Once we are managing direct reports we have a least three obligations. As a manager and leader we have to demonstrate an interest in:

  1. The organisation we work in,
  2. The results we are expected to achieve, and
  3. Developing our direct reports.

Over the years we have consistently come across managers (even at the executive level) who constantly do the first two while displaying a total or near total absence of focus on developing their people. The people who work for these managers find this very confusing. After all, without the people there wouldn’t be a company and there certainly wouldn’t be any results. Ostensibly, people are an organisation’s greatest asset. If that is the case, wouldn’t you invest in your best assets to improve productivity and innovation?

If this manager disinterest in developing people goes on over time, direct reports will start to disengage, motivation and energy will go down with a corresponding decrease in productivity and innovation. This is well known and countless studies attest to the link between employee engagement and productivity. So why would managers feel the need or right to ignore caring about their greatest assets?

By contrast, the direct reports of managers who don’t care about the company, results or them are less affected. At least the disinterest is consistent across the board! People can live with that, we all at some point have come across a manager who should never have been put into their role because they were disengaged from their work, organisation and people. You may have also come across managers who take care of their people, but don’t really care about results or the organisation. That tends to work more often than not, as there are usually enough driven people who will take care of producing the results. We have seen countless examples of direct reports compensating for their managers, but you can’t if it is about developing people.

So as a manager, when did you last take a real, genuine interest in the professional development of your direct reports? If you say as part of their annual performance review that wouldn’t be a surprise and, at the same time as it not being unusual, it’s pretty mediocre. Having a 30 minute discussion once a year doesn’t show real interest, it’s just about ticking a box.

As a manager you are not responsible for the careers of the people you manage. Yet you are responsible for their professional development, their ability to perform the roles you hired them into. If there are underperformance issues you need to address them and if their performance is satisfactory or better they have every right to expect that they should be able to talk to you about their professional development. This is not just about picking a training program from a Learning & Development menu. It is about investing time and effort into getting to know them and understanding their motivation for being where they are and where they are headed to.

We are constantly amazed by the number of managers who don’t have regular meetings with their direct reports. Their response when we ask them how regularly they have 1-on-1’s with their staff is – “I don’t need to, my door is always open and anyone can come and see me anytime they need to.” This implies a problem needs to occur and that is how most staff members will hear this type of statement. It is too informal and ad-hoc, it is certainly not an invitation. It is rarely seen as the space to ask for development advice or support.

As a very minimum a manager needs to meet 1-on-1 with each of their team once per month, for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. Of theses meetings, 20-25% of the time should to be focused on professional development and opportunities to develop or refine skills. This can take the form of

  1. Bouncing around ideas on what to focus on next as part of their development,
  2. Giving specific feedback on how they went about a particular task,
  3. Advice on handling stakeholders, peers, or customers,
  4. Recommendations for mentoring or working on special projects,
  5. Setting specific development goals for the next 6-12 weeks.

In these 1-on-1 meetings as a manager you have to be in the moment and give them your full attention. It is your time to demonstrate that even though you may be really busy or you may not really be interested in them as a person, you are still willing to take your responsibilities towards them seriously. This involves understanding how they contribute to the team, the quality of the results they produce and how they are perceived by their colleagues. It further involves knowing their professional goals and how they perceive themselves relative to others in the team.

If you believe you don’t have time for these 1-on-1 meetings, all you are really saying is that you can’t be bothered to care about your team. These choices come down to opportunity cost. With a team of 7 we are talking 4-7 hours a month. The managers and leaders who understand the value of their team, of developing their greatest assets, would never question the value of such a small time investment because of certainty of the return they are going to reap. The choice to join them is yours to make.