Employee growth is critical for both companies and employees.  But managers can’t do employee development.

The clues about the importance or providing growth opportunities to employees are hardly subtle — employees who don’t grow contribute less than they should, and  study after study shows that lack of growth opportunity is one of the most common reasons that employees quit. The antiquated idea that failing to develop employees will lock them into your company is false — failing to develop employees actually drives them out.

But many companies are struggling with an unpleasant reality — the vast majority of managers, the first line in most companies’ talent development effort, simply can’t and won’t do talent development. And as a result, even the best-intentioned talent development programs often fail.

There are many reasons not to expect talent development to be a strength for most managers.

They Don’t Know How

Most managers themselves have never received effective talent development, and have no experience to fall back on. We’ve worked with many managers, and most have no idea how to do career development for themselves — and of course as managers, they have no idea how to do talent development for their teams. Talent development isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not intuitive or straightforward. And unless managers have received extensive coaching in it — and most have not — they won’t know how to do it.


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It’s Hard

The “process” piece of talent development programs is important, and there are techniques to do it well. But talent development is more than just process — it also requires nurturing and counseling to help employees understand and accept their development needs and build and focus on a development plan. In our coaching, we find that the emotional and psychological aspect of talent development is 80% of the challenge. And even managers who understand the process of talent development will often not have the personal skills and commitment to coach employees in development.  Research consistently shows that 50% – 75% of managers are rated as fair or worse – it’s unrealistic to believe that these managers will be the main developers of talent in your organization.

They Don’t Have Time

Managers are busy, and we already ask a lot from them. Many struggle to provide basic performance management, and many employees don’t even receive meaningful performance feedback, much less talent development. Talent development is more “distant” in that it doesn’t relate to employees’ performance today, and it’s the first thing managers drop. As a result, many well-intentioned talent development programs start with a meeting or two and then peter off.


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Managers also have limited “emotional capital” to use with employees. By this, we mean both emotional energy of the manager and emotional influence with workers. Managers spend most of their time managing the day-to-day challenges of the workplace, and asking them to find extra energy to focus on the long-run is a tall order. And for employees who can only take so much feedback from their managers, adding more is often not well received. A different voice is needed to be heard.

There’s Nothing In It For Them

Finally, most managers receive no benefit from talent development. Most managers think of talent development as a way for employees to move somewhere else — whether in the same company or not, the manager risks losing an employee. And in some cases, the manager might even be grooming her successor. Even for managers who understand that development makes employees more likely to stay in the company, there’s little benefit if the employee moves out of the manager’s team.  Encouraging managers to engage in talent development means not only training them to understand the upside of development (through, for example, expanding roles for employees rather than having them move into different jobs) — companies must be prepared to set up performance criteria and compensation systems that reward talent development. Like all other things, talent development will only be practiced consistently if it’s measured, reviewed and rewarded.

They Can’t Do It Alone

Encouraging employees to change takes a village – they need support, coaching, instruction and accountability.  A manager can do some of this but rarely all of it.  An effective talent development program supports managers with training materials, peer support and tools. 


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There’s a Better Way

A very common topic of Careerwave coaching is talent development – our coaches either work directly to develop managers or work with managers to help them develop the skills to provide effective development to their teams.  The nearly real-time aspect of digital coaching and the accountability that comes with it are critical to help managers translate information on talent development into real, productive actions.  Coaches walk your managers through talent development for real employees, building the skills the managers need to be efficient and effective in helping their teams.

But many companies find that a talent development coaching program that takes the day-to-day work out of the hands of managers is even more effective. This can be performed in HR or by outside consultants, but freeing managers from the “heavy lifting” of talent development is critical for many companies.  Careerwave’s coaching can provide development coaching directly to team members, reducing the load on your managers.

“Our Best Managers”

A recent client experience confirmed the effectiveness of coaching.  This company’s goals stressed talent development, which had been a major concern for employees in recent culture surveys.  Careerwave coached a group of managers, focusing on their main individual growth opportunities with an emphasis for all of them on building their ability to develop their employees.  In the next culture surveys, these managers went from middle of the pack to the top managers – the Careerwave coaching helped them grow in ways that had a major impact on their teams.

Coaching is a powerful tool to help managers build their skills and focus on talent development and to provide talent development support directly to employees.

To learn more about Careerwave’s digital coaching services, contact us at or visit us at


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