Four Phases of All Employee Development

Apr 03, 2023

All three of my millennial children are experiencing “new” with their jobs. Two recently started new jobs and one just got a promotion and hired her first team members. The early report is everyone is doing fine (including their respective companies). I wonder if their training went anything like this hilarious Office clip.

A few years ago, my firm was asked to create the framework to train and develop people for three companies at the same time. The three companies were: large public and small entrepreneurial; southwest, northwest, and midwest’ healthcare, transportation, and global media. In other words, there was a lot of variety in the mix. 

We spent a lot of time researching and designing. One conclusion I drew was that all good training seems to fall into the same four-part model. Not everyone uses the same terminology, but training employees usually migrates through four phases: Onboarding, Performance, Management, and Leadership.

Why is this so important? Because your people are among your greatest assets, liabilities, and leverage points.


A study a few years back by ADP found that 91% of managers felt their company did not onboard new employees well. That’s 91%! (And 81% of HR administrators and 75% of employees agreed with the managers.) That is shockingly bad. The first three hours, three days, and three months of an employee’s career are incredibly key in obtaining employee loyalty and instilling good habits, yet most companies do not capture those key moments.

Onboarding is the stage when you root the company vision and dream into the heart of a new team member; frame the expectations of what work here looks like versus what work there looks like; introduce the rhythm, culture, and ethos of the company as well as where to park, eat, and take a break and how the flow generally works. 

We usually think about what the new employee should know instead of asking what they will experience. There's an old Entrepreneur article with some great tips including such things as sharing information well with all stakeholders and “sweating the small stuff” (like how to use the copier, where the restrooms are located, etc.). 


This phase of training is where you begin to identify the specific skills your new employee needs to perform in his/her specific role. For example, if your new hire is  in sales, you will likely provide training in how to do a sales pitch, how to file expense reports, how to forecast sales, how to produce spreadsheets, etc. You’ll notice that every one of those tasks begins with the word “how.” Performance is the “how to” section.

The best performance training is going to be experiential training with quick feedback. Most companies are utilizing dimensional learning here. This includes reading, listening, doing, case studies, mentoring, etc. You can’t tell someone how to do a sales pitch and turn them loose. You’ve got to model it first yourself, then let them do a pitch with you present, and then give them immediate and direct feedback. Cultivate a culture of constructive criticism and look for people who thrive in that setting. 


Eventually the same reality happens in every growing enterprise—someone has to manage others. In other words, someone moves from delivering outcomes through their skill set to delivering outcomes through the skill set of others. You can sell but can you recruit and train five other people to sell and deliver results like you do instead of you doing it? This is no small transition. Companies have been misreading this jump for years. It is not automatic to promote a super performer into a super manager. All of a sudden, what matters is not performance but delegation. Can you be responsible for a project without over-controlling it?

Management training topics, therefore, must now include supervision, delegation, and feedback. Communication skills may also need to improve at this point as managers begin to have direct reports. Motivation and problem solving are inevitably a part of this stage. Train managers in how to measure performance and how to identify the things that will improve performance. 


Drucker said that “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” In other words, leadership training must train people in how to not only solve problems but also to prevent them, to paraphrase Albert Einstein.

Although management and leadership are in a continuous interconnected dance, they are not the same function. Leading is a special skill and a different set of muscles and capabilities.

The Harvard Business Review once pulled ideas from Navy Seal training. One of the training's themes was to “incentivize excellence not competence.” That’s key in leadership. Managers are all competent (or they should be). Leaders must be reminded that there’s a difference between competence and excellence. Teach your leaders that there is a difference, how to tell the difference, and how to not settle. Train in vision casting and vision communicating. It's not just teaching "how" but it's instilling vision and pointing out a direction.

Two Big Conclusions

  1. The further you go down the list, the more customized your insights need to be. With some exceptions, onboarding can largely be off the shelf.  Everyone needs to be shown and taught the corporate values, after all.  Everyone needs to know how to work the copy machine. Immigrants to the U.S. have a baseline of knowledge they need to master in order to become a citizen. That test is the same across the board. Then, the further they go in civic involvement, the more customized the instruction becomes. It’s the same in the corporate world. Which leads to…
  2. The further you go down the list, the bigger the need for training. This is a bit counter-intuitive because many companies invest a ton in early training for employees and then assume employees will figure it out. We assume leaders and managers know what to do, since we are paying them so much and they have so much experience. Instead, we need to double down on those leaders. The consequences of their decisions (both good and bad) now have greater impact—both in the number of people affected and in the number of zeroes on the bottom line. This Forbes article emphasizes that good training emphasizes experience and is best done as a sprint rather than a marathon. I would agree. You probably can’t afford to send your top leaders away for a week, and even if you did, they couldn’t incorporate all of it at once. So do some power-packed bite-size chunks to keep them thinking and learning.

New employees need to be trained. Leaders need to be trained too, but they also want to be trained. They may not always voice that, but the reason they are great leaders is because of their hunger for continual growth and improvement. Give them that opportunity.

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