Competitive paychecks, bonuses, and benefits are important, but they aren’t the only factors that can help retain your high performers. To cultivate true loyalty, companies need to nurture their employees, invest in their careers, and empower them to grow professionally.
But the million-dollar question is: How exactly can your team do that? Employee development is the answer.
With a robust employee development framework, you can upskill your employees, support their growth, and foster a culture of learning. And given that the world is currently facing a talent shortage, with 7 in 10 companies having trouble finding skilled professionals, now is a critical time to double down on investments (or start investing) in employee development. Doing so will not only help close skills gaps, but it will also help retain talent.
How investing in skills development can help you stay ahead of the Great Resignation
What is Employee Development?
Employee development is the process of continuously educating employees with the goal of upgrading their skills, knowledge, and overall careers. It involves providing employees with the training, resources, and culture they need to keep moving forward.
Importantly, employee development goes beyond building role-specific skill sets. A robust program focuses on all-around development to prepare employees to take on more responsibilities. It requires setting clear goals, defining roadmaps, and consistently tracking performance metrics to ensure continued professional growth.
That said, effective employee development is a two-way street that needs input from both the employer and the employees. Your company’s role is to prioritize development for your people. Your employees, on the other hand, must work with your leadership team to create personal development plans that align with your company’s goals. Plus, they must be willing to learn and grow. When both parties play their roles, the company enjoys substantial business growth, healthy employee retention, and high engagement levels. At the same time, your employees get the opportunity to hone their skills, learn new competencies, and make leaps and bounds in their careers.
Along the way, remember that development isn’t always linear—you must give team members the opportunity to explore other career opportunities as well. To that end, provide your employees with the visibility they need to explore responsibilities and growth opportunities in other areas of your organization. An accessible and dynamic org chart that shows employees open roles, maps team growth over time, and includes rich profiles that outline each role’s objectives can facilitate this visibility and help employees take the initiative to pursue opportunities on different teams.
When all is said and done, you can measure the success of your employee development efforts by using continuous performance reviews to track how well your employees are meeting their learning and development expectations. You should also encourage managers to have regular 1:1 conversations with employees regarding their goals and find ways to support them on their individual journeys.
Why Do Companies Need to Focus on Employee Development?
Implementing a solid employee development program yields positive business outcomes. Not only does it result in happier, more engaged employees, but it also has a direct impact on company profits. Specifically, it helps:
Improve employee performance
Investing in employee development upskills employees and equips them with new knowledge. This growth should enable your team to take on more complex projects and deliver better results to achieve top-level goals.
On the other hand, companies with skill gaps have lower performance levels since they don’t have the right talent mix to grow. Unless they do something about it, the performance of such companies will continue to decline. That’s largely due to the recent technological breakthroughs that have pushed the world into the 4th industrial revolution. According to the World Economic Forum, about 54% of the global workforce needs upskilling and reskilling to thrive in this tech-rich era. The skills that will reign supreme are analytical thinking, active learning, learning strategies, and innovation.
Increase retention rate
With employees taking charge of their careers during the Great Resignation, retaining top talent will remain one of the biggest challenges for companies in the years to come. One way to overcome that challenge is to invest in the learning and development of your employees. In fact, 94% of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in their professional development.
That’s because investing in your employees’ growth helps them feel valued, which creates a foundation for trust and loyalty. Not only does this lead to more employees sticking around for longer (and bringing their best selves to work as they do so), but the increased retention also contributes to more rapid and sustainable growth.
Boost employee engagement
Employees feel more engaged when companies offer career development opportunities. Udemy found that high engagement companies spent more on learning and development than those with low engagement levels. In another report by IBM Institute for Business Value, 43% of employees cited “career advancement opportunities” when asked what engaged them.
High levels of employee engagement directly impact your business’ bottom line since engaged employees work more enthusiastically. For instance, companies with high engagement levels report 22% higher profits than those with low engagement.
Improve talent acquisition
A well-thought-out employee development strategy shows your company cares about your people. In turn, this can help get the attention of top talent in your industry. According to InStride, 66% of business leaders believe that providing workforce education programs can help attract talent.
Offering skill advancement opportunities is the key to attracting Gen-Z workers—the generation that will make up 27% of the total workforce by 2025. Focusing on your learning and development efforts now will help you build an employer brand that will make it easier to attract top talent in the future.
What are the Methods of Employee Development?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to employee development—you need to pick the methods that suit your company size, growth goals, and nature of work. Let’s dive into the most common ones:
This method involves training your employees through lessons, courses/certifications, and other formal mediums to help them develop competencies. Traditional training also involves informal efforts like providing access to books, videos, and a network of professionals that can help employees further hone their skills.
One way to introduce this method is to give employees a stipend to spend on training specific to their role and/or growth goals. For example, at ChartHop, we offer all of our employees a professional development stipend of $1,000 annually that they can use on resources to help them take the next step in their careers.
While you don’t necessarily need to invest that much money right off the bat, creating a training program that combines formal, in-house training, informal resources, and individual stipends your employees can use to invest in the learning resources of their choice can go a long way toward fostering a strong culture of employee development.
Mentoring involves senior members of your staff taking less-experienced employees under their wing to prepare them to take on new challenges in their careers.
Mentors encourage their protégés to think creatively and behave in ways that can help them progress in their careers, and the 1:1 nature of this relationship allows for specific advice based on any unique situation. As a result, this method is effective for training your employees to become leaders of tomorrow, and therefore helpful for succession planning.
Bain & Company is one organization that’s popular for its mentorship initiatives. The organization prioritizes 1:1 relationships between junior and senior staff members by encouraging them to meet up on a regular basis. Their junior employees are mentored through a combination of formal (mandatory check-ins) and informal (occasional chats/meetups) methods. Today, the firm has 8,000 consultants, and every single one has a mentor.
To launch a similar mentorship program at your company, start by looking at your employees on an org chart and overlaying performance data to see who qualifies for either a mentor or a mentee role. You can then combine that information with areas of interest to pair senior staff members with junior employees who show potential to progress in their careers.
After making these pairs, encourage both parties to have regular discussions centered around growth and reward them for their participation. Finally, you can collect feedback from the mentees on the guidance and support they receive from their mentors to find ways to improve the program over time.
This method of employee development exposes people to other areas of your company so they can explore a variety of career paths and gain cross-functional experience. Job rotations are effective for developing less-experienced employees who are unsure about the path they want to pursue. It enables them to try out different career tracks, develop leadership skills, and build their personal networks. Experienced employees can also benefit from rotations by applying their skills in other areas and pivoting their careers in different directions.
Allstate’s rotational programs offer a good example of this method in action. The programs, which range from a few weeks to a few years, cover three broad career paths: tech, finance, and data analysis. These programs expose Allstate’s employees to a wide range of projects and experiences, enabling them to become versatile leaders.
Building a formal rotational program takes time and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating one. As you build something solid, take an informal approach and start having discussions with your employees about their career interests and aspirations. Then, you can encourage them to explore other available job paths and work on projects that align with their career goals.
An important step along the way is to increase visibility by unlocking your org chart for everyone in your company. Giving team members the ability to visualize the organization and dig into different roles, such as the skills required and the objectives for each one, can go a long way toward helping them pinpoint areas about which they want to learn more. Unlocking access in this way can also make it easy for employees to reach out to one another to ask questions about their career trajectories and develop mentor relationships organically.
For instance, a sales manager interested in becoming VP of Sales and Marketing should be able to see what the role entails and easily reach out to a senior executive already in that position. If they’re still interested in this type of role, your team should make sure they have opportunities to participate in marketing projects so they can develop the skills and experience needed to work their way up to that position.
Workshops help employees develop new knowledge, perspectives, and skills by applying them in simulated, interactive settings. A typical workshop involves discussions and activities centered around a key business opportunity or problem. This method is great for developing interpersonal skills, such as communication, leadership, cross-cultural management, and networking. Workshops also help employees think and behave in ways that align with company values.
The “A-Player Development Program” of O2E Brands is a good example of how this approach can support employee development. The program includes a series of workshops that teach the company’s more than 2,500 franchise partners and their employees critical skills. Discussions include topics like time management, conflict resolution, and public speaking skills, among others.
The most important first step to setting up employee development workshops like these for your company is to set goals for success—do you want to upskill employees, improve performance, or something else? From there, you can center discussions and activities around topics that will help you achieve those goals. As you set the agendas, consider inviting industry professionals to lead the workshops, as they bring diverse experiences and knowledge that will help expand the thinking of your team.
Finally, continuously check if you’re benefiting from this method of employee development. Are your employees learning anything of value? Does the learning align with their personal goals and your company goals? And are your employees applying what they learn? Asking employees and managers such questions will help measure the impact of your workshops.
On-the-job training is a more “hands-on” method of employee development, as it involves learning new skills or knowledge through implementation in an employee’s day-to-day work. Also called “learning by doing,” this method is suitable for companies that don’t have the budget or the time to formally train a large team.
The main benefit of this method is that employees learn while still making an impact on the business by doing the work. However, this method could lead to slower learning and more frequent mistakes as employees figure out how to do the job at their own pace.
Chipotle’s job shadowing technique is a great example of on-the-job training. Every new hire first goes through four hours of onboarding material. Then, they enter a three day training period during which they shadow an experienced employee to see how they work. After the third day, the trainer watches the trainee work for a few days and offers constructive feedback.
You can create a similar experience at your company by having experienced employees show new hires how to do their jobs through practical application. Ask the trainers to set measurable goals for the trainees, review their performance, and provide feedback. One of the keys to making this approach successful is to offer trainers any support or resources they need along the way.
You can have the best programs and initiatives in place, but without a strong culture of learning and development, your company won’t get anywhere. Here are some quick tips on how to establish and strengthen that learning culture:
- Allow employees to fail: Create a safe environment where employees are free to learn and test their skills/knowledge.
- Reward learning: Publicly praise employees who hit their learning and development milestones.
- Lead by example: Encourage leaders to participate in company training activities and workshops to inspire your employees.
Finally, start measuring the impact of your employee development plan as you establish that culture.