9 Ways to Invest in Employee Development

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Employee development is a proven strategy for growing your business, increasing productivity, and driving innovation. It’s a surefire way to retain your best employees – the ones who do more than just show up and punch the clock. 

The kind of employees you want are 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 9 employee development ideas you can use to breed engaged, high-performing employees.

What Is Employee Development?

Employee development is a combination of coaching, formal training, informal relationship building and professional experiences that helps employees advance in their careers. This might include learning new technical skills, increasing their knowledge, improving their performance, and enhancing skills in non-technical areas like leadership. 

For organizations, employee development is a cohesive strategy for achieving the best possible workforce–one where workers are not only highly-skilled but enjoy coming to work and making meaningful contributions to the organization. When employees are developed in this manner, they’re able to provide better service to customers, collaborate more effectively with one another and produce better overall results.

Why Invest in Employee Career Development?

Build workers’ skills

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.

Boost retention

Investing in employee development helps you retain your best performers. In an SHRM 2017 survey, employees cited a lack of career development as the number one reason they left their jobs. On the flip side, employees who are engaged with their companies stay longer and quit less frequently, while also missing less work. We know that employees’ commitment to their company depends on how they’re treated by that company and their managers; investing in their development is a tangible way to show strong performers that they’re valued. 

Related: Strategies For Employee Retention

Compete with other employers

Employee development helps organizations stay competitive, which is critical in a tight labor market. Today’s top candidates have their pick of employers that are eager to hire them. Offering a strong development program can be a key differentiator that sets you apart from comparable employers in your market. 

Related: How to Be an Employer of Choice

Address staffing challenges

Winning top talent is one challenge; finding talent to even interview is another. A persistent labor shortage is making qualified workers hard to find for even the most attractive organizations. Growing the skills and expertise of your existing employees is one way to alleviate some of the staffing strain. 

Drive creativity 

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.

Build strong leaders

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 them 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.

Strengthen your reputation

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.

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 9 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.

Related: How to Start a Workplace Mentorship Program

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 that “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.

Related: Tips for Conducting Successful Employee Performance Reviews

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 more effective employees as a result of their participation.

Offer cross-training opportunities

The days of one-dimensional jobs are long gone. Today’s top workers crave challenging projects and new experiences, and cross-training is one way to offer these things. In cross-training, select employees work with a designated mentor or team in a different area of the business to broaden their skills. 

A UI designer might cross-train with the development team to learn how visual designs are integrated into a functioning application. A member of the sales team might cross-train with marketing to broaden their understanding of the company’s customer base. Cross-training develops employees in a way that not only builds their skills but helps them increase the effectiveness of their work. 

Create a strategy

Employee development shouldn’t be an in-the-moment undertaking, with managers giving feedback only when it’s at the top of their mind. Instead, it should be a scheduled, structured program not unlike other company initiatives like your retention strategy or your employee referral program. Formalizing your employee development program will help ensure that initiatives are carried out effectively with an increased likelihood of success.

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 new development ideas from employees.

Connect with Engaged Employees in Your Field

Let 4 Corner Resources be your trusted partner in building a connected, committed, and engaged workforce. Our staffing experts are skilled at identifying professionals who have the right mix of technical skills and personality traits to excel in your company.

Our headhunters match the top technology, finance, marketing, legal, and healthcare professionals with your open roles, handling sourcing and screening to deliver the best ready-for-hire candidates to you. Get started finding the right person for your job vacancy today by scheduling a free consultation now.


Resources and sources

  1. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/how-to-reduce-employee-turnover-through-robust-retention-strategies.aspx
  2. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/are-innovative-companies-more-profitable/
  3. http://www.bu.edu/questrom/files/2013/07/Forrester-Research-Report-Drive-Employee-Talent-Development-Through-Business-Mentoring-Programs.pdf
  4. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180108006550/en/New-Study-Shows-Lasting-Impact-Tuition-Assistance
  5. https://www.go2hr.ca/training-development/employee-training-is-worth-the-investment
Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.