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Top 5 Reasons Why Traditional Employee Development is Failing

Employee Development, Traditionally. 

“Why should we develop people when our competitors are willing to do it for us?” 

CEOs were asking that question in the 1990s to demand justifications on a employee development budget, to understand why it is important to the company. 

Traditionally, employee development is a small element, tucked away from the wider HR strategy. Organisations send their best staff to complete training courses, or business schools. In hope that these strategies centred on knowledge acquisition will allow its staff to learn everything they need to boost the firm’s ROI. It has certainly worked for some companies. But the general sentiment now hones towards a participation model

Reseachers Zaleska and Menezes find that development practices built on challenging work and coaching is more effective and popular. 

Let’s ask why the shift is made – why traditional ways to employee development don’t work now. 

Traditional ways to employee development are not as effective now. The ways to develop employees must get on with times and focus on growth, rather than simply acquiring knowledge surrounding the matter.

#1. Traditional practices on how we manage and develop employees simply can’t keep up. 

Interestingly, Deloitte’s HR Trends report found that close to 90% of global business leaders and HR executives are building new ways to develop talent. 

The report has several key findings: 

  • Based on a global survey of more than 1300 organizations across 59 countries, including Australia, has found that the “war for talent” is shifting to a “war to develop talent”
  • The “war to develop talent” is where businesses are struggling to fill critical positions at many levels, build new capabilities to enable individuals to succeed in their roles. 
  • Confronting almost 75% of Australian organisations, former Deloitte human capital leader, Nicky Wakefield has found that employees are demanding more targeted talent development opportunities


Therefore, as new talents enter the workforce, the strategies to manage and develop them need to change too. 

#2. Employee development is not a part of your company culture. 

Today’s workforce craves growth. Just look at how many of us turned to enrich our digital skills during the pandemic! Yet, we don’t just want it the typical way either. 

The younger workforce is demanding more “targeted” employee development opportunities alongside meaningful work. 

Today’s workforce craves growth, and employee development should be front and centre to appeal to the modern workforce. This is crucial to retaining and attracting top talent to the firm.


So businesses need to adapt. How? Our quick tips are: 

  • Spell it out in your company culture. 
  • Foster a growth mindset where talents are discovered and nurtured during the workday. 
  • Provide training and support, centered on employee development. (More on that below) 


To your surprise, it will strengthen your current teams and will be useful in recruiting additional members in the future. 

#3. Short-term vs Long-term: Budget and Strategy 

When it comes to people, executives are often confused about what they want for the future and how it is going to be different from today. That’s because the Human Resources department itself, is not a revenue-generating function. So naturally, it faces a common challenge, to “do more with less”. 

From a higher level, it is where the HR department is challenged to cut operational costs, increase reliance on technology, getting rid of redundancy, and the list goes on. 

Companies often struggle to do more with less, especially with human resource budgets since the function is not expected to generate revenue in the short run. At the same time, this leaves many companies neglecting how valuable HR-investments can be along the horizon. Therefore, companies must align the HR budget both short- and long-term in order to strategise talent development in the company.

Robert Half Australia has conducted a survey with 300 Australian CFOs and finance directors, to find that 45 percent of companies have tried to boost teams’ outputs without providing additional resources. 

Its director found that  the economic climate is one catalyst in forcing Australian companies to focus on productivity improvements. Whilst it makes financial sense, driving existing employees’ productivity higher is not viable in the long-run.  

On the other hand, Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, finds this clash between the short-term thinking within companies and pressure from shareholders actually detract from the effectiveness of long-term talent management strategies. 

She describes that talent management actually has the longest time frame in most businesses. 

“So you might bring in people at the age of 22 and they won’t really make a significant contribution for 10, maybe 15 or 20 years,” she notes. 

In the long run, organisations need to align how they define talent in the context of the FUTURE of their business, to strategise the HR function and to get the right budget allocation for its people. 

#4. Companies struggle to realise that on-the-job mentoring, coaching and stretch assignments are also important. 

Through Gratton’s research, she has found that most businesses undermine the importance of the “softer” yet high-touch ways of employee development.  Also conceptualized as developmental relationships researchers from Boston University, they can help talented employees see new perspectives and understand bigger picture issues.

Most significant work relationships are typically built with peers, senior leaders, customers and suppliers.

Moreover, research finds that, a job is the basis of employee development in enriching one’s experience. These relationships built during the course of the role are central to the employee development process. 

There are many ways to talent development, with one way to be maintaining high-touch relationships with others. These relationships at the workplace are crucial to one's growth and development, as it allows you to see beyond the scope and pushes you to understand both sides of the picture. Leaders have a pivotal role to play here.

So, Managers, this one’s for you. 

As a direct report for many, you will need to regularly coach and check in with staff as part of your company’s employee development strategies. 

Don’t know where to start? Check our list of employee engagement strategies to get started!

#5. Many organisations are not looking within, and therefore, not developing talents. 

It might be hard to believe, but chances are good that some of the best talents for your organisation isn’t just one recruiter phone call away – It is RIGHT UNDER your nose

One of the best employee development strategies is showing employees that you are committed to them not only in their careers, but also as well-founded people who may be under-utilised, and are ready for more challenging work. 

(Re: Skills underutilisation is one of five silent killers to employee engagement and morale.) 


Many organisations struggle to look within and therein neglect their talents. These employees are often more capable than you think they are, and therefore are valuable assets to the company. With their profound knowledge in the company and the industry, they should be retained in the company at all times, rather than working for the competitors.

Does this mean working extra hours and burning your employees out? Absolutely not. 

What it does mean, is giving an opportunity for internal employees who feel that they are ready for more, to take more. This gives them the chance to sharpen their skills, or explore their interest in a short-term project without leaving the company

Let’s think bigger. 

Imagine an employee working through mundane data entries every day. Thanks to her role, she has a high level of attention to detail and can do wonders with all the spreadsheet tricks! 


She is eager to utilise her analytical skills to churn through social media stats and user behaviour data. 

The goal is NOT to do more with less. Instead, it is to use employee development strategies to offer employees more meaningful work that incorporates their interests into their daily work and deepens their skills. 

Working from anywhere is tricky to implement. Expectations, requirements and employee engagement are the largest factors at play.

Employee Development in the New World

Employee Development now plays a stronger role in the new perspectives of HRM. 

It offers employees an opportunity to learn and expand in their areas of interest. In turn, this makes them more engaged and more productive.

In other words, Good Employee Development = Higher Employee Engagement = Better Business Performance.

Therefore, organisations should focus on getting the right people, to do the right things, in the right way, to drive the right types of development.

When done properly and successfully, employee development leads employees to do their jobs better, and enjoy doing them.