Why Won’t You Develop Me?

A few months ago, I was speaking with a marketing director at a mid-sized company about potentially entering into a coaching engagement.  After finding out about her company, her role, and what she had hoped to gain from coaching, I submitted a proposal. She told me everything looked good, that she’d have to run it by her boss, but that she didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t get started soon.  She called me the following week, somewhat disappointed.  Although she really wanted to kick off the engagement, her boss didn’t see the value of having her coached.  She told me, “That response makes me wonder to what degree I’m valued here. If they don’t want to invest in me, maybe I need to look elsewhere”.  To her credit, she did look, and landed at a company that has a plan to develop her professionally as well as personally.

I’d like to think that this case is the exception, but unfortunately, it’s the rule. The sad truth is that too many manager and director level people in business today are not being developed.  This is especially true in marketing and sales. How do I know?  Well, for one, research supports that assertion. And I’m sure I’m not alone when citing anecdotal experience as well. Last month alone, I can count 10 interactions where it was blatantly obvious that the person in question was in need of professional development. Yet, to the detriment of the company as well as the employee, they were not receiving it.

And I’m not sure why.  It’s not like business people don’t want to be developed.  On the contrary, like my prospective marketing director client, they desperately want to be groomed.  A recent study by BlessingWhite indicates that employees actually want to be developed more than they want career advancement.  The study also states that if employees are given the chance to develop, they are more likely to stay loyal to the company. So it behooves management to think about how they may be able to develop their staff. Doing so can’t be done lightly. Here are some guiding principles that will help management move toward building a development culture.

  • First, You Must Truly Care.
    I’m sorry if it seems like I am stating the obvious. It’s just that too many times I’ve seen and heard management talk the “I’m all about my people” talk, yet walk very differently.  I remember sitting in a meeting years ago while a CEO pontificated about values and being an “other’s first company”.  Then, a few days later, this same exec lambasted an employee who was getting in the way of “building wealth”.  You can’t fake concern. If you try to develop people you really don’t care about, you’ll build barriers instead of trust. You’ll also build a constantly revolving door.
  • Understand the difference between development and training.  
    Developing someone is not the same as training (although training could be part of development). Development is a long term process where the “develop-ER” proactively invests into the “develop-EE” with the goal of seeing them grow, both professionally and personally. Training is a programmatic piece of development that teaches new concepts or skills. Employees want relational development and mentoring, not just training.
  • Make it collaborative, not one way
    Managers sometimes think they know what’s best for their teams. And as a manager, there should be a degree to which you can see the gaps among your staff. However, in the development process, having willing learners is the key to long term success. How do you get willing learners? By asking them how and in what areas they want to be developed.  By addressing the deficient areas you see in them, and combining it with areas that THEY see as gaps, you’ll create a well rounded foundation for helping them become better at what they do and who they are.
  • Think like a coach, not like a manager.
    My son plays for an instructional baseball league.  The league is a non-profit organization, run by an executive director. This executive director has 20+ teams under his care. He does a good job at managing the organization. But guess what?  My son doesn’t learn a lick of baseball from him.  He learns it from his coach. His coach teaches him how to pitch, how to hit, how to run the bases, etc.  He does this by showing, by instructing, by having my son practice, and then by having my son perform these skills in games. When he fails, the coach repeats his instruction and correction. When my son succeeds, the coach celebrates with him, and praises him. You can’t develop people if you are going to be a manager. You develop your team by acting as a coach.