Companies proclaim their people as their greatest asset, but don't know how to develop them. Howard Lent explains

The question of how companies develop and retain talent is the point of focus for business psychologists Kaisen Consulting. Kaisen's Robert Myatt says that on a wider level, businesses are realising that 'our people are our greatest asset' is becoming a central tenet of many businesses.

"This eternal claim of mission statements across the globe is not just a good thing to say, but is a critical business principle. Part of this shift could be put down to the increasing body of evidence linking people development and bottom line performance," he says.

Kaisen's research has shown that it is beneficial for organisations to have solutions available to help employees develop in the areas of people management, emotional intelligence, communication, self-confidence, decision making and business understanding.

But, if companies are sold on the idea that developing employees yields benefits for them as well as the business, the next challenge is what to do about it.

How can companies be sure that they are targeting the development budget on the things that employees will really need to develop and which will give maximum returns to the business?

"Within organisations there is often information available on an employee's capabilities in the form of competency ratings or appraisal data. However, because this data is collected using pre-defined models, there is a risk of the accuracy of the information being constrained by the model. That is, the business defines a number of areas of capability that are important and then gets employees to rate their relative importance," says Myatt.

To address these research questions, Kaisen used the method of a 360-degree survey to collect the views of bosses, employees' colleagues and direct reports. The questionnaire had two sets of items.

The first was a series of descriptions of behaviours which employees rated according to how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a statement. The second set consisted of three open-ended questions where respondents could write whatever they wanted.

The development needs identified were of a basic nature, given an indication of the level where some companies need to start.

The top development need from the research with 47% was delegation followed by 43% accounting for listening, 41% for assertiveness and also 41% for openness to others feelings.

Myatt says: "There appear to be some development needs which are present across the board, with up to 47% of all people in the sample having the same development need. This suggests that there are some key areas where targeted development solutions would benefit large numbers of people in the organisation."

And he adds: "The prevalence of delegation as a development need may reflect the common observation that few managers today are trained on how to manage people.

"For example, knowing what work to delegate, how to decide who to delegate it to and what to do once the work has been passed on to others are essential skills, but are very rarely formally taught in business.

"It is often the case that if people are required to analyse balance sheets, they are trained in 'finance for non-financial managers', if they need to design IT, they receive 'systems analysis' training."

When it comes to managing a team, people, says Myatt, are expected to "pick it up as they go along".

"There is clear evidence that development is beneficial for both individuals and organisations."

However, with a total of 59 categories of development needs identified, there are too many different areas to tackle individually. Which brings us back to where we started.

Myatt says: "Targeting the causes of behaviour rather than the behaviours themselves could enable interventions to address a variety of development symptoms simultaneously." IT