You’ve heard the refrain time and again “people are our most important asset”. Even the fame Sir Richard Branson has long advocated for employee development and cites it as a major contributor to Virgin’s success.

This isn’t news to most leaders. Leaders know that fostering personal and professional development is critical for retaining our workforce and building scalable momentum. For years the research has told us that the majority of employees are disengaged which lowers productivity, fractures company culture, and leads to higher than average employee turnover; all of which erode profits.

While there are many reasons why leaders may fail to invest in the development of their people here are four of the most common reasons cited.

The tyranny of the urgent.

The most common reason leaders don’t develop their employees is a function of priority. Regardless of size or industry business leaders are daily barraged by problems-ranging from the annoying to the catastrophic-all of which demand time and attention.

Prioritizing the problem of the moment over people development is a logical but shortsighted solution and often creates to lower profitability as the leader is stuck working in the business rather than scanning the horizon for new opportunities. The decision to set aside time to focus on tomorrow’s problem rather than today’s is a difficult one to make but ultimately leads to long-term business growth.

It’s impossible to measure

Successful leaders know the value in measuring progress. Comparing year-over-year revenue for example is an easy way to measure growth or decline and serves as a data set for making future decisions. Measuring human development is less clear.

For starters, what do you measure? Time spent together? Books read? Weeks being mentored? All of these could be indicators of growth but aren’t necessarily indicators of anything other than what they directly measure. Make no mistake the goal is growth but since people’s capacity, focus, and ability to accurately assess risk fluctuates from day to day tracking progress is difficult if not impossible. Without a clear metric to measure success many leaders shy away from employee development altogether.

Don’t have the tools.

Corporate America has a tendency to promote those who help the bottom line. Raise the purview of your highest achievers and you’ll raise the revenue of your entire business. Or so the thinking goes.

Many high performers find themselves in positions to lead and manage a team without the skills or lived experience to do so. Now responsible for the team’s output the newly minted leader there’s a strong pull to double down on the skills and practices that got them promoted in the first place. The team hits their numbers and no one seems to notice that the employees in that leader’s charge grow restless as bordom sets in.

That’s HR’s job.

Leaders in larger organizations are delighed to discover that a person (or persons) on the HR team with “training and development” in their title. The temptation to entrust all development to HR is strong, but is also a mistake.

HR is great at creating generalized learning opportunities around topics like general job skills training, sexual harassment, diversity, and inclusion. The responsibility to grow the people on a team rests with the leader of the team to ensure that each member grows to their maximum potential.

Quick plan for developing your people.

Start small. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about all the time required to properly invest in growing your people so the best advice is to start small.

People development is a process not a destination and it’s a slow saunter at that. Begin by creating one meaningful connection with a direct report and get to know them on a personal level. Take time to ask them about their hopes and dreams and find out where they’d like to be in a few years time and help them get there. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s simply a matter of organically growing the process to include all members of your team.


  • Bryce Conlan

    Founder & Executive Sales Coach

    Narrative Advantage

    Bryce Conlan is the Founder of the Narrative Advantage, a consultancy that empowers sales leaders to build high-trust, high-performing teams by discovering the everyday genius of leaders and sales reps alike. Bryce has worked with 10 Fortune 500’s and many other well known brands such as GE, Proctor & Gamble, National Geographic, Harley Davison, Sony Music Group and has directly influenced over $72MM in new revenue for himself and his clients over the course of his career. You can find him at the Narrative Advantage website or follow him on Linkedin