Why your company shouldn’t be paying for your development

For nearly two decades I’ve been convinced that businesses should be investing in their people. They should be providing them with leadership development programmes, opportunities to take placements in different parts of the company, paying for coaches to work with them 1–2–1 and go on team away days to build their personal bonds.

But what if this is wrong?

Learning has become passive

What if this has turned learning, growth and development in to a passive activity, paid for by someone else, designed by someone else, sold to you by someone else which you accept because, well, why not?

When entrepreneurs or freelancers get a coach or go on a training programme they pay out of their own pocket. They look hard at the development opportunity and at their bank balance. They ask “What would I need to get from this for myself and for my business to justify the financial cost and the time invested?”.

They ask “What development or training is really going to make a difference to me and my business success?”

They ask “What skills or capabilities do my customers or clients absolutely need me to have so I can be of immense service to them?”

They ask “If I wasn’t going to invest in this, what would I invest in instead?”

More than anything they have to ask themselves a more fundamental question —

“What is my purpose and the purpose of my business and what input from others do I need to live a brilliant life and deliver on that purpose?”

None of this happens when someone else is paying for your development.

Of course, if you’re offered a coach or a leadership development programme at the company’s expense I don’t blame you for taking it. But you know who is never late for a coaching session, who does the actions they commited to between coaching sessions, who takes an active responsibility for the outcomes of their coaching and who never complains that they don’t have the time for this or that they aren’t really sure what they are meant to be getting out of it? A person who has paid for it themselves.

It isn’t the paying for it alone that does it. It isn’t just that they are thinking “I want to get my money’s worth” (although that is part of it). It’s that they have made a proactive choice. They know why they are doing it and what they need to get from it. They see their decision in the bigger context of other decisions they are taking, often in the context of their whole lives. It matters that they get what they signed up for because it’s deeply personal.

Your company doesn’t want you to grow

Most companies (there are exceptions) want you to become more valuable to them. They invest in your development because it’s good for their business. It’s the same calculation that an entrepreneur or freelancer makes — “Will the cost of this in terms of money and time get a return that is greater than the investment?”.

It’s sometimes difficult to see exactly what the return is going to be but there’s enough evidence that training and developing and coaching people makes a big difference to their ability to add value to their employer’s business. Most companies get this. I’ve played an active role over the last 20 years in getting companies to undersatand this and I’m delighted that investing in the development of their people because it makes business sense is pretty much a no-brainer for most companies today.

But that’s where the company’s interest in your growth ends. Businesses have no interest in your life plan (as they are currently conceived — I could write a whole piece about whether business should be more interested in the whole lives of their people, but I will save it for another day), your “side-hustle”, your relationships outside of work, your search for meaning and purpose, the questions you have about whether to start your own business, take a year off to travel, join a funky start up or drop out all together and live in a narrow-boat on the Thames.

Their job is their business.

But what’s your business?

Yes you want to add value to the company. You want to make a difference. You want to grow your impact, bring about change and make the company you work for a better place.

And you want to grow in ways that may not serve your current employer. You may want to think about options that the company isn’t going to pay for you to think about. Not knowingly anyway. Plenty of my coaching clients talk about their future plans, their personal lives, their calling and their philosophies about everything from eating meat to the future of big business to where to go on holiday. This helps them know themselves more deeply, explore ideas in a judgement free environment, work through decisions privately and confess to their own vulnerabilities because it feels good to be honest once in a while.

It’s just that this isn’t what the company is paying for.

Development is an holistic exercise

I’ve said before that there isn’t such a thing as leadership development. Any ways that you want to develop as a leader require you developing as a person. You can’t compartmentalise your leadership growth. It’s inevitable that questions about how you lead will blend in to questions about how you live. If you’re going to talk about Imposter Syndrome in your new role you’re going to end up talking about Imposter Syndrome in your parenting. And a good coach will encourage you to make such connections. In what areas of your life do you NOT feel like an imposter? Where in your life do you feel completely authentic? If nowhere, what impact does that have on your ability to bring your whole self to your work? To lead?

And if we’re going to talk about that we are going to talk about whether this is the right company for you, the right industry for you, the right lifestyle for you. We can’t help it.

The company may not want to pay for you to have these conversations. But you might.

Who is going to pay then?

You.

I know this may come as a shock, especially since your company is probably willing to pay for you.

But when you pay, it’s your investment not only financially but emotionally too. You get to set the agenda — the real agenda you want to work on, the agenda that matters to you without feeling that you’re sneaking around behind your employers back.

You get to find the coach that is the best fit for you, not just one from the selection your company makes available (getting to become a preferred supplier is hard and some of the best coaches and trainers can’t jump through all the hoops, or don’t want to).

You get to choose development that your company might raise an eyebrow over, the stuff that’s more woo-woo, alternative, spiritual, less type-A, business focused, action orientated.

Growth stops being something narrow that helps you get a promotion or a bonus or a pay rise. Growth stops being something that only happens for 6 months every few years because that’s when the funding runs out. Growth stops being something you have to justify in terms of an uplift in sales, a downturn in staff turnover or a more charismatic presentation style in meetings.

Growth becomes growth, for it’s own sake. Growth becomes your business.


To talk to Blaire about whether your company should pay for your coaching or whether you should, just call her on +44 780 858 1242 or email blaire@thatpeoplething.com.

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