4 Vital Keys to Developing Others

October 14, 2021

4 Vital Keys to Developing Others

One of the best ways to increase employee engagement and retention is to improve an individual’s satisfaction with development opportunities in an organization. While looking at data Zenger Folkman has collected from more than 400,000 employees, I discovered that individual development opportunities were the third most significant driver of employee engagement. In addition to an individual’s pay and benefits, developing new skills is viewed as a very important benefit for most employees.

To understand better what leaders did to increase the satisfaction of an employee with their individual development I looked closely at results from more than 20,000 employees in two different organizations. What emerged were the following four keys:

1. Leader’s Skill at Performance Management. Employees were much more likely to feel positive about their individual growth and development if their manager had done a good job at reviewing and discussing their individual performance, providing them regular feedback, and giving the employees stretch assignments. It’s easy for managers to get so focused on the critical tasks that need to be accomplished, internal problems, and administrative details of their organization that they fail to focus on the performance management and development of their direct reports. For many managers having performance discussions with direct reports is the most hated part of their job. These managers either view these discussions as busy work or uncomfortable discussions that only create bad feelings. When managers have these kinds of attitudes, these discussions rarely occur. Because of this, stretch assignments are often viewed by employees as punishment rather than developmental opportunities. Employees view training as a day off work, and feedback is dreaded and avoided. What was clear from our analysis is that performance discussions provided the context for development activities to be developmental, and not just hard work or worse punishment. Managers who resist developing their employees assume that the current performance of employees is all that is possible. This is short-term thinking because once most employees get feedback and develop new skills, their contribution generally increases. The most effective managers take the time to regularly review performance, discuss development plans, and challenge team members to accomplish stretch goals.

2. Involvement of Team Members. When team members are involved in decisions about their development, assist in solving problems and provide input into organizational issues, they felt better about their opportunities for growth and development. Managers who tell employees what to do, when to do it, and where to develop think that they are developing others, but in reality, they are throwing darts blindfolded. Team members appreciate development when they have input and involvement. When development opportunities match up with a person’s passion, they are energized. Even when employees get difficult assignments, when they are involved in the decision, there is a huge increase in performance. Those who volunteer look at assignments as developmental, while those who are assigned regard the task as hard labor. Involving team members more will increase their satisfaction with the growth and development achieved.

3. Recognition. Many people believe they don’t really need recognition, but every person appreciates being recognized for their hard work, initiative, or effort. When leaders are more effective at recognition, their employees feel more positive about their development. Development without recognition is like homework that never gets graded or reviewed. It requires a great deal of effort, but nobody seems to care.

4. Job Fits the Person. Have you ever been in a job that was hard, and it was very difficult for you to succeed? Have you ever been in a job that fit like a glove, and success came easily? The reality is some people are going to be much better at some jobs than others and finding a job that fits a person’s ability not only helps that person, but the organization also wins. The best managers help their team members discover their genius. They match team members up with their strengths and help them to succeed. Recently I talked with a manager who said they were very close to firing one of their employees. This manager described all the things this employee could not do well. I asked if there was anything this employee did well. Turned out there were many things this person did very well. I asked, “What would happen if you changed her job to focus on the things she does well?” When the job responsibilities were changed, this problem employee turned into a superstar performer.


We gathered data from the leaders who were the best (those in the top quartile) and leaders who were the worst (those in the bottom quartile) on the four skills listed above. We found that leaders who were effective in these skills had employees who were near the 80th percentile in their satisfaction with development, while those who were not effective were at the 20th percentile.

If you want your investment in development to flourish, then train your leaders to use these skills to help every employee have the positive growth experience they need and deserve.

—Joe Folkman
Connect with Joe Folkman on LinkedIn, Twitter,  or Facebook.

(This article first appeared on Forbes)

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