Why Should You Do Employee Development?

David Berke

The following is an excerpt from David Berke's recently-released book Supported Self Development.

Why should you do employee development? So employees can learn something they need to know in order to accomplish a real task in their current job and prepare for a future position. It’s about the business and how the employee can contribute. Of course the employees will also benefit. But understood this way: employee development is an investment, not just an expense.

Still, employee development is likely to use organization resourcesat a minimum, time and money. That means the manager should be able to clearly define the business reason for the development effort and be able to use that reason to get support from people higher up the ladder. If there isn’t a good business case, the employee should be working on something else.

Why is this the manager’s responsibility? The manager is responsible for utilization of resources in his or her unit, including employee development.

In the development process itself, the manager and employee work together to identify what needs to be developed. Sometimes the manager will lead; sometimes the employee. After that, it is the employee’s responsibility to put together the development plan—sometimes with assistance from others—and implement it. It is the manager’s responsibility to provide the resources and support the employee needs to accomplish the plan.

Just as the project manager and employee in charge of implementing a project are accountable for a project and its outcome, the manager and employee also should be accountable for the development plan and its outcome.

It’s not unusual to get stressed about assessing someone’s progress on a development goal. Don’t.

A development goal is built on what an individual needs to know or do. And that is what you assess:

Does the employee know it?

Can he or she do it?

The job of the manager and employee is to specify what the employee needs to know or do, so that assessment is possible. Here are some examples:

-Delivers written information that can be easily understood, using a variety of formats including letters, memos, and analytical reports

-Knows the company’s sexual harassment policy and can explain how to apply it

-Does not hesitate when making a decision

-When making presentations, modulates voice volume and tone to emphasize key points

Each of the examples above identifies specific information that can easily be tested or behavior that can be observed. The benefit of this approach is that it is very clear to both the employee and manager whether the employee has learned what he or she set out to learn.

To make this work, you must use language that is concrete and behavioral – words that are not open to interpretation. Words like aggressive, confident, and team player seem concrete but they are not. For example, what I see as confident, you might see as arrogant. So if you use words that lend themselves to multiple interpretations, expect to have unproductive conversations about what the goal really was rather than whether it has been met.

Instead, describe what someone does that leads you to the conclusion that, for example, they are being a good team player. Describe the behavior. If you have trouble finding words, find an example to use as the basis of the development goal. A recording might work. So would talking with and/or observing someone who already does well in a task another employee is supposed to learn.

It’s good to remember that evaluation or assessment is something you do every day, every time you make a decision. So don’t be intimidated. Be specific, concrete and behavioral. And answer one or both of these questions:

Do they know it?

Can they do it?