills.  They want to become more versatile and valuable to an organization.  Many years ago, Lipman’s company invested heavily in his MBA, and it always meant a great deal to him.   Who doesn’t appreciate thoughtful support that helps you advance your own career?   Of course the flip side is this: if one company doesn’t provide it, enterprising employees will go elsewhere to find it.

In his closing remarks, Lipman states that development planning doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly.  At its core, employee development planning is mostly a matter of good managers taking the person-to-person time to understand their employees… recognizing their skills and needs… and guiding them to fill in the gaps.   If it’s done well, the payoff can be substantial in terms of long-term loyalty.   If it’s not, the costs can be substantial in terms of long-term talent.

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