No matter the organization, employee development is likely to have little meaning if top executives don’t support it. Mid-level managers can’t undertake development initiatives all by themselves.

But let’s assume that the bigwigs in your organization ARE favorable to employee development. They understand how important it is to give employees training that will help them do the jobs they’re now doing and prepare them for the next steps in their careers.

How to help
In that case, managers can do a lot. If you’re a manager who wants to be of service, you could:

  • Start by finding which employees are interested in creating a development plan for their own growth. Some people may not be interested, and nobody should make them feel inferior if they’re not.
  • Help each employee write his or her development plan. This doesn’t have to be complicated. There are various succinct templates available, such as this one, from the University of California/Berkeley. The key is to detail skills the employee with need in the short-, medium- and long-term, and lay out resources and activities he/she will need to obtain these skills.
  • Provide a reality check on goals and timeframes. Employees, especially younger ones, may not have a realistic handle on what they can hope to accomplish and how fast. Without casting cold water on anybody’s dreams, managers can help employees keep their plans within the realm of the possible. Remember, inflated expectations often lead to disillusionment.
  • Set regular meetings to discuss progress and obstacles, and revise the plan as necessary. These should be separate from employee evaluations. If the employee’s annual evaluation takes place in, say, December, you could have the development plan meeting(s) in May, or in March and September. Make sure the employee understands that there’s no disgrace or failure in revising the plan to reflect events.
  • Recognize accomplishment of key goals. An employee who learns a new skill or set of skills will feel doubly validated — and eager for the next step — if the person’s manager notices and provides appropriate praise.

What you get out of it
Of course, employees themselves are primarily responsible for meeting their own development goals.

But managers who understand and empathize with people who want to better themselves can provide invaluable support. And managers like that stand a good chance of reaping benefits, too, in terms of top employee motivation and productivity. After all, who doesn’t want to put in a strong effort for a manager who is helping them go places?

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