I recently interviewed two experts in the professional development space about how and why managers should invest in their employees' professional development. Here are 3 tips for managers looking to develop their talent in 2020.

The people I interviewed were Zahir Ladhani, a Scaling Up coach and business growth expert, former VP of IBM; and Wendy Johnson, president/CEO of Dale Carnegie of Georgia.

Zahir Ladhani (Scaling UP) and Wendy Johnson (Dale Carnegie)

The following tips are based on the insights of both of these highly experienced people.


1) Grow the future

First of all, every manager needs to realize that skilled talent is in short supply. And since having access to it is crucial for the success of every business, it's essential that skilled talent be not only found, but retained and grown.

Especially with the generation that is newly dominant in the job market, namely the millennials, the retaining and growing go hand in hand. Millennials are not as loyal to their employers as other generations, but they do disproportionately value professional training opportunities.

If you train a millennial, they will love you forever. If you invest in them, they will invest in you.
- Wendy Johnson (Dale Carnegie)

So professional development can also be a great way to reward people for good performance. You will not always be able to promote people or give them a bonus, but you can still show your appreciation by investing in their professional development.

Cultivating a culture of investing in people will not only help you to retain the talent you have, but it will also make sure you don't need to find as much talent later on, either.

After all, if you build op young talent over time, they can naturally grow into leadership roles down the road. And that means you will not have to attract highly skilled leaders from outside the company that may or may not be a culture fit.

This brings us to the next point.

2) Focus on high performers

Most managers would be tempted to focus their professional development efforts on the lower performers in their team and getting them up to par. But both Ladhani and Johnson actually advise managers to do the exact opposite. You should start by identifying your individual contributors that are high potential, and invest in them exclusively.

And it makes sense, when you think about it.

You wouldn't be eager to buy stocks in a company that's been stagnant for a decade. You want to put your investment where you'll get the most bang for your buck.

The same goes for investing in your employees. You are going to get the best ROI when you invest in the people that are already showing all the signs of an upward trajectory.

You want to invest in the people who have ambition and are already taking ownership of their careers before you start financing it. The people who are already buying the management books and visiting conferences of their own initiative.

Focusing on the high performers like this works better for everybody involved, both for the trainer and the trainee. In fact, some training companies, like Scaling Up, will only take clients if they show clear signs of being self-learners.

"We don't take customers if they're not self-learners."
- Zahir Ladhani

So focus on the people that actually want to learn and develop themselves, as proven by the fact that they're already doing it of their own accord.

3) Go live

Another thing that may seem tempting is to just have employees take online courses on LinkedIN Learning or similar online platforms, because of the comparatively low cost. But it turns out that you get what you pay for in this regard as well.

After all, with any kind of professional training, you're not just looking to consume information, like you would when reading a book. No, you're looking for some sort of transformational experience.

Obviously, you need to start doing things differently than you used to do them, if you want to become more successful. So the trainee needs to come out of the course not just with more knowledge, but with new skills and behaviors that will actually get measurable results in the real world.

Prerecorded lecture videos don't tend to get such results.

For the training course to have actual impact on the trainee, there needs to be buy-in, engagement, ownership and accountability. This is why live training tends to get way better results.

Being in-person would be ideal: in the same room with the trainer. But if that is not possible, live online training with the help of technology is a great alternative.


In summary: the importance of talent development for business growth can almost not be overstated. But make sure you do it right, to get the most bang for your buck. Use training to retain, grow and cultivate talent for the future. Focus on the high performers for the best ROI. And choose live courses whenever you can.

Invest in your people, so they will be invested in you.