Investing in employee development is a financial outlay that can pay off tenfold in the long-term. Doing so helps attract great employees, keeps employees engaged, strengthens the internal talent pipeline, and helps a business stay adaptable and future ready. Many organizations are beginning to devote more time, money, and energy to employee development but are struggling with how to make sure that investment is worthwhile. To ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck, follow these tips for improving employee development at your organization.
1. Get executive buy-in, and emphasize that employee development has a long-term impact.
Many companies are reluctant to invest heavily in holistic employee development because it can take longer to show returns than a one-day training on a technical skill, like how to use a piece of software. For employee development programs to be successful, all employees must understand that it has a long-term pay off—especially the C-suite. Executives need to show conviction that, even though employee development may appear to take time away from operations that generate revenue, it is extremely worthwhile to invest time in it.
2. Focus on manager training.
Managers have a profound impact on organizational outcomes. Gallup reported that managers influence at least 70% of your employees’ engagement—positively or negatively. Investing in employee development and not providing specific development opportunities around management training is a big mistake. Many employees become managers because they are good at what they do and move up the ranks, but the reality is that a good manager needs to have remarkable people skills to be a leader and to grow an effective team. All employee development should pay special attention to training managers—especially first time managers—and giving them the skills they need to succeed in helping their teams succeed.
3. Invest in personal development.
Employee development that only focuses on technical skills is half-baked. Your employees are not just cogs in a machine, they are people, and they should be developed both professionally and personally. Investing in developing skills that help employees grow personally will encourage them to bring their whole selves to work. And those skills, such as emotional intelligence, effective communication, and maintaining mental wellness, will make them better employees as well. In fact, a study from Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training, like communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention 12% and delivers a 250% return on investment based on higher productivity and retention. It’s a win-win for everyone.
4. Set goals and track progress.
Working on employee development is great, but what good is it if there’s no proof that it’s actually working? To improve employee development, you should first take the pulse of your employees and ask about the skills they actually want to work on. From there, you should set clear goals around those skills, and track them regularly. If those goals are not being met, the strategy should be adjusted. Furthermore, regularly tracking goals and progress makes it easier to get executive buy-in for continued investment in employee development, as they can see that it’s really paying off. 85% of surveyed workers who have weekly check-ins with their manager(s) have reported that they experience higher levels of employee engagement as compared to their counterparts who have annual reviews (Gallup & Workhuman).
5. Make learning accessible and continuous.
A truth that many companies may not have internalized yet is that for many organizations, long, in-person, one-time workshops are not as effective as we want them to be. And many employees are scared off by them, or struggle to retain what they learned, making them a very high-cost investment for a questionable return. That doesn’t mean that they are obsolete, but for employee development to truly be effective, learning must be accessible and continuous. This means there should be opportunities in place for employees to engage in their own development on a regular basis. For this to be possible, you’ve got to provide opportunities for learning that occur in the flow of work, and don’t take a lot of time. When this type of learning is available, it makes it easy for employee development to be woven into the day-to-day life of the workplace.
6. Establish clear learning pathways.
Employees want to learn and grow, but they don’t want to be solely responsible for facilitating their own growth on the job. They also want to see a clear pathway for how they will be developed. A successful employee development program is one that follows a learning trajectory, such as flowing through a series of topics that build on one another. There should be transparency into these learning pathways, so that employees can clearly see how all the employee development efforts fit into the overarching employee development strategy, and where they will progress if they invest the time in participating.
7. Facilitate cross-departmental collaboration.
Many organizations are siloed, lacking opportunities for departments to collaborate with one another. Building cross-departmental opportunities for growth and development lets employees get to know one another and gain some insight into what other teams within the organization are doing. Beyond that, it encourages employees to be curious and adaptable, and gives them the chance to work on skills that they may not typically focus on.