What do you do with a team member who doesn’t want to develop? It depends on whether or not they are performing well.

I talk a lot about how growth and development help with the retention and engagement of employees. But sometimes, you have a team member who just doesn’t want to develop. 

The first thing to do is assess whether the person is performing well. The answer to this will send you down two different paths.

If Your Employee is Performing Well…

Some people perform quite well but are not interested in career development. This is quite common, particularly in organisations with staff who have been there for a while or who have a lot going on in their personal lives. They say, ‘I’m happy to be here and have a job. I don’t necessarily want to develop, but thank you very much’. 

Of course, you have to respect that. You don’t want everybody trying to climb the corporate ladder or wanting the next promotion. At the same time, the world is moving so fast, it’s difficult just to put your head in the sand and say, ‘I don’t want to develop’. 

Sometimes it’s actually the way that we couch development. When we’re talking to people that say, ‘Look, I’m not interested; I don’t want to complete my development plan’, that’s okay. But there are other ways that they can develop and help other team members develop if they’re performing quite well

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Ask Them to Be a Buddy 

The first is to give them a buddy role. If you have new employees and need someone to buddy up with them, it could be the perfect opportunity to make the most of someone performing well. 

And by being someone’s buddy, your high-performer will be developing almost by stealth because it will help them understand what it’s like for a new person coming into the organisation. 

By being someone’s buddy, your high-performer will be developing almost by stealth’

Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to understand that a process needs changing or things need to be done differently, and also when your organisation is doing something cool. That’s where a buddy role can help to develop. 

Ask Them to Be a Mentor

You can also ask your high-performing employee to mentor an existing employee rather than a new person coming in. Again, there are many benefits to being a mentor, not just a mentee, in terms of development. Mentoring differs from coaching, but a mentor needs to hone coaching skills, like 

  • Asking coaching-style questions
  • Supporting a mentee to find solutions rather than jumping in with the answers
  • Opening up your networks for a mentee to talk to others. 

There are lots of benefits to being a mentor, not just a mentee, in terms of developing’

Discuss the Future

Another quite effective strategy is to introduce the subject of the future at the next team gathering. It might be a big team meeting, compliance training, or any event that brings everybody together. Open a discussion about how much the world has changed and what that means for the future of the business. 

One way to do that is to put pictures up around the walls of your meeting room of things that don’t exist anymore. You could look at things over the last five, 10 or 15 years or even just the last 12 months. 

For example, a Nintendo Gameboy, a Walkman, the old black and green monitors we used to have before PCs, and even newer things like Blackberries. Those images around the walls can spark discussion on how much the world has changed quickly and continues to change. Twelve months ago, we weren’t talking about ChatGPT!

This leads to the question of what all this change means for you. Sometimes it can help people to reframe. It may prompt them to think more about their own development. They may have resisted making a development plan that includes training courses and skill development. But if they’re not continually trying to learn and understand what’s happening in the world, they may fall behind and lose skills and their ability to market themselves in the employment workplace

Ask Them to Present a Topic

Another strategy I’ve seen work well is to ask everybody to read a book and then present that topic to the rest of the team, perhaps quarterly or at the next team meeting. People who don’t enjoy reading, or don’t have time to read, can just pick a topic they feel passionate about; it can be about anything. 

I once had a team member do a presentation about recycling and how important it was. It could be any passion project. Having to teach or explain something to others inspires us to get into the content and learn about it. When you know you need to teach or try to explain a concept to other people, you naturally want to ensure you have accurate information to offer them. 

Give Them a Chance to Apply Their Skills

Linda Murray is an awesome coach and leadership facilitator from the Athena Leadership Academy. She’s been running that business for over 20 years, and recently she spoke on my other podcast, Make it Work, about upskilling.

Linda said that if someone claims they can’t develop or learn any more, perhaps their mind is just ‘full’; and you need to look at that as an application issue rather than a learning one. Maybe they’re so ‘full’ because they’ve learned things they have not had a chance to apply yet. 

Maybe they’re so ‘full’ because they’ve learned things they have not had a chance to apply yet.’

I liked that idea because it relates to our unconscious competence. Think about getting into a car. Everything you do, from closing the door to putting on your seatbelt, pressing the ignition button or turning the key, and putting your feet on the pedals, is all unconscious. 

The same could be true of your employees. Perhaps they’ve learned lots of things, and they haven’t been able to apply them, and that’s why they’re saying, ‘No, I just can’t, I can’t fill up anymore’. 

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Roundup for High Performers

I’ve provided a few different options for managing high-performing employees who aren’t keen on development:

  • give them a buddy role
  • give them a mentor role
  • ask everybody to consider how the world has changed and what that means for both the business and individual employees over the next five or ten years
  • ask them to read a book and present it back to the team, or present a topic of their choice
  • ask your employee questions: Why do you think that you don’t want to develop? Are you thinking about it just as a training course? Is it because you don’t want to move along a promotion path because you’re happy with what you’re doing? Or is it an application issue?

If Your Employee is Not Performing Well…

What happens if your employee is not performing well and they don’t want to develop? Let’s look at two kinds of employees: managers and team members. 


If you have a manager who doesn’t want to engage in managerial or leadership training, and I’ve certainly come across this before, in my personal opinion, they shouldn’t be in that manager role. 

If someone is a manager, and they’re refusing or not engaging in any training or development offered to them to be a better manager/leader, it’s the wrong role fit. It’s time to have a discussion about why. You need to ask:

  • why are you refusing to go to training?
  • why aren’t you engaging in development? 
  • what else can we do to help you perform well as a manager? 

Hopefully, they will be aware of the issue, and you’ve had ongoing discussions around it over time. But if they’re not performing well as a manager and are resistant to developing, the management role is not a good fit, and it’s time to put them into a different role or start performance management. 

I discussed that in more detail in my post on How to deal with managers who don’t like the ‘people stuff’

Team Members

What if it’s not a manager but an employee who is not performing well and also resistant to development? Again, we’re in a performance management process if someone’s not performing well

Part of that is looking at the required development – you can support them by offering development opportunities. You can say, ‘As part of your performance improvement plan, here are the things we’ve identified to help you develop’. 

After that, it’s back on the individual. If they don’t engage, they need to understand the consequences. There could be disciplinary action, they could be moved into a different role, and ultimately it could lead to termination of their employment.


I hope that’s given you some good ideas for managing anyone in your team who doesn’t want to develop. Hopefully, it’s someone who’s performing well and is valuable, and you can encourage them to engage with development. 

If you have someone who doesn’t want to develop and isn’t performing well, I suggest you consider implementing a performance management process, such as a performance improvement plan. 

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