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The High-Development Manager

by Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Top talent seeks out the high-development workplace
  • The manager is the engine that drives development
  • Workers need more and better developmental conversations

Employee development is the difference between a growing company and an increasingly irrelevant one. It's also one of the most important assets in an employee value proposition, especially to talented workers.

And employee development depends on managers.

But most managers aren't equipped to develop workers.

Gallup finds that 74% of employees get a performance review once a year or less often. Just 14% strongly agree that those reviews inspire them to improve, and 26% strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

Constant conversation is the key to development.

Those numbers reflect weak relationships and a lack of communication. To develop their people, leaders need to know them. They need to know each employee's capabilities, weaknesses and aspirations -- as well as or better than the employee does. As Peter Drucker wrote way back in 1967, "Few people, even highly successful people, can answer the questions, 'Do you know what you're good at? Do you know what you need to learn so that you get the full benefit of your strengths?' Few have even asked themselves these questions."

Managers are uniquely situated to ask those questions and use the answers to position the worker for growth. Gallup recommends doing that all year long -- not just during annual reviews -- through frequent, authentic conversations. Sometimes these conversations set expectations and provide course corrections. Sometimes they simply keep the manager and the worker connected. Other times, they're meant to offer advice, support or direction. But they should always help workers spot opportunities to learn, grow and contribute more today they did yesterday.

Employee development is the difference between a growing company and an increasingly irrelevant one.

But managers typically aren't born knowing how to conduct these kinds of conversations; most need to be taught. It's well worth the effort. Effective feedback conversations spark ideas for further development and have a powerful effect on performance -- indeed, they're the lifeblood of a high-development culture.

And these conversations have a particular impact on the highly talented. All workers need development, but stars are driven to be better. To be great. That's why an occasional video chat, or an it's-your-turn award, or a little more responsibility isn't enough to keep the highly talented. They want more. They want their manager to be their coach -- always scouting ways to get them in the game, boost their stats, expand their field of play.

These conversations are the mechanism for doing just that: allowing stars and managers to partner together, and showing the talented that they'll get investment, support and a field of play as wide as they want it to be. Cultures like that engage. Cultures like that are hard to leave. In fact, Gallup finds that it takes a salary bump of 20% or more to lure the engaged away.

Development always depends on managers.

Clearly, managers are central to a high-development culture. And they can ignite a chain reaction of improved performance among their team members. When one worker gets better at her job, she makes everyone's outcomes better and inspires others to learn and grow in their role. So if employees are learning and growing, if the talented are refusing other offers, if teams are producing more every year, if a company is gaining customers, it's because of the manager.

That may be why, as It's the Manager states, high-development cultures are the most productive environment for both businesses and employees. They certainly attract and keep the highly talented. But the vital role of the manager can't be overemphasized -- managers do most of the heavy lifting through authentic conversations with their people.

Done well, these conversations can influence the trajectory of an employee's entire career. Done often, they can impact the trajectory of an organization.

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