Who wants to do the same thing every day for 40 years and call it a career? Answer: not the kind of employee you want working for your organization.
The best employees are those who do more than just show up and punch the clock. They’re engaged with their work, invested in the success of the company, and driven to advance within their field—but such employees don’t just appear from thin air. They’re created and molded through employee development by the organizations that employ them.
Here, we’ll showcase why investing in career development is a prudent business move and share 7 employee development ideas you can use to breed engaged, high performing employees.
Why Invest in Employee Career Development?
Employee development is about more than just training for a role (though that’s important too—HR industry figures estimate that 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year). It’s about helping employees sharpen their existing skills, acquire new ones, and build beneficial relationships; all of which will help them advance professionally.
Investing in employee development helps you retain your best performers. In a 2017 survey, employees cited a lack of career development as the number one reason they left jobs. On the flip side, employees who are engaged with their companies stay longer and quit less frequently, while also missing less work.
Employee development breeds innovation. By arming your workers with the skills they need to tackle challenges head-on rather than running from them, they’ll be better equipped to find creative solutions which, in turn, drive revenue. Multiple studies support the correlation between a workplace culture of innovation and strong profits.
Investing in your employees is a surefire way to assemble a rock-solid management team. By identifying workers who are candidates for advancement, grooming them for leadership roles, and then promoting upward, you’ll build a team of leaders who not only have a fundamental understanding of the company, but who are invested in its growth and success.
Finally, employee development strengthens your employer brand—a.k.a. how your organization is perceived among current and prospective employees. When you invest in your workers, it demonstrates a level of respect that employees value greatly. Satisfied workers who feel valued by their employer are the best possible spokesmen for your brand.
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How to Invest in Employee Development
With so many direct and indirect benefits, employee development just makes good business sense. You don’t need a huge budget to pull it off, either. Here are 7 ways to invest in your employees to generate a more engaged, productive and satisfied workforce:
Send Employees to Industry Events
Industry events present a valuable opportunity to stay on top of market trends, learn about the latest advances in your field and network with other movers and shakers. For employees, they’re a chance to step into the role of a representative of your company, which builds a sense of ownership for the organization (it also reflects positively on your company as a whole to have a presence there).
When sending employees to industry events as a form of professional development, a best practice is to set some expectations ahead of time. What are you hoping they’ll gain from attending? Are there any overarching goals you want them to accomplish while there?
Some organizations send employees to events and then have them report back on key takeaways via a post-event debrief with their team. This is not only a great way to share knowledge, it also gives employees a chance to exercise their presentation skills.
Facilitate Mentorship Opportunities
Mentoring is a longstanding technique for developing in-house talent; helping employees gain knowledge and hone key skills. 70% of Fortune 500 companies report having a formalized corporate mentorship program.
In addition to helping employees gain leadership skills and grow in their profession, mentorship helps organizations save money. The California Nurse Mentor Project, for example, reported cost savings related to reduced attrition ranging from $1.4 million to $5.8 million over three years. The existence of a strong mentorship program can also be a selling point for attracting new candidates.
Mentorship programs can take many forms, from formal and structured to casual and loosely structured. Mentorship can take place on a one-to-one or one-to-group basis, and mentors may even be mentees themselves. Because a mentor is not a direct supervisor, the relationship gives the employee the unique opportunity to receive open, honest development feedback that’s not tied to a performance evaluation.
Provide More Frequent, Less Formal Reviews
Employee engagement is a key goal of employee development, and regular performance check-ins are one of the best ways to keep employees engaged. Rather than structuring your review system around one big, formal review once a year, consider implementing a less formal monthly or quarterly check-in structure. It’s a shift that’s being adopted with positive results by some of the largest business and consulting firms in the world, including Adobe, Microsoft, PwC, and Deloitte.
Harvard Business Review points out how annual reviews can be detrimental to employee development, stating “with their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organizations’ long-term survival.”
Having more frequent reviews takes away the pressure that often surrounds year-end reviews and creates a more open line of communication between managers and their reports. For employees, it provides consistent feedback on the quality of their work and actionable steps to address any issues before they snowball. For managers, it shifts the focus from accountability (“why didn’t we hit our stretch goals this year?”) to employee development (“what are some things we can do differently in Q4 to move closer to our goals?”), which creates an atmosphere where employees are more likely to thrive.
Bring in the Experts
Employee development needn’t be limited to individual positions. You can provide collective development opportunities by bringing in outside experts to educate employees on universally beneficial topics, like public speaking, relationship building, and critical thinking.
LinkedIn, for example, offers a monthly speaker series that exposes staffers to inspiring ideas and innovative thinkers from around the globe. Recent speakers have included author and media executive Ariana Huffington and financial expert Charles Schwab. You can institute a similar development program in your organization by partnering with local universities and community groups to connect with speakers of interest.
Encourage Membership in Industry and Community Organizations
Having a presence within industry organizations looks good for your company’s image, but it’s also an important means of development for the members of your team. Being members of trade organizations can help employees feel a deeper sense of connection to their career path. They’ll also forge relationships that can help them grow and develop as an asset to your organization.
In addition to facilitating membership in industry groups, encourage participation in community and service groups. Groups for young professionals, service organizations like the Kiwanis Club and leadership boards like your local economic development council can all be beneficial outlets for professional and personal development.
Provide Discretionary Funds for Employee Use
One of the most meaningful ways you can invest in your employees is by empowering them to make decisions about how and where they’ll pursue career development. You can do this by providing a discretionary stipend. Replenished quarterly or annually, this fund can be used by employees to cover things like continuing education courses, event attendance fees, or educational materials like books and videos.
Tuition reimbursement is one such example that pays big dividends in employees’ development, boosting engagement levels, career outcomes, and employee loyalty. In a survey of more than 22,000 participants in tuition reimbursement programs, 93% of respondents said that the program helped them develop skills they needed to grow within their company, while 85% said they were a more effective employee as a result of their participation.
Practice What You Preach
If you’re truly committed to career development, you’ll need to continuously keep the door open to development ideas from your employees themselves. You can’t say you value development and then balk at coughing up the money to send one of your team members to an upcoming conference, for example.
Practice what you preach and instill a culture that’s not only receptive to, but encouraging of new development ideas from employees.
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