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How to Gain Support for Employee Development


Tue Dec 29 2015

How to Gain Support for Employee Development

It is puzzling that leaders don’t care to retain their top talent. Well, this is the message conveyed when companies don’t actively support employee development. During a recent ATD webcast, a salient challenge shared by participants was getting managers and leaders to support employee development in their organizations. Conversely, best practice companies are rewarded by the positive impact evidenced by employee engagement, company reputation, and the bottom line.

There are no easy solutions for getting managers to embrace development. (See my earlier post: Why Employee Development is a Necessity.) However, here are some insights and strategies that will help agents of change to forge momentum.


Bring a Proposal to the Apex

No matter how flat a company purports its organizational structure, there is a triangle and accountability at the top. Organization development practitioners understand that systemic change begins with leadership. You can apply the LEADER framework to any change proposal:

Leverage best practice data. A glaring gap between your company and best practice companies can be revealing and strengthen your business case. According to the 2014 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For, best practice companies credited two drivers of growth used to outpace their competitors: strong workplace cultures and employee development programs. In fact, strong signs of growth were reported: employees increased by an average of 15.6 percent over 24 months (five times the rate of U.S. companies overall in the same period) and revenue among both private and publicly traded companies had risen an average of 22.2 percent over the 24 months.

Establish your business justification. Whether your company is for profit or not, a strong business case will go a long way to convincing leadership why employee development deserves attention. Leverage internal data such as employee survey results and exit interviews, including the costs of replacing talent.

Align to company values, strategy, and goals. Many companies have espoused values that include an employee component. Implementing a meaningful employee development program brings espoused values to a reality.


Determine and engage a senior champion. Find a credible champion within the leadership team who is willing to partner in your pursuit.

Ensure your requests are specific. When presenting a proposal to gain leadership support be clear as to what you mean by “‘support.” Support can take many forms, such as communicating the priority to their teams, cascading the process into their business units, tracking results, providing resources, and so forth.

Represent your case assertively and confidently. Your enthusiasm and persistence will have more impact than words alone. Any hint of trepidation or lack of confidence will weaken your cause. Realize that readiness is a factor. There were situations in which I did not gain initial support but recycled a proposal at a later time resulting in endorsement.

Unveil the Reasons 

A manager’s apathy about employee development could be a veil for unspoken concerns. If you still don’t get managers to buy in after presenting a strong case, ask for their reasons, then address them. Consider the following concerns and potential responses:


Concern: “I will lose my best employees.”

Response: You more likely to lose them if you don’t develop them. Also, note that development supports performance. Do you want mediocre performance?

Concern: “What if they ask for something I can’t deliver.”

Solution: Development plans are created in partnership between managers and employees. Framing the context up front about its purpose will help manage expectations. A title or promotion is not development. A manager is not obligated to honor a request that is not feasible. The discussion should be about learning goals and a plan to support them.

Concern: “I don’t know how to have career conversation or write development plans.”

Solution: This is a valid concern since nobody is born knowing how to have career discussions. A practical resource is the TD at Work “A Manager’s Guide to Employee Development.” Learning and practice sessions coupled with coaching for managers and employees can provide knowledge, materials, and confidence to get started. This blend does not require a big budget.

Concern: “I don’t have time.”

Solution: This sentiment is shared by employees and managers, but as a reactive response, it may not be based in a reality. To combat it, integrate learning into the employee’s job responsibilities, Remember: work is a vehicle for development. Also, reiterate that follow-up checks-ins can be brief. Finally, remind leaders to be creative and flexible with assignments and scheduling. We manage our own time.

100% Is Not Necessary

Don’t wait for the entire organization to be ready. Partner with receptive managers. Ultimately, it is employees’ responsibility to manage their careers. Anyone can draft a development plan and seek their manager’s input. There is no promise a manager will support it, likewise there should be no assumption that they will not. Wise leaders realize that taking care of their resources will reflect on their performance and their own careers.

While there are no assurances employees will stay, proactive managers learn to develop their human resources now to avoid future regrets. Research from Bersin by Deloittte shows that the “#3 priority issue is the need to revamp and improve employee learning. This is not only a problem of skills development, but also one of engagement. The research shows that companies with high performing learning environments rank in the top for employee engagement—demonstrating how important learning is to engaging and empowering people.”

As agents of their companies managers are entrusted with the responsibility of managing their human resources in order to produce results through others. Rewards can be significant in the form of company growth, higher revenue and out-paced competition as evidenced in best practice data. Managers who invest in their employees’ development invest in their own careers.

Feel free to share this article with your leaders and managers. Sometimes external views can bear influence.

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