No one is going to develop you

I had a really good experience when I first joined the Corporate world. The CEO recruited me because I had a good attitude and great energy. When was the last time you were recruited on this basis alone? In the whole I think companies have forgotten to recruit on personal attributes that are inherent in people and therefore hard to train. They spend their time on whether you have worked for the same type of industry or company before, or whether you can use a particular computer system. While some of these things are important, it’s more important to have behavioural and personal attributes that suit the company and the role.

For that first job, I did have some retail experience and a degree but not much that related to my new job. The HR Manager I worked for was interested in me being successful and spent lots of time and energy ensuring I was learning and developing. This is unusual people.

Pretty much every job I have had after that first one, I felt like I was on my own. I had to work out my own stuff. I had to work out the best way of doing things. I made lots of mistakes and had lots of success and I learnt that you shouldn’t rely on anyone to develop you, or take interest in your career, or mentor you. There are people who will do this but there are many many many who don’t. Not because they aren’t good people, although some aren’t. Not because they aren’t good managers and leaders, although some aren’t but there are a whole heap of reasons that get in the way.

Organizations are super busy with little redundancy in their systems. There’s just no fat anymore. Does someone do your job when you go on holidays? I bet not. Many organisations have lost their way and have forgotten their true purpose, instead focusing on budgets and sales and shareholders. Many organisations, in times of cost cutting have reduced their budgets on learning and development for leaders (to teach them how to develop others) and put their priorities elsewhere. Often there just isn’t the time and space, or leaders don’t make the time and space to spend with their people.

Most big organisations have talent management and succession processes, which act to identify the people they want to develop for the future and ensure they have successors in place for key roles. These processes also identify any capability gaps in the orgagnisation and will usually put a plan in place to fix it over time. For example, if a company identifies that there are not enough engineers coming up through the company, (and having engineering capability is crucial to the success of the company), they might invest in hiring more graduates.

I have been part of these in ‘got it together’ and ‘not got it together’ companies. 'Got it together' companies usually have good systems to track their talented people (including performance and potential ratings) and what successors they have for each of their key roles. They have huge annual and bi-annual processes where leaders are tied up in meeting for a few days reviewing this data, which is a huge investment on people.

Despite such investment of time and energy, I don’t think they work that well. Why you say? Well to start with, if a role comes up that the company has an identified successor for, do you think they put the person in the role, who was the nominated successor? That would be a big fat no. I have had arguments with leaders about this, but the succession planning process is flawed if it doesn’t work this way.

Here are some additional problems that can happen with these processes:

  • Nothing much happens after these meetings. Leaders are supposed to go back to employees and give then give feedback on their performance and how they will be developed, and put a development plan together with the employee. In most cases this doesn’t happen.
  • Sometimes the talent and succession planning only happens at a certain level of the organisation, leaving many employees out of the process
  • Plans to fill capability gaps are usually put on hold because they cost money and there are other more pressing priorities.
  • Even if all employees are reviewed in these closed room discussions, only a few may be targeted for development, because resources are limited.

So you know what? You have to look after your own development! You can’t wait for your manager, or some big (or little) company to do this for you. YOU JUST CAN’T! If you do you will be in the same job year after year (if you are lucky enough to still have a job). And I’ll let you in on a secret. If you are not identified as ‘talent’ or a successor for a role within a company, you just get on with your own career development.

One company I worked for, who had a well embedded talent review system, had assessed me on performance and talent, squarely in the middle. My manager, who I had a lot of respect for and who I learnt a lot from, took the time to explain my rating. I appreciated him for his honesty and courage. What he couldn’t do was explain to me what I needed to do differently to be rated differently. I wanted to be seen as a great perfomer (everyone does and also everyone thinks they’re a great performer!) with lots of potential (I’m ambitious). How should I do this? Well he couldn’t explain to me. And this is another flaw in the process. It's really hard to explain this stuff.

As I went on to more senior and more interesting roles which gave me lots of development, I realised that just because one company looks at you a certain way, doesn’t mean others won’t think you are great. I learnt that while I worked on some great projects in that company, the work and the environments I went on to work in, better suited me, and I thrived. So much so that colleagues that I worked with previously, asked to meet with me to discuss their careers and to find out what I had done differently. 

You can’t be defined by one manager’s or one company’s view of you. I have had some great mentors and coaches and managers who really cared about me developing but bottom line, you have to own and look after your career because nobody else will.

Photo credit: Tim Gouw at