This Is Not a Surprise: Managers Are Terrible at Developing Talent

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Feb 2, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Managers are worse at developing their employees than at anything else they do.

This was the conclusion of Korn Ferry Institute leadership development researcher Robert Eichinger, who found ‘the ability to grow talent’ was ranked 67th out of 67 different management competencies, despite decades of investment in various performance management initiatives.

This is no surprise to most CEOs.

In PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey, 93 percent of CEOs surveyed recognized the need to change their talent practices because what their organizations were currently doing wasn’t working any longer.

Two powerfully effective management tools

Your best employees – the ones you need most – want one thing from you most of all: To support their growth and career development.

Study after study confirms that career development is the single most powerful tool managers have for driving engagement, retention, productivity and results. Yet, career development is frequently the task that falls to the bottom of managers’ to-do lists.

When asked why, managers say the No. 1 reason is that they just don’t have time. But there’s a surprisingly simple solution to support employees’ career development within the time-starved, priority-rich, pressure-cooker environment in which managers operate.

In Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, authors Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni suggest engaging in short, ongoing conversations with employees to learn about their career options, needs, and passions during the normal course of business, rather than in a formal sit-down once a year.

The authors assert that exceptional managers embrace four hallmarks to allow them and the employees they serve to thrive.

1. Keep talking

Exceptional people developers keep the lines of communication open all year long, not just when the organization instructs them to. Career development requires ongoing attention throughout the year because employees are changing and transforming every day.

Exceptional managers engage in short conversations that tease out evolving interests, strengths and motivators. They find ways to infuse a development focus into routine occurrences and interactions.

Seize the coachable moments that come up during conversations to help employees increase their performance, potential and value in their work.

2. Build accountability

Leaders who are most effective at helping others learn and grow do less — not more — than other managers.

Employees must own their own development and good managers help them internalize this idea. They help their teams own their goals, actions and results and insist employees take the lead (with their support). When confronted with a problem, they help employees come to their own solutions, rather than providing answers.

Holding others accountable for their development and related commitments builds ownership and reinforces the employee’s pivotal role in their own growth.

3. Highlight progress

Progress is a powerful motivator. Small wins and modest steps forward can boost creativity, productivity, engagement and persistence.

Exceptional people developers continuously scan the environment for hints of progress. They recognize employees taking action to support their goals and development plans, and drawing attention back to development reminds staff members of their intentions and invites them to recommit to them.

4. Optimize learning

A nearly infinite number of development actions can drive growth objectives and, in the process, offer tremendous opportunities for learning and insights.

But for many, these insights will pass unnoticed without help and encouragement.

Exceptional people developers support employees in extracting maximum benefit from each developmental action or activity by deliberately debriefing it, forcing reflection, and asking a few key questions to unpack the learning it afforded.

When leaders redefine development, they change the rules of the game.

When they make it personal, they create connections and motivation that transcend perceived organizational limitations. And when development becomes pervasive rather than periodic, the challenges of organizational processes fade in the light of opportunity and growth.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.