Development: Making the Most of Learning


Learning and development (coaching) are one of the fundamental aspects in the world of athletics. Players are expected to learn their plays, new skills, and team culture.  They must use those learnings along with the feedback to develop and show growth from when they joined the team.

The responsibility for learning and development doesn’t rest solely on the athlete. Coaches and athletes work in partnership.  Consistent feedback is provided by the coaches. Opportunities for the deliberate practice required for athletes to grow are also provided. Learning and development is a constant cycle with the ultimate aim of growth.

Aim for Growth

There are managers who believe “develop my employees will just make them want to leave sooner”.  However, in sports, one of the best measures of an athletic coach is their ability to “coach up” talent.  Primarily because the time with the team is often short. If the name of the game is high performance, then whatever can be done to maximize performance (including growing the talent) is what must be done.   

Say you’re able to get 125% out of an employee after 3 years before they move on with hands-on development. That’s a whole lot better than getting 100% for 1 year followed by 90-95% the next 2 with hands-off development as the employee’s engagement goes south.

Example data for illustrative purposes only.

In Partnership

Management partnership with employees is needed for proper development.

Managers and employees have a vested interest in employee development.  With development comes an increase in the scope of job duties. The manager’s team can increase their productivity. The manager can offload more tactical work to the employee so she can focus on more strategic work.  The employee has challenging work that spurs engagement. Promotion possibilities abound by excelling with an expanded job description.

Consistent Feedback

Consistent feedback is needed for proper development.

When it comes to feedback, take a cue from athletics – more is better.  Managers should consistently observe performance and provide both positive and constructive feedback.  Managers must be able to point out specific areas of improvement and ask the right questions. This will allow the employee to remain mentally engaged in their development.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is needed for proper development.

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 rule to achieve mastery is often misunderstood. First, it won’t always take 10K hours. More importantly, the practice must be deliberate. (Check out this video from peak performance expert Andres Ericcson)

Managers can help develop their employees develop by providing the following:

  1. Specific area(s) of improvement
  2. Opportunities for deliberate practice
  3. Further feedback (praise and/or guidance)

Corporate America could learn a lot from the world of athletics and high-performance. Make the investments in learning count by also investing in developing.  This is done through partnership, consistent feedback, deliberate practice, aiming for growth.  It’s time we think of Corporate America as a high-performance sport and coach up our the workforce.