One of the most interesting workplace trends of the last few years is the rise of the “knowledge worker.” These are individuals whose daily roles go above and beyond repetitive or routine tasks and require moderate or high-level subject matter expertise. Since the middle of the ’80s, the number of such workers in the U.S. has fully doubled.
Unfortunately, decision-makers don’t seem to have read between the lines on what this really means: Employees increasingly don’t need management in the traditional sense. Moreover, they don’t want it.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits your company can realize by developing rather than managing employees.
1. It Unlocks Their Creativity
Management and micromanagement tend to breed resentment in the workplace, which is the last thing you need. Employees want to feel like they’ve been granted a certain amount of trust — and you probably want to grant it. However, watching their moves like a hawk or being too picky about the methods they use is a quick way to erode the sense of trust every workplace depends on.
Managing and micromanaging stifles creativity. Instead, give your people enough freedom and leeway that they can perform their work as well as try new things regularly without worrying about stepping out of bounds. It’s a great way to help them practice more creative and freeform thinking. Who knows what other marketable or efficiency-boosting ideas they’ll come up with?
2. Development Delivers What Reviews Cannot
This won’t come as a surprise, but a battery of surveys over the years seems to confirm that performance reviews are nearly universally disliked among employees. A majority of respondents to one 2017 study said they see them as an HR exercise only — and something generally undertaken with the employer’s interests in mind rather than the employee’s.
Think about the message that sends. Making the switch from employee reviews to employee development might sound like semantics, but this is much more than a simple rebrand of a familiar ritual: It’s a different way to think altogether.
When employees sit down with a manager or other leader, they want meaningful, slightly casual one-on-ones rather than a report card from their boss. Instead of asking, “How can this employee become more valuable for the company?” the question becomes something like, “What can we learn, or what goal can we set, to become a better-rounded person and team member?”
Research indicates that replacing traditional reviews with a more development-focused approach can yield employee performance improvements of up to 25%.
3. It Makes Employees More Goal-Oriented
Whether you call it mentoring or coaching, your employees should have ample opportunities to sit down with more senior members of your company to touch base and plot a course that focuses on personal as well as career growth. When that process happens regularly, it helps foster a goal-oriented mindset and makes it even more natural for your employees to divide their most challenging or complex goals or milestones into measurable, time-bound tasks.
4. Teams Can Grow Closer Together
One part of a leader’s job when it comes to developing employees instead of managing them is to help that manager’s direct-reports become more self-sufficient when it comes to answering their own questions and coming up with solutions. Instead of checking in with the manager regularly to be sure their latest move hasn’t strayed from the blueprint, employees become more confident troubleshooting their own problems — or, as the case may be, learning to reach out to and work more naturally with one’s immediate co-workers.
A leader focused on managing instead of developing their team won’t be surprised to find that this dynamic results in a group that naturally rallies around and supports each other. They no longer rely on a figurehead for continual guidance and bring the natural cadence of the workplace to a crawl.
5. Employee Development Improves Retention
Finally, it’s worth considering the cost of replacing an employee who moves on. Whatever the reason for their departure, the cost to replace an employee earning $45k annually is around $15,000 — and that makes employee retention something to focus on in every way that you can.
As you’ve probably guessed, creating an atmosphere where employees can think critically and creatively, and grow as individuals and team members, improves their likelihood to stick with the company for the long haul. According to another study, 94% of polled employees indicated they would stay with an employer longer if it showed a greater willingness to invest in worker development.
Clearly, there are lots of reasons to reconsider the message your employee development model is sending. People don’t want to feel their careers are dead-end jobs. Instead, they want to work in a place that tests their capabilities, recognizes their successes and helps them learn from their setbacks.
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