Why managers must support HR to develop staff

Published 22nd August 2018 by Investors in People

Development works on longer timeframes, which can demotivate

Development programmes often follow a set schedule, with action peaking after appraisal season and then slowing over the year. Other projects take over and HR, with limited resource, naturally can’t give full support to everything all the time.

And yet the very nature of development means sustained focus is key. Development is hard work and returns are not instant. The effort involved is considerable because it’s outside your comfort zone. These reasons combine to push development down the to-do list.

Managers must sustain attention on development, both within the team and with each individual. Ideally, they should act as coaches, helping employees see how effort and focus lead to desired development outcomes.

Operational concerns eat development for breakfast

When development goals come into conflict with day-to-day operational concerns, they always lose. This is because operational concerns are directly related to organisational strategy, KPIs, conditional rewards like bonuses and job security.

Increased competition and pressure on margins also mean staff must do more with less, pushing development even further down the to-do list.

The manager’s role is in effective allocation of resources so that individuals feel able to create space for their development. This is likely to involve clever delegation across the team, with workloads temporarily adjusted where necessary.

Old habits die hard: support is critical

Habits are hard to break at the best of times. In the workplace, when our habits help us keep up with the rate of change, they are even harder to break. And they are especially hard to break when they involve others.

Development requires us to critically analyse the way we do things and see if there’s a better way to achieve the same result, or a different way to achieve a better result. Both routes are difficult and time-consuming.

The manager’s role is to patiently support and challenge. Trying to break habits will inevitably slow individual progress and a strong, trusting relationship between line manager and employee can help mitigate any desire to think that the effort is just not worth it.

On the team level, the manager’s role is to provide support (and additional resource where necessary) so that projects and goals owned across the team are not derailed.

Different types of development require different support

The 70:20:10 framework suggests employees receive 70% of development through the demands of their role, 20% from working with other people and 10% from formal training.

The 70% is dependent on in-role growth, otherwise a plateau is quickly reached. This growth can be found through active job crafting, so that the role becomes more stretching over time. Since job crafting entails new ways of working and potentially a shift in boundaries, employees are more likely to embrace it with the visible support of their manager, particularly if their manager links any changes with KPIs.

When it comes to the 20%, the manager’s role depends on who the employee is looking to work with. If it’s someone in the same team, the manager’s role is to ensure adequate space is given to the relationship and that workloads are managed accordingly. If it’s someone across the wider business, the manager’s role is to remove obstacles, for example by facilitating introductions.

The formal training making up the 10% is often driven by central budgets, where employee needs across the company are consolidated into a cost-effective training plan. In this case line managers should ensure staff have the space to prepare effectively for courses, don’t come back to an unreasonable workload and are able to implement changes after the course to provide maximum benefit to themselves and the organisation.

Behavioural change must be supported – for multiple reasons

Where development involves behavioural change, managerial support is critical. When individuals change their behaviour, it has a wider impact: team dynamics and cross-functional projects that rely on strong relationships may be affected.

On the individual level, deviations from expected behaviour are often unfortunately seen as evidence of a problem and treated as such, especially if the new behaviour is considered antagonistic or perceived to be causing friction with others.

This makes certain development extremely hard to integrate into the workplace. The obvious example is assertiveness training, where the behavioural change necessary naturally leads to a reworking of established interpersonal boundaries.

The importance of the line manager in successful employee development can’t be overstated. But what else should line managers do? Take a look at our article on the five most important and effective line manager skills.