Does Your Company Punish People For Career Development?

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Virtually every company says it values career development. Yet one of the most common reasons for turnover is a lack of development opportunities.

If development is so important, why does it seem to be in such scarce supply?

One reason is many companies actually do things that discourage people from engaging in development activities.

You can tell a lot about how much a company values development by looking at the criteria used to guide compensation and promotion decisions.

For example:

  • Are managers and employees rewarded for investing time in building long-term talent?
  • Or, is it all about last quarter’s business results?

The following are examples of ways companies actually punish employees, managers, and human resources leaders for investing time toward development.

Punishing employees

The best way for employees to develop is by taking on goals that require performing new job roles, adapting to new work environments, and learning new capabilities. These goals are typically harder to complete than familiar goals because they require learning new things.

Many companies do not distinguish between developmentally challenging goals and familiar goals when evaluating employee performance. All that matters is whether employees meet their targets.

As a general rule, if an employee hits 100 percent of their goals year after year, they are not setting challenging goals. Yet, employees who achieve familiar goals with little development value may appear to have stronger performance than employees who set unfamiliar and far more challenging goals.

Punishing managers

From a short-term operational standpoint, investing in employee development is a lousy managerial strategy.

Why should a manager risk short-term targets by giving stretch job assignments to employees who have not done them before? Why take time away from daily operations to invest in employee learning?

And moreover, why encourage employees to pursue career opportunities or promotions elsewhere in the company? How does giving away talent help the manager?

The degree to which a company supports developmentally-minded managers can be assessed by evaluating whether managers who “promote people past them” are rewarded or punished.

  • Are these managers celebrated as talent creators or looked down upon as people who have hit a career plateau and are now being passed by?
  • Similarly, are managers rewarded for hiring and developing less experienced and less costly candidates?
  • Is there any incentive for managers to save on salary costs by developing talent instead of buying it?
  • Are there metrics related to talent development and retention on the scorecards used to evaluate managers?

I once asked a business leader how his company rewarded managers who developed and promoted people out of their teams. His answer was, “We don’t, we punish them by not backfilling their positions.”

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Given this, it is little wonder that a lot of managers express skepticism toward the relative value of development programs.

Punishing HR

The saying “what gets measured gets managed” is as true in HR as anywhere else. But, many of the things that are easy to measure in HR do not support investment in development programs.

For example, it is far easier to track the cost of training than to track the value created by training. As a result, more emphasis may be placed on using inexpensive development methods rather than effective ones.

HR metrics can also create conflict within the HR organization itself.

An example of this occurred in a company I was working with where the Director of Leadership Development was rewarded based on the percentage of positions filled by internal candidates while the Director of Recruiting was rewarded based on the number of external hires.

This placed the Recruiting organization in direct competition with the Development organization. Rather than cooperating to see if it made more sense to treat specific positions as opportunities to develop internal talent versus opportunities to bring fresh talent into the company, it was just a race to see who could fill them first.

Do you give lip service to the value of development?

I doubt any company intentionally creates rules and cultural norms to discourage development. These things result from a failure to think through the implications of organizational policies and leadership decisions.

Compare these examples to the methods your company uses to recognize and reward performance. Are you truly supporting people who invest in developing themselves and others, or do you merely give lip service to the value of development without actually rewarding it?

Note: This is an excerpt from Steven Hunt’s book Common Sense Talent Management: Using Strategic Human Resources to Improve Company Performance.

Dr. Steven Hunt is Senior Vice President of Customer Value at SuccessFactors/SAP Cloud HCM. A recognized expert on strategic human resources, he has helped implement HR systems positively affecting the workplace quality and performance of millions of employees working for hundreds of companies around the world. An active author and presenter, Dr. Hunt has written two books on strategic HR process design and deployment: “Commonsense talent management: using strategic human resources to increase company performance” (Wiley Press, 2014), and, “Hiring success: the art and science of staffing assessment and employee selection” (Wiley Press, 2007).


17 Comments on “Does Your Company Punish People For Career Development?

  1. Sometimes not all returns can be measured by inclusion on a simple balance sheet. However, career development is critical for business if they wish to show staff they are valued, stretch their abilities and engage them in a way that ensures they do not look for that next career move outside of the organisation they work for. Losing staff as a result of not investing in their development can have a deeper impact on the organisation, as they will take their knowledge and experience with them at a cost (financial e.g. new recruitment process and none financial e.g. company specific product knowledge and experience) to their existing employer.

  2. I completely agree with the importance of looking beyond the balance sheet when considering the value of development. At the same time, there are a lot of hard metrics that companies can track to better manage and reward development.

    One of my favorites is tracking managers based on “(number of promotions or internal transfers out of their department into other parts of the organization)/(number of employees exiting the organization from their department)”. You need to control for things like staffing levels and types of jobs, but the general focus of this metric is whether managers are “talent sources ” or “talent sinks”. Just tracking this sort of measure makes managers think more about the importance of development.

    1. I want to get into the Human Resources field, but I have no experience. How do I get my foot in the door? There are no human resource internships and even entry-level positions require experience and I can’t get it because no one will give me a job. How can I get around this? My email is

  3. The American business mantra of 2010s is cut, outsource, and temp. It is all about short term profit, the future does not exist.

    1. Yep and when the “cash cow” is finished giving out milk, they are forced to “sell it for the meat.” So many companies are only looking at the short term that when the day comes, their company goes bankrupt.

      1. The goal is to be “too big to fail” before that day comes. Then the tax payers can just bail you out.

  4. Companies are really good at…..lip service….when it comes to trying to gain their employees trust.
    NOT so good, at actually…..earning…..that trust.

  5. I have worked for companies before whose idea of career development was to take away your overtime pay. They give you a new job title, a new box of business cards, and the same responsibilities. They then give you extra work, so you are obliged to do 60 hours of work in a 40 hour week. The punchline here is that there is no extra money for all the extra work. And if you don’t do the work, you will get a negative review the next time raise evaluations come up.
    With the 50% extra work, about 50% extra problems come up (as should be expected). But the genius managers never see the extra work. All they see are extra problems. They say that the worker has all these new performance problems, are amazed at the poor performance, and can’t imagine what happened. Is the worker on drugs? they say. Why, he didn’t have any of these problems before.
    The only way to deal with this is to move on to a better company. Everybody loses here, unless the poor exploited worker gets about 15% more money on his next job.
    Companies that do this as a defacto policy turn into training centers. They hire in replacement workers, train them, and then force them to move on to better companies and better treatment. This is a strange approach to staff management, but it happens every day.
    The bottom line is that the skilled labor here eventually gets wise to the game. They win by getting all the free training they can get, and then moving on to a company that will pay them for their improved skills.
    I know a guy who went to every class he could go to for the 2 1/2 years he worked for a certain company. He then quit because the new company offered him a 25% increase in wages. Sounds good, huh? He worked for the new company about a month, and they dumped on him a huge amount of extra work as above. So the cycle begins again….

    1. One thing you can do to alleviate such problems is to successfully negotiate a more agreeable compensation package. If you are doing a job, getting paid a certain amount by the hour, and the company wants to “promote” you into a new title, you should negotiate an agreeable salary that will reflect the time you will spend working, and the ability you bring to the job. If the company is not willing to give you a salary that you find agreeable, simply do not accept the offer.

  6. Corporations lie and don’t give a rats arse about the employees. It’s all lip service, smoke and mirrors. They care about the bottom line. Period. Nobody is valuable to a corporation.

  7. Lip service is the name of the game. Now the company I will soon not be working for (by choice) is going to teach the managers how to better coach their underlings. I would love to know what is in those sessions. Everyone I have talked to has said it is impossible to get ahead without moving on.

  8. Man, what a board of whiners. If you don’t like your situation at work then do something about it. Companies will only continue if they have people to work there. If all of their folks leave because they don’t care of them, then they will go out of business. You all are not helpless to change your situation. Most companies ARE in business to make a profit, but the good ones DO take care to make sure there are growth opportunities and healthy work environments for their employees. So go make it work for you. Talk to your boss or the CEO and offer suggestions – you’d be amazed how often CEOs think about and consider these things. But also – remember that a business is supposed to be a profitable venture. If the company is struggling to make a profit, they’re not going to be very open to change for change sake, unless it helps the profit picture – because that is the purpose for its existence. If you don’t understand that simple fact, then you are in for a very rough career, and no matter how much you complain, things will not change for the better for you.

  9. In my experience there is little mobility in a company. If you say you want to take on more, they just give you more work but with no additional resources or compensation.

    I’m also amazed that companies will routinely hold the line on salaries and let an experienced person walk, then pay a head hunter to fill the position with someone who needs to be trained (and whom will get a market rate, a rate higher than the person just let go).

  10. My company did a leadership development program for managers several years ago. I had high hopes that something would come of it. Nothing did for any of the folks that took the courses and did the homework necessary to complete it. I have a plaque somewhere collecting dust.

  11. Job-Hopping has become the norm today, especially in Tech. Salaries have been stagnating for over 10 years, there’s no reason to think this will improve. That 3% ‘raise’ isn’t a raise, it’s a cost-of-living adjustment, at best, IF you get it. Most companies don’t care about or value their employees. If you want proof, look at stagnating wages, decreased paid holidays, low PTO offerings, expensive ‘benefits’, and poor employer matching on your 401k, IF offered. The best way to fend for yourself is to continually grow your skills with your current employer, and then offer your professional talent/services to another company that is willing to compensate you fairly for your increased skill-set. This process is fair to your current employer and your future employer. The last few places I worked for became indignant when an employee notified them another company was willing to offer better pay. That attitude demonstrates the corporate mentality that prevails today: Why should I pay more for a current employee? The answer to this question: Vote with your feet.

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