How do you know if you’ve spent too much – or not enough – time developing an employee? Could they be the right employee with more time? Or do I have the wrong person? At a recent YPO Event, I received this great question.

The first step is to ask yourself a question. Ask, “if I knew what I knew about (insert employee’s name) today and they walked through the door, would I hire them on the spot?”

If the answer is yes, you’re on the right path.

If the answer is no, you have to ask yourself, “Why?” We need deeper understanding about what’s not working in the role. If the answer is, I don’t know, then we need to move to the next step. We need to have absolute role clarity.

You need to be able to define the role clearly. I’m not talking about a simple job description. You need to know the musts of the position versus the wants. Remove the personality and get clarity on what you really need.

Look ahead, imagine one year from now. If this role is wildly successful, what would be different? How would they advance the organization? What would be in place that’s not there today?

Once you have clarity about the position, you can weave the individual back into it. You’ll see where (or if) there’s gaps. Where there are gaps, it’s time to coach.

How do you coach someone? You can’t coach someone without a relationship. No one wants to be “techniqued.” No one wants to be manipulated. No one wants you to try out the newest leadership method on them. People want to know they are cared about.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Once you’ve established a relationship it’s time to coach. There are three reasons people don’t do something:


They can’t do it. If my job was to dunk a basketball, at 5’10”, I’m in trouble. I can’t dunk a basketball. You can send me to all the classes in the world. You can have me read all the books about a dunking basketball.

I’m still not going to make slam dunks. However, sometimes my job or pay depends upon making you think I can dunk the basketball.

“The can’t” employee simply won’t call the game. They need the leader to call the game for them. As a leader, if you keep someone in a role where they can’t – it’s cruel to keep them there. It’s time to find another role for this person.

What about those that won’t do it? So pretend I can dunk a basketball. I’ve dunked the basketball more times than Kobe. But I just don’t want to dunk it anymore. I’m tired of dunking. “Let someone else try dunking the basketball,” I might say. For the people that “won’t” that’s a leader’s responsibility, too.

It’s time for a hard conversation to talk about willful neglect. In this case, you most likely have the wrong person.

What about those that don’t know how? Maybe they’ve got potential. They can jump high. They have speed. They’ve shown you all the ingredients to slam dunk. Now, it’s time to teach.

You need to set this person up for success and teach. Send this person to the dunking classes. Set this person up with others that can dunk. Set them up on a journey and develop them.

How do you know when it’s time to keep developing versus knowing you’ve got a wrong person?

If they can’t do it, it’s time to find another role for this person. If they won’t, you probably have the wrong person. If they don’t know how, it’s time to teach.