Are you a blocker boss?  How to enable your staff to do their best work

Pink sticky note with text typed I HATE MY BOSS on the office wall

Debra Corey and Ken Corey give advice to bosses who want to say no to development opportunities

Over the years, more emphasis and focus has been put on the development of our people. We’ve come under pressure to upskill and reskill them to meet the changing needs of the workplace and our businesses. At the same time, it’s become more critical to our people too. One survey found that development moved from the ninth most important driver of a great work culture to top in just two years.

By supporting and encouraging your people’s development, you’re enabling them to be more effective and efficient

According to another study, development influences both attraction and retention. 92% of job candidates say that learning and development opportunities are a deciding factor when considering job offers from two potential employers. 86% also said that they’d stay longer with their company if they offered more learning and development opportunities.

With statistics like this, no wonder so many of us are prioritising our development strategies and programmes. But what happens when a boss gets in the way? When a boss becomes a blocker, preventing or getting in the way of their people’s development and career progression, stopping them from achieving their goals, mastering new skills, or contributing to the company’s success, what happens?

When speaking with a boss who doesn’t understand they are being a blocker, it can be useful to describe the impact and consequences of blocking their people in these three ways:

  1. Your people’s skills will fall behind

    One study found that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, meaning the majority of your people will need to learn and develop new skills in order to perform the jobs your company requires for the future. Crazy to think about, but it’s true. And as the report says, “The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself.”

    If this development is blocked, it directly impacts the performance of your people. By supporting and encouraging your people’s development, you’re enabling them to be more effective and efficient. At the same time, your people will be able to navigate their work more effortlessly, resolve issues quickly, and see things with a more experienced perspective. That’s a win for you as a boss, for them as an employee, and for your business which will benefit from a more skilled workforce!
  1. You’ll stifle creativity and innovation

    Being a blocker sometimes involves blocking new ideas and new ways of thinking being presented by your people. Instead, you rely on your own experiences and ideas, using the same steps and past assumptions repeatedly without trying to discover new insights and approaches. Even if your own experience and ideas are good, this still creates an environment that prevents any sort of creativity, innovation, and progress. 
  1. More people leave

    And finally, if you block the development and career advancement of your people, they will decide that they’re not getting what they want and need and are much more likely to leave your company. According to one study, a lack of development and career advancement are among the top three reasons why people leave their jobs.

After sharing this, hopefully, blocker bosses will be on board, understanding that they need to get out of the way and support their people’s development. But often, they aren’t sure what to do, so here are three tips that can help them move in the right direction:

  1. Personalise development

    The first thing to point out to your bosses is that there is not just one way to develop your people. Development is not one-dimensional, there are many factors that impact how you develop your people. It depends on the person, how they like to learn, where they want to go, their interests and more.

    We all have different ways to put in the work to personalise development for our people. Here are four questions I often ask, which helps formulate their developmental goals and “give them the map” to help them achieve them.

    1. Where are you now? What are my strong skills? Go on, celebrate these!

    2. Where do I need to be in the short term? What skills and experience do I need so I can do my current job better?

    3. Where do I need to be in the long term? What skills and experience do I need to achieve my future career aspirations?

    4. How do I like to learn and develop? What are my preferred ways to develop, e.g. take classes, attend conferences, read books, listen to videos, shadow someone, be mentored?
  1. Shift the power

    Forcing development will undermine its effectiveness. “You must attend this class”, “you must take this workshop”, the list goes on and on. This doesn’t work because only your people can decide if they’re going to be present and attentive to the learning. You can’t force them to do this!

    Shift the power and let your people own their development. After all, they’re the ones that will care the most. Although you can help them by making tools and resources available, and being there for them along the way, ultimately, your people must own their learning journey.
  1. Encourage stepping out of comfort zones

    We’re all human, which means sometimes we want to take the easy route and stick to things we’re good at. But when it comes to development, you must be willing to take that step out of your comfort zone, confronting things that may be scary and uncomfortable.

    As a boss, this is something you need to do to help your people, giving them a nudge to try their hand at a new task or learn something new. These little nudges can show them the benefits of learning new things, how they’ll grow, reach new goals, and build self-confidence. Think about how this can show them they are brave and capable of facing and overcoming their fears.

Learning is the future

In the rapidly evolving workplace, the role of development cannot be overstated. Embracing a culture of continuous learning and development is more than a strategic imperative; it’s a commitment to the future.

By removing barriers to growth and fostering an environment where every individual has the opportunity to thrive, organisations can ensure not only their immediate success but also their long-term relevance. Let’s prioritise unlocking potential, nurturing talent, and cultivating an atmosphere where progress is not just encouraged but celebrated, by employees and bosses alike.

Debra Corey and Ken Corey are experts in HR and people development and the authors of Bad Bosses Ruin Lives: The Building Blocks for Being a Great Boss

You can read a TJ book review of Bad Bosses Ruin Lives

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