Rethinking Performance Development: An Employee-Owned Approach

By Caroline Van Dyke
on Nov 28, 2017 2:15:00 PM


Keeping up with today’s rapid speed of business has been no easy feat for organizations. This changing paradigm has required them to adapt in a way never seen before—calling into question stale processes and lagging systems that no longer match the pace of change. This holds especially true for a company’s key resource, its people, and the skills they leverage over the course of their careers. Unlike in previous eras, employees’ skills and competencies can no longer afford to remain static. Instead, they must constantly respond and grow in accordance with the shifting landscape.

As such, it comes as no shock that employees are hungrier than ever for growth and development opportunities—a significant factor for overall talent acquisition and retention. When PwC asked millennials what makes an organization an attractive employer, they discovered that opportunities for career progression ranked first, and excellent training/development opportunities ranked third. If the skills expected of employees shift on a regular basis, development opportunities need to cater to these shifting demands.

Double-Down on Development

According to Harvard Business Review, 95% of young “high achievers” are actively searching for other job opportunities and leaving their companies after 28 months on average. The cause? “Dissatisfaction with some employee-development efforts fuel many early exits.” Young managers reported that companies generally satisfy their needs for on-the-job development, including high-visibility positions and increases in responsibility. The area that isn’t stacking up for most is informal development, such as training, mentoring, and coaching--things they value highly. Clearly there’s a mismatch between what employees want and need, and what employers are providing in terms of development.

And companies aren’t in this position due to a lack of financial investment. Mid-size organizations are spending $3.7 million yearly and large organizations are reaching $13 million yearly on average for training budgets. Even with that immense spend, 70% of employees say they are dissatisfied with growth opportunities at their companies. There’s a massive opportunity gap to close in order to boost employee development and an organization’s bottom line. The proof is in the pudding: by providing better career opportunities for employees, organizations can decrease turnover by 33 percent, saving an organization with 10,000 employees $7.5 million dollars per year.

Rethinking Manager-Led Development

This disconnect between investment and output leaves one wondering where development took a wrong turn. Historically, managers have held much of the burden for development, but it’s time to take a step back and reexamine the success of this approach. Especially with so much budget at risk. So, what’s keeping managers from driving development home and harnessing the full potential of their employees?

  • Short-term vs. Long-term Vision. Managers typically get caught up in day-to-day organizational dilemmas, leaving little room to create long-term development plans or keep tabs on employee’s ongoing development needs.
  • Inefficient Bureaucratic Processes. Managers typically put a lot of effort into measuring employees and gathering data, but then don’t do much with it. Employees are then left empty handed when it comes to helpful development resources based on performance.
  • Time Constraints.  Self-explanatory for anyone who’s ever been a manager or been managed. Wince.
  • Compensation Strategy. Managers are often promoted for achievements within their functional role, not for developing employees. Therefore, if they’re not compensated for it, they’ll likely miss the mark and leave employee development up for grabs.

Harnessing Employee-Owned Development

With such high stakes on employee development for retention and the bottom line, inefficient development delegation is no longer a sustainable option. If manager-led development hasn’t delivered on its strategic promise, then it’s time to put development in the hands of those who benefit the most: employees.

High-performing employees already have the innate desire and vested interest in growth and learning opportunities, so they should be the most equipped to own their development path. After all, they reap the direct rewards of their efforts. It should be communicated that they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting career goals and defining their development plan. Once they’ve set these sights, they just need to be empowered with the right information and resources based on their performance and long-term aspirations.

If they’d love to excel in a more technical position, but notice they have room to grow in that area based on feedback, they should be empowered with the development resources they need to develop. And rather than just be informed and rely on their manager to direct them to the right resources, companies need to be using data from feedback, evaluations, and aspirations to serve employees a personalized resource library specifically catered to their needs. This approach encourages ownership and removes manager reliance—enabling them to grow each day and reach their potential.

Defining HR & Manager Roles in Development

Managers: The Coach

As we’ve discovered, leaving development up to managers alone leaves too much room for error; you want to be sure employees can take the reins and continue to develop in the face of time and resource constraints. After all, employees have far more insight about where they want to be in the future. That doesn’t mean it’s time for managers to clock out. Instead, they should provide the structure, feedback, and coaching employees need to stay on their charted path.

If managers support employees in a framework of 1:1s, regular feedback, goal-setting, and evaluations, employees should never be left scratching their heads as to how they can develop. This function should hold a strong foundation in coaching and motivation rather than owning employee development. A manager should show up for their employees and facilitate meaningful conversations, making sure blockers are removed and solve any problems if needed. Ultimately, great managers invest themselves as allies in the  success of their direct reports, and direct reports should feel comfortable expressing their goals or career aspirations with managers.


Patty Woolcock, the executive director of CSHRP, the California Strategic HR Partnership, says: “The future of learning is three ‘justs’: just enough, just-in-time, and just-for-me.” This means that training has to adapt to become just as agile as the workforce—speed, flexibility, and innovation are paramount. The future of learning will take place on platforms where training can be delivered any time, any place, at the user’s convenience. With this shift, HR needs to adapt to fulfill the diverse learning needs of various employees rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

How can you make sure your employees receive timely, personalized resources? Data. Each employee should receive personalized resources based on their performance data pulled from regular feedback, goals, evaluations, and career aspirations. And delivering personalized resources directly to employees, rather than relying them to seek them out themselves, will set them up for far greater success.The key is to embrace a performance management system that personalizes resource recommendations on an employee-to-employee basis; truly customizing learning and development.

Focusing on development allows employees to manage their performance on an ongoing, future-looking basis. By embracing a data-driven, performance management HR tool and positioning managers in a place for coaching and encouragement, employees can ultimately take the driver’s seat on their own road to development. This not only drives high performance, but drives an organization’s bottom line.


Topics: Employee Development

Subscribe Here!