What is Human Resources Development and How to Implement It

employees gathering in meeting room to discuss human resources development they are going to implement

Human resources development is the area of HR that deals with training and developing an organization’s employees. Most leaders would agree that people are one of a company’s most significant assets, so investing in them the same way you would in infrastructure, R&D, or marketing makes sense. But what exactly should you be investing in, and how is it beneficial to the organization as a whole? Those are the questions we’ll answer here. 

What is Human Resources Development?

Human resources development is a systematic process by which organizations help their employees advance and grow professionally. It can take many forms; activities like employee coaching and skills training, benefits like tuition assistance, and opportunities like leadership programs might all fall under the umbrella of a human resources development strategy.  

The goal of a human resources development program is to help employees maximize their full potential regarding their role in the company (and any future roles they might hold). When deployed successfully, such a program can boost employee retention, encourage upward mobility, strengthen the company’s competitiveness in the marketplace, and ultimately increase its profitability.

One important thing to note is the distinction between human resource development and human resource management. While they’re both HR functions and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between them. Whereas human resource development focuses on developing employees’ competency, human resource management primarily focuses on increasing efficiency. A specialist in human resource management strives to improve employee productivity, optimize output, and control costs. Both areas are important to a well-functioning organization, so it’s ideal when companies prioritize both. 

How Does HR Development Work?

There’s no singular correct approach to human resource development. It can encompass any company-sponsored offering that will cultivate skills and experiences to help employees thrive in their progression within the organization and their careers. Here are some examples of human resource development initiatives that give team members the tools they need to succeed and grow:

  • Formal training programs like new hire onboarding, skill-specific courses, and mentoring programs
  • Informal development like on-the-spot coaching from managers and shadowing more senior team members
  • Performance reviews that involve setting goals, assessing progress, and providing feedback
  • Employee development benefits like tuition assistance or a continued education subsidy
  • Leadership opportunities like serving as an interim manager while a regular manager is away
  • Succession planning to identify and prepare employees to fill critical openings in the organization

Find the perfect fit for your team.

Speak to one of our experienced recruiters today.

How Does HR Development Benefit Companies?

To illustrate how human resources development can benefit companies, let’s consider two hypothetical organizations.

The first, Company A, doesn’t have a concrete human resource development program. Once an employee’s initial onboarding is complete, it’s largely in their own hands if they want to acquire new technical skills that would help them do their job. Because there’s no formal structure for employee development, they’re not regularly offered opportunities that might help them grow as thinkers and leaders. And because the company lacks development benefits, it falls behind others in the industry in attracting new talent. 

Now, let’s look at Company B, which has a strong human resource development program. After an employee is onboarded, they receive regular one-on-one coaching to fine-tune their skills and periodic training to acquire new ones. Their employer presents them with internal and external opportunities that help them become better communicators, project managers, and team leaders. Because the company offers perks like tuition reimbursement and training stipends, it’s a place where the best candidates in the field want to apply, and existing employees want to stick around.

Company B clearly sounds like a more attractive place to work, but it’s not just about having a good image. Human resource development is a virtuous cycle that benefits companies in numerous ways, including:

Strengthening workforce skills

A highly skilled workforce makes a company more adaptable, innovative, and resilient, all of which are desirable characteristics for long-term success in today’s dynamic market. 

Boosting employee engagement 

Developing team members helps them feel more engaged with their jobs and invested in high performance. Engaged employees experience higher job satisfaction and are likelier to remain with the company, resulting in lower turnover. 

Improving business outcomes

A higher level of workforce skill breeds greater efficiency, which leads to increased output, performance gains, happier customers, and higher profits–all things shareholders like to see. 

Aiding in recruitment

Solid performance numbers enable a company to offer more attractive salaries and perks, which makes recruiters’ jobs easier. This also contributes to a positive public reputation since happy recruiters are the best ambassadors for an employer’s brand. 

By the Numbers

If you’re more of a numbers person, consider the findings of a global Gallup study that looked at nearly 50,000 business units with over a million employees. The study focused on how ‘strengths-based interventions’–A.K.A. strategic employee development–impacted the organizations in six key areas: sales, profits, customer engagement, employee engagement, turnover, and safety. 

The findings were stark. The organizations with teams that received strengths-based intervention significantly improved in all six areas. Teams that did not receive such development saw little to no impact. 

In short, human resource development fosters the competencies that an organization needs to excel. It helps companies build a workforce that’s highly skilled, deeply engaged, and always improving. 

Now that the benefits for companies are clear, let’s examine the pros of a human resources development program for employees. 

How Do Employees Benefit?

The great thing about human resources development is that it helps employees as much as it benefits employers. Its advantages for workers include:

Greater career clarity

Without a human resources development program, employees can feel like ships in the night, clocking in and clocking out day after day without being on any sort of broader course. On the other hand, when a formal development program is in place, it helps employees feel more engaged with their jobs on a day-to-day basis while also seeing a larger path forward within the organization. This is the kind of engagement the best employees are looking for. 

Skill advancement

Human resources development also benefits employees by helping them acquire new skills and strengthening their resumes. This puts them in a position to compete as top candidates in their field and negotiate for the best pay and benefits. 


In a landscape where job security is scarce for many workers, being adaptable is critical to strong employment prospects. Employees who participate in human resource development programs possess a more robust set of skills and experience, making them more desirable candidates if and when they ever need to search for a new job. 


Have you ever heard of the snowball approach to achieving goals? The premise is that you focus on tackling the smallest tasks first because achieving some early ‘wins’ makes you more motivated to tackle the tougher aspects of your goal. 

Human resource development similarly motivates employees; when they experience the fulfillment of new career achievements, they’re more enthusiastic and equipped to take on increasingly advanced and complex challenges. 

Increased job satisfaction

Finally, human resources development contributes to a sense of overall job satisfaction that eludes many workers in today’s market. When combined with other factors like competitive wages and a strong company culture, the result is a job employees are happy to have and will want to stay at for years to come. 

Tips for Successful HR Development 

Assess your needs

No two companies are alike, so don’t assume that another organization’s blueprint for human resources development will work for yours. Before implementing any strategy, begin with a thorough assessment of your needs. This can include a skills gap analysis to identify technical shortcomings, a competitive analysis to determine where other market players outperform you, and employee feedback surveys to understand employees’ needs and desires. 

Align development opportunities with organizational goals

The Gallup study we mentioned earlier found that even organizations that did the bare minimum regarding employee development benefited from it. However, when organizations matched employee development opportunities to organizational goals, their benefits increased exponentially. You can get the most out of your development initiatives by strategically planning the programs and selecting the employees who will participate. 

For example, a company looking to improve its public perception might zero in on PR training for employees with strong communication skills. A brand looking to reach a younger customer demographic might offer social media workshops to its entry-level employees who show promise as brand ambassadors. Zeroing in on employee strengths can make development programs more rewarding for both the participants and the company. 

Related: How to Invest in Employee Development

Communicate about it

A human resources development strategy doesn’t do much good if it’s a behind-the-scenes program in which only a few HR staffers have a hand. To get the most from it, employees need to know it exists. So, talk about it! Use your internal communications channels to spread the word and generate buzz about your company’s professional development initiatives. Get department heads and managers involved to make it something employees look forward to. 

Leverage technology

Take advantage of technology to help you implement, streamline, and measure human resources development initiatives. Your existing ATS may already have the necessary capabilities, or complementary software may be required to provide the right functionality for your needs. 

Be inclusive

Human resource development is a great place to incorporate strategic diversity and inclusion initiatives. Develop programs that promote, support, and cater to employees and job seekers in diverse groups. In broader programs, include elements of cultural competence to create a more inclusive workplace.  

Ask for feedback

The best human resource development strategies are employee-centric. Even as you’re working to achieve targeted business goals, you’ll be more successful if you ensure you’re meeting or exceeding employee expectations along the way. Gather feedback using pulse surveys and open-response formats to find out what’s working, what employees want more of, and what’s missing the mark. In addition to making employees feel heard, this kind of feedback allows you to quickly identify whether your programs have the intended results or could use some tweaking. 

Related: How to Measure Employee Satisfaction

Incorporate it into the broader culture

Human resources development works best when it’s ingrained into the fabric of the company as a whole. As such, prioritize employee strengths–both their recognition and development–as a focus within the company’s day-to-day operations and the more prominent employer brand. 

Training and development are just two of the many ways an organization can make its employees feel valued, which is a critical component to retaining them over the long term.

Related: Strategies for Culture Change Management that Works

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn