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When is it OK not to develop?

(Image credit: (Pixabay))

Here’s a question I often get from managers:

“I have employees that doesn’t want to be developed. They just want to come to work, do their jobs, and go home. Development isn’t for everyone, right? I can’t force them to develop if they don’t want to!”

My answer? Yes, you and your employees are free to ignore that stupid individual development plan form that HR is forcing down your throats. But only if the employee can check off each of the following boxes and you’re willing to sign off on it:

  • No changes in technology, now or next 2-3 years
  • No changes in work processes, now or next 1-2 years
  • No changes in customer preferences, requirements
  • Can score a 10/10 on all technical/job specific skills
  • Can score a 10/10 on all key behavioral competencies
  • Company growth will remain flat or decline next 5 years
  • There will be no organizational changes requiring new skills
  • No interest or potential for promotion
  • No interest or possibility of lateral move
  • No need to fill in for team, cross-train
  • No new projects or assignments coming up

Could you check them all? Probably not. In today’s hypercompetitive, whitewater, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) business environment, if you are not growing you are dying.

Standing still is not an option. Continuous improvement is a business imperative, and quite frankly, a condition of employment. Just as important as “coming to work every day.”

As a leader, letting your employees off the hook for development because “they don’t want to” is a cop-out and weak leadership. You’re letting the employee run the risk of becoming expendable and unemployable, and you’re saying it’s OK to run your team on at less-than-optimal performance.


Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire. He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy. If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better leader and communicator.