What does it take to build a strong employee development program? These days, many companies offer some sort of employee development to their staff but not all programs are created equal. Some companies view development as just one of those things they have to do every now and then. A box to be checked on your way to your annual review. But companies who invest in development as a way to drive new ideas and new innovation within their ranks see a very different impact of providing these sorts of opportunities. In fact, companies with strong employee development programs report higher levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction and a stronger internal talent pipeline. So what are some easy fixes you can try to improve employee development at your company?
Tactics to improve employee development
Whether you’re starting a new program from scratch or you’re trying to revitalize an old one, there are a few basic strategies you can try to help give your development program some direction. Consider the following:
Gain buy-in: One way to give your employee development activity a better chance at success is to gain the buy-in before the activity starts. And in this case, buy-in needs to come from both management and employees. First, it’s important for managers or senior execs to see value in employee development and support providing L&D opportunities. They are, after all, the ones funding the development activity and making time for it in their often busy schedules. If leaders don’t see the value of learning, then employees won’t either. Once you have the managers onboard, then think about the employees. Development can be a personal experience so make sure your team is ready and warned far in advance that this is happening so they can prepare.
Use assessments: While we might be biased, a great way to start approaching employee development is with the help of assessments. Assessments are a fast and easy way for managers to help employees gain a deeper understanding of themselves and others. They’re a perfect starting point to identify areas within an employee’s skill set that could use some more work or other areas where their abilities are strong. Once you have that information, it’s easier to map out what an employee needs to focus on and how they can be expected to do that. Some assessments even come with action plans to help sustain any behaviour changes or learning to come out of the development activity.
Create individual employee development plans: There can be a lot of excitement and energy around learning something new. But as mentioned above, keeping that momentum going long term can be a challenge. That’s why it’s so important to create a development plan with your employees. Together, go through the assessment results, or whatever the results of your activity are, and choose areas the employees is going to work on. Strategize ways the employee can start taking charge of their own development and build in touch points and goals to help keep the employee growing even after the development is over.
Provide opportunities to use skills: Once employees have identified which areas of their development they need to work on, the next step is to help them use those skills in the real world. Whenever you can, see if you can create situations that allow your employees to make use of whatever skill they are working on. If a worker is trying to develop their leadership abilities, for example, consider making them a team leader on your next project. This helps move learning from a theoretical activity to something real and tangible. Once employees see how their developmental work can impact their daily lives, it becomes much easier to both maintain change from the original activity and introduce new development plans in the future.
Schedule future check-ins: The best development programs take a long term view of learning. Whatever activity you chose to utilize with your employees, it should connect to either a tenet of the organization’s mission or a skill needed to help the team achieve new targets or goals. You want your development activities to be relevant and easily integrated into a worker’s daily life. One crucial way of keeping that development on track is to check-in with employees about agreed-upon development goals and progress. Check-ins also allows managers and employees to adjust the development plan as needed to be useful in a real world context, and not just in theory. It also provides an opportunity to give the employee some feedback on how they’ve progressed so far. You wouldn’t believe the number of times we see teams work through a development activity only to let all momentum and energy around learning die out because no one checks-in or talks about the work that was done ever again.
Employee development is important
If you are able to bring some sort of development opportunity to your team, make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Strategize what you’re going to do and then spend some time gaining buy-in to support your initiative. Then think about what kind of development activity you want to use. From assessments to workshops to courses there’s no limit to the different ways you can help your team learn more about themselves. That insight into their own behaviour can have the added benefit of improving team dynamics, interpersonal communication, and team collaboration. And once you have your plan in place, don’t let the momentum from a development activity die out. Take steps to create a long range plan, provide opportunities for employees to use their skills, and check-in on their progress. Learning new skills can also drive career development and help employees reach their full potential, strengthening the talent you have in-house. Plus you’ll probably notice employee retention improves as employees want to stay with companies that invest in them. So next time someone tells you employee development doesn’t matter, remember the impact it can have on a team when done right.