Helping Managers Effectively Promote Employee Development

At this year’s HR Tech show, there was a dizzying array of new technologies, portals, and point solutions designed to help companies with their employee engagement, retention, and talent attraction. Before scrambling to attain the latest technology, however, organizations may first need to do some soul searching. With almost every organization we speak to, we hear the same refrain: Their culture isn’t prepared to become a culture of mobility. How do companies ready themselves? What we know is that effective managers are often the linchpin to employee engagement and retention. It only makes sense, then, that finding ways to help managers better guide career development activities with employees can be the key that unlocks the door to culture change.

Finding ways to help managers better guide career development activities with employees can be the key that unlocks the door to culture change. Jeanne Schad @RiseSmart #SmartTalkHR this


The organization, the employee and the manager are all critical in the successful launch of a talent mobility program, but managers can be the most influential when it comes to empowering the career success of their employees. Managers who are well-prepared to engage in frequent career conversations with employees have a higher probability of keeping those employees interested and of retaining them. Those who are not prepared for career discussions, however, often avoid such dialogue, which leads to an increased chance their employees will leave.


Individual employees continue to envision their next step as a specific opportunity. If they don’t achieve it, they become disengaged retention risks. To complicate matters, managers can hoard talent instead of share it. And, organizations often unknowingly place barriers that prevent employees from applying their talents freely across the organization, making it just as easy—or sometimes easier—for people to get a job outside the company than inside.

Related content: 5 Reasons Why Internal Mobility Initiatives Fail


Research shows 70 percent of employees say their relationship with their manager is an extremely or a very important factor in deciding to remain at or leave their job. We also know that 8 in 10 employees say they’d quit their jobs for better development opportunities.  

In our conversations with organizations and managers, we find that most managers very much want to have more frequent and better-quality career conversations with their team members. Most just simply don’t know how. According to recent research from Gartner, 45 percent of managers don’t feel confident in their ability to develop the skills employees need today. The cost of this lack of knowledge can be high. 


Anita is a loyal employee who has been at her organization for six years. For five of those, she’s been in the same role, one that she has nearly mastered, and achieved the main performance goals for the role every year. She’s sought out by peers for her expertise and ideas, and frequently grooms talent, who move on to new roles within the company. Now, she’s ready to try something new and take on fresh challenges. 

Anita is loyal. She wants to stay with the company and explore internal opportunities. She starts where she should, with her manager, Kristy. The manager is under pressure to deliver on her own performance metrics and Anita is her star player. Kristy is hiring and grooming others in the role and she needs Anita to stay in place for her team plan to work. She tells Anita she can begin exploring opportunities to transfer within the company to a new team once Kristy has filled the two open headcount positions and has sufficiently trained everybody to a level of competence that matches Anita’s. Anita is disappointed with the news. With the toggle of a switch on her LinkedIn profile, she indicates she’s open to hearing from recruiters. Within three months, she’s been approached by three organizations who are looking for top performers with her skills. Anita has a solid offer with more responsibility, more money, and, most importantly, more challenge. As a result, she resigns. Her manager is left with a junior team and one additional head count to fill. Not only is the example a true story, but it’s also an all-too-common one. 

Related content: 5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement and Performance


Companies we work with are implementing a multitude of creative approaches to attract new talent and improve internal mobility programs to avoid losing talent like Anita. At RiseSmart, our career development model identifies and develops six manager competencies that can be strengthened to improve the manager’s role in redeploying and mobilizing talent. These competencies include the ability to: 

      1. Conduct career development conversations that empower employees to define, strategize, and execute upon their unique goals. 

      2. Engage in a discovery (verses directive) approach to aid team members in taking ownership of their career advancement. 

      3. Discuss assessments and give feedback to surface team skill strengths and gaps, bridge those gaps, and leverage strengths. 

      4. Give constructive and appreciative feedback to foster a feedback culture that strengthens collaboration and performance. 

      5. Identify internal opportunities that allow team members to stretch and grow in voice, value, and visibility. 

      6. Assist in developing stakeholder relationships through networking, mentoring, and collaboration that support team goals. 

A manager who follows a few simple guidelines of openly discussing career development, empowering employees to explore and encouraging the use of data can greatly enhance the employee experience for their team members. Jeanne Schad @RiseSmart #SmartTalkHR this

Related Content: How to Move Your Career Development Strategy to the Fast Lane

Let’s look more closely at the first three of these manager competencies for empowering talent mobility, and explore how Kristy could have managed Anita’s situation differently. 

     1. Conduct career development conversations that empower employees to define, strategize and execute their unique goals. 

They key word to notice here is “empower.” The manager does not assume ownership or responsibility for moving employees into new roles. Nor does the manager set the goals for the employee. The manager’s role is reduced to one simple action: empowering the employee. Empowerment can come from providing time to the employee to explore options or connecting the employee to resources such as online learning. 

In our example, Anita may have a sense as to what she wants to do next and Kristy, as her manager, can offer a unique perspective. By simply opening the dialogue, without making any promises, Kristy can help Anita to begin exploring and defining her next move, using Kristy as a sounding board for potential ideas. This process could take several months, maybe longer, while Anita clarifies her objective. Starting a conversation allows Kristy to keep Anita contributing and engaged while also buying time to continue to strengthen the team. 

     2. Engage in a discovery (verses directive) approach to aid team members in taking ownership of their career advancement. 

Like the first competency, the manager’s role here is to engage in the process, not lead or direct it. An employee, who is given the safety to explore by their manager, may schedule coffee meetings or lunches with other team leads. She may join an internal employee resource group to connect with different employees who share a common interest. She may seek a mentor, formal or informal mentor, or be given budget to attend learning or networking events outside the organization to expand her knowledge. 

In our example, if Kristy had encouraged and supported Anita to begin this discovery process, Anita could have connected externally and brought back ideas that enable the team to operate better. She would also be much more engaged by being given the freedom to pursue this exploration without fear of creating a perception of disloyalty. 

     3. Discuss assessments and give feedback, thereby surfacing team skill strengths and gaps, bridging gaps and  leveraging strengths. 

Assessment tools can be a rich source of data for an employee to learn more about themselves, as well as for the manager to plan and recruit a team with a variety of personalities and skills. Your organization likely uses at least one assessment tool such as the MBTI or CliftonStrengths. At RiseSmart, we love the simplicity and usefulness of the Traitify Assessments. As managers use more data to make better decisions in other parts of the business, it stands to reason that team management can also benefit from a few simple data points on the individual members. Most assessment tools offer ideas as part of the feedback report. You don’t have to be a trained industrial organizational psychologist to review assessment results with an employee. Any manager can do this with an employee and recognize areas for adjustment based on the data.

In our example, Kristy’s plan for building her team was static, based on adding new team members and assuming others would stay in place. If Kristy had a sense of the strengths, interests, and personalities that formed a perfect team, she could have allowed a more fluid movement of people, provided the same traits were covered elsewhere in the team. 

With organizations increasing their creativity in attracting, retaining, and engaging their talent, managers are a crucial component, especially when it comes to career development. A manager who follows a few simple guidelines of openly discussing career development, empowering employees to explore and encouraging the use of data can greatly enhance the employee experience for their team members. 

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16 October 2019

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