The Best Learning and Development Research of 2016: Part 2

Impact of high performers on subordinates
Indirect Impact of High Performers on the Career Advancement of their Subordinates

This is my second post in a three part series highlighting the best research on learning and development from 2016.

If you missed my last post, which focused on a fascinating study into the relative effectiveness of formal and informal learning processes, check it out here.

This week, we take a look at research published by the Human Resource Management Review exploring the indirect impact that high performing employees have upon those they manage.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!


As leaders, we have the potential to shape the careers of those we manage. It’s a responsibility that great managers recognise and actively honour; championing learning opportunities, setting goals, and supporting and developing their staff. But what about the indirect impact managers have on individuals?

The authors of this study set out to look at how high performers indirectly impact subordinates through two key talent areas – job competency and networking ability. They used a conceptual framework modelled on Social Learning Theory to unearth some surprising insights into how employees learn from those around them.

“High performing managers create
high performing employees”

Key Findings:

Firstly, let’s clarify what makes a high performer a high performer. These are the guys at the top of their game, their contributions and results far exceed those of their peers. (Sound familiar? Check out my article on promoting high performers for top tips on developing top talent).

High performers in management positions are great networkers, and this study suggests that that alone can boost the careers of their subordinates, who benefit from increased exposure to key influencers within the organisation. It was also suggested that high performing managers create high performing employees, since individuals tend to emulate some of the positive characteristics they see in their leaders.

LMX (leader-manager exchange) defines the relationship between managers and employees. The more personable that relationship is, the more employees trust and respect those they work for. One of the most interesting insights from this review was that – unlike other leaders – high performers don’t need high LMX to have a positive impact on those they manage. They indirectly teach the people around them valuable skills, boosting performance in the process.

Top Takeaways:

  • High performers provide essential support to managers and help develop junior teams.
  • High performers can have a positive effect on individual learning in the absence of LMX, potentially boosting competencies in virtual or geographically divided teams.
  • Social learning is a powerful tool with the potential to increase individual performance.

Full study available from:

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