Global HR

7 Tips for Managers to Keep Employee Development in Focus Every Day

May 12, 2022
March 9, 2024
Rosanna Campbell
Lattice Team

Researchers at MIT recently identified the top 10 elements of company culture that matter most to employees. The results were unexpected. Friendly colleagues, flexible schedules, and a manageable workload didn’t even make the list. So, what do employees want?  

They want good managers. As it turns out, four of the 10 most desirable cultural attributes relate to feeling respected, supported, and given development opportunities by managers.

In short, if you’d like to keep your team, and keep them happy in 2022 and beyond, you need to make sure that you have their development and well-being at the front of your mind. Not just once a year, but every day.

But how? And, not to put too fine a point on it, when? After all, according to HR Morning, managers are often overwhelmed. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed many managers, directors, SVPs and CEOs under increasing pressure. More than 60% of UK managers report struggling with burnout and exhaustion. 

The good news is that supporting your employees and encouraging their development doesn’t have to be a struggle. In fact, it’s much easier - and far more rewarding - to manage an engaged and thriving team.

These seven simple tips can help you keep employee development in focus every day.

1. Start with empathy.

One of the most effective ways to support employee development is also one of the easiest. Start by listening to your team.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Margaret Rogers, VP of Pariveda Solutions, suggests that managers can create a learning environment for their team by drawing on the principles of user-centred design. As she elaborates:

Empathy and understanding are fundamental principles of user-centred design. Just like a business must understand what its customers need to produce the most useful products, managers must understand what their employees need to give them ideal learning opportunities. Asking questions is the best way to do this.”

Instead of letting one-to-one meetings become a one-way street, make sure that employees use these meetings to share their feedback, thoughts, and concerns. Ask them how they feel about their development, and if they’ve identified any growth opportunities they want to work on. Really take the time to understand how they’re doing - and take notes, so that you can follow up with them in your next meeting. 

2. Get on the same page.

Employees need to know that you’re listening. But you also need to work from a shared roadmap. Without a formal, well-defined development process, employees can feel unsure about where they should focus their efforts in order to make real career progress. In fact, nearly 50% of employees surveyed by Gartner reported that they’d left a job because they weren’t clear about how they could develop in the organisation.

It can be incredibly helpful to organise your employee development conversations around a shared competency matrix. A competency framework illustrates what your company values for each role and job level, making it crystal clear to employees what they need to work on to move towards their career goals.

A tool like Lattice Grow makes it far easier for you to act as a career coach for your team, helping employees to see the skills and behaviours they need to get ahead. 

3. Recognise and prioritise.

If you want to encourage your team’s development on an ongoing basis, you need to demonstrate that their learning is important to you. For instance, start by suggesting learning resources that would be helpful to them: 75% of employees would take a course their manager assigned. As their manager, you are in the best position to know what skills and knowledge your team needs to succeed.

It’s also important that your team see that you value and recognise their efforts to develop their skills. For instance, make sure that you praise any improvements that you notice, or add comments in their performance appraisals acknowledging their learning efforts. 

4. Be proactive.

Employees want to see that their development matters to you. One of the most meaningful ways you can demonstrate your commitment to their progress is to volunteer for the role of mentor without waiting to be asked. Instead of relying on your team to seek you out if there’s a challenging project they’d like to take on, be on the lookout for opportunities on their behalf.

For example, David Aylor, the Founder & CEO of David Aylor Law Offices, suggests that managers “look for ways to include employees in leadership or project opportunities as soon as they express an interest to keep them engaged and use their skills as soon as possible. Facilitate introductions or a ‘shadow day’ with other team members in roles, or working on projects that are a good fit.” 

5. Hold development conversations. 

Too many businesses combine performance reviews and development conversations. However, to keep employee development in daily focus, you need more than just formal performance appraisals and quick, task-based check-ins.

Instead, transform your one-to-ones into meaningful development conversations. This can be as simple as making sure that every status review with a direct report also includes a brief discussion of their recent achievements, current challenges, and progress towards individual career and learning goals.

To make sure this doesn’t slip your mind, try using a meeting agenda for your one-to-ones, and share it with your team in advance. That way, both of you come to every discussion well-prepared. 

6. Collaborate on growth goal setting 

Goal setting is a powerful technique for encouraging employee development. To set goals with your employees, make sure that you work collaboratively with each individual to create goals that are fair, relevant, challenging, but still attainable. Research consistently shows that goals are far more motivating for people when they have a voice in setting those goals.

Individual development plans (IDPs) can be a great way to make your team’s career goals more tangible. They not only help employees and managers identify goals, but they help to establish measurable ways in which employees can know when they’ve successfully achieved those goals. 

IDPs aren’t only helpful for keeping employee development part of the day-to-day working cycle. They also show employees clearly how they can move towards their professional aspirations within the company, and encourage them to see themselves growing with you over the long term. This can help to both reduce turnover and increase employee engagement

7. Empower your employees.

As a busy manager, you shouldn’t feel solely responsible for encouraging employee development. With the right tools in place, you can empower employees to take charge of their own professional growth.

For example, if you provide a variety of learning modalities, it allows employees to choose the approach that suits them best. For instance, Mark Pierce, CEO of the Cloud Peak Law Group, redesigned the company’s employee development programme so that employees could choose between trainer-led sessions, mentoring, and self-paced online learning.

“Employees meet with their managers to determine which skills would be most beneficial for them to learn and to set goals for their development,” Pierce explains. “Managers check in periodically to ensure employees are staying on track with their self-paced learning and to see how they're implementing new skills. Overall, this has helped us improve retention rates and work towards our goal of upskilling all of our employees. We’ve seen an increase of 40% more time spent on learning and development across the company.”

There’s also another way to make sure you’re not missing the mark when it comes to team development - ask your employees. Employee surveys are an excellent way to find out if your team feels that you take their development seriously. A massive 99% of workers told a survey that they were more likely to stay at a company that asks for their feedback - and acts on that feedback. 

With these seven simple steps, even the busiest managers can keep employee development in focus every day. However, to give their best to their teams, managers need the right tools in place to make employee development a seamless part of their day-to-day responsibilities. Lattice Grow makes it easy for managers to facilitate development plans and promote employee growth. To find out how it could be helping your team, click here for a free demo.