New Research Shows Leaders Are Not Doing Enough to Develop Their People

For many years, one of the big issues with employee training and development has been pretty obvious — managers didn’t have much time to do it. 

As Forbes observed, “It’s not that managers don’t want employees to learn. It’s that they’re usually already overloaded, and occupied with the daily and more pressing challenges of managing their teams and tackling the to-do list.” 

That comment was made back in 2018, before the pandemic and lockdown, but it applies as much now as it did then. 

That’s because a LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report found that 93% of employees said they would stay at an employer longer if the company took the time to invest in their careers. Forbes succinctly described it like this:

“An employer who doesn’t focus on (training) is going to lose out — in performance, engagement, and retention.” 

Chances are, you already understand the importance of learning and development. And sure enough, throughout my career, retaining employees has always been important. But I’ve worked for a number of companies — perhaps you have too — that talked about doing it but then took actions that seemed to be at odds with that.  

In other words, they paid lip service to the concept of retention because they really felt that it was too hard to keep employees and easier to just go out and hire new people instead.  

Why Retention Is So Terribly Difficult  

Although that sounds really bad, it has generally been OK at many organizations because there always seemed to be a lot more job candidates than actual jobs. 

But today, in the wake of the global pandemic and lockdown, retaining employees looks a lot better to most organizations because recruiting and hiring new ones has gotten pretty difficult. 

How difficult? Well, a Harvard Business Review article by four partners at Boston Consulting Group spelled it out like this:

“The (retention) challenge is severe. Some of our clients have told us they’re seeing upwards of 30% attrition in certain job categories. Some industrial clients have told us that some of their plants have had more than 100% employee turnover since March 2020.  

In other segments, especially technology and data science, employers describe the turnover and churn as ‘unrelenting.’ At the end of the day, they say, there are always empty chairs. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, showing steady and significant increases in voluntary ‘quits’ during the pandemic in a wide range of sectors, seems to confirm the anecdotal reports. 

The current turmoil in the labor market isn’t likely to subside any time soon. Indeed, 57% of the respondents to our latest survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers across the globe, conducted in partnership with Future Forum, said they’d consider taking a new job in the coming year.” 

What’s the answer? Well, those same Boston Consulting Group partners see it like this: 

“Employers need to recognize that it takes significantly longer to recruit someone than it does for them to give their two-week notice and depart. The solution, then, is to immediately bolster retention while ramping up recruiting. To do so, companies need to get on the same page with employees by reconceptualizing what it means to be part of their organization.” 

I’m not sure how those consultants define “reconceptualizing,” but to me, it’s just another way of saying that to keep good people you need to invest in and care for those people by helping them to build their career.  

How Much Do You Focus on Employee Development? 

This will not be easy for many organizations, mainly because recruiting new people has always seemed to take precedence over retention, at least for the last 30 years or so. Suddenly focusing on retaining people will be challenging for all those companies that spent so much time, effort, and resources on recruiting new ones instead. 

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The latest findings from Fuel50 in their Global Talent Mobility Best Practice Research confirms the need for organizations to put a lot more effort into employee retention, saying:  

“People are actively looking to grow and develop and are seeking opportunities to move forward in their careers. Organizations need to power up their leaders to be ready, willing, and able to support their employee’s learning and development. […] The more people feel supported in their individual goals, the more they will be engaged and feel the organization is doing everything possible to offer them growth experiences, help build their career, and, ultimately, keep them on board.” 

So, how do they help people grow, build better careers, and keep them on board? 

There are four things that managers need to be doing — that is, behaviors they need to be exhibiting — to support employee development.

1. Create a Learning Culture 

  • Lead by example and be seen to be developing themselves, which only 1 in 3 leaders are currently doing. 
  • Encourage internal mobility. One 41% of leaders are currently doing this. 
  • Ensure the organization’s strategic vision and priorities are reflected and embedded in opportunities made available to employees. Only 43% of leaders are currently doing this.

 2. Be Fair and Focus on Diversity and Inclusion

  • Distribute projects and learning opportunities in a fair and transparent manner. Currently only 1 in 3 leaders are doing this. 
  • Actively address diversity risk factors within their team. This is one of the lowest observed leadership behaviors in the Fuel50 study, with only 23% of leaders doing this.

3. Provide More guidance and Direction

  • Support people in making better, smarter investments in themselves. Half of all leaders are currently doing this. 
  • Identify appropriate ways to address the developmental needs of their team. 1 in 3 leaders are currently doing this.

 4. Assign Learning and Development Regularly

  • Assign training and development to teams/employees, which only 1 in 4 leaders are currently doing.
  • Provide stretch assignments that allow team members to grow their strengths. Some 42% of leaders are currently doing this. 
  • Draw relevant internal opportunities to the attention of their team members. Only 37% of leaders are currently doing this. 

A New Era of Work? 

A new report from Gallup on improving performance management makes the case that “companies are shifting from traditional performance management practices to a new approach that focuses on performance development. Essentially, this shift requires managers to create an ongoing dialogue about performance that is individualized to the needs and unique talents of each employee.” 

The Gallup report goes on to say that more coaching of employees — leaders need to think of themselves more as coaches and less as bosses — is the road to better people development and employee retention.

All of which reinforces the case that organizations and their managers must spend more time, resources, and effort on developing better employees. 

I’m mystified at why so many organizations didn’t embrace employee development sooner, because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that investing in the future of your employees is a smart investment. But, better late than never, I suppose. It’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic and lockdown to get us to this point, but perhaps this is the one positive thing we can truly point to coming out of the terribly destructive Covid era.  

And perhaps a new era of important and meaningful work isn’t far behind.  

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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