Today’s job seekers are looking for roles with development opportunities. They want to fill their current knowledge gaps as well as upskill. But even more than that, they’re interested in internal mobility and favor organizations that support them in building and pursuing long-term career paths.*
And if growth-oriented organizations want to rise to the challenge, they need to keep an open, imaginative mind in their approach to professional development. They should prioritize employee feedback and managerial insights in addition to their business and revenue goals.
Bringing all that together takes creativity and strategy, but it doesn't require a completely new approach. So, let’s explore ten growth-oriented development ideas to add to your toolbox.
*LinkedIn Learning, 2022
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The importance of professional growth
Professional growth benefits everyone at all levels of your organization, especially those who value promoting from within.
From the employee perspective, professional growth helps people feel more competent, secure, and satisfied at their workplace. That’s why 76% of professionals say they’re more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous development and training programs.
And from the organizational point of view, prioritizing professional growth is great if your leadership and HR team are looking for ways to address turnover and boost retention. That’s one reason the demand for learning and development (L&D) specialists has increased by 94% from 2021 to 2022.
10 employee development ideas for your people-first business
Employee learning opportunities don’t always take the form of traditional training courses or programs. With that in mind, here are ten innovative professional development ideas you can use as inspiration to design your own initiatives.
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1. Conduct regular one-on-one meetings
One-on-one meetings don’t only exist for managers to lead performance reviews or give difficult feedback. If team leads use them too sparingly and solely to address major issues, they run the risk of their reports disliking the meeting experience. But individual coaching is central to what managers do, and when done right, it can help build trust and psychological safety among employees in addition to guiding them along their career paths.
So, how can you make discussing career development part of your regular one-on-one meetings?
- Create a roadmap for your career development talks: Your roadmap will help you stay on schedule and follow the same format each time. Decide how often your talks should occur, how long they should last, and the discussion format you’ll use.
- Prepare for your meeting: Invite your report to the meeting and let them know what you’d like to discuss in advance. Collaborate on what you’ll talk about, or ask your team member to prepare a list of their own agenda points. This gives them more ownership over the process.
- Host the career development conversation: Listen actively to your employee, ask clarifying questions, and only offer your perspective once you’ve heard and understood what they have to say. Try to stick to your agenda points, but don’t let that impede the natural flow of conversation.
- Come up with action steps: At the end of your meeting, create a list of short- and long-term strategies your report can implement next. Use the SMART goals framework to ensure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
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2. Invest in improving soft skills
61% of professionals say soft skills matter just as much as hard skills. Because, unlike hard skills, soft skills like communication, leadership, and problem-solving are more transferable and give you greater career longevity. They also prepare you to take on more complex problems and roles in the future.
Common soft skills that organizations value include:
- Time management
- Flexibility and adaptability
So, what can managers do to promote the development of valuable soft skills? Make use of your organization’s development framework, which lays out which skills employees need to develop before they advance in their careers. You can review this framework during your one-on-one meetings. When using Leapsome, the manager or direct report can check on their development profile or OKRs asynchronously to see what progress is being made with specific skills.
3. Make your performance reviews count
Reviews and development should be interconnected for optimal professional growth. And yet, many individuals fear performance appraisals or believe they only exist for the benefit of the organization and not to help employees thrive.
But empathetic, competent managers can turn performance reviews into spaces for employees to safely identify development opportunities and formulate growth plans.
In addition to discussing recent employee wins, strengths, and areas for improvement, managers should use assessments to address:
- Professional goals for the next review cycle or quarter
- The position(s) the employee would like to have next
- The skills the employee would need for that position
- The biggest obstacle(s) to the employee advancing to the next level
- What kind of support the employee needs to move forward or laterally
- The career trajectory the employee’s interested in, e.g., whether they want to manage a team or hone their skills as an expert in a specific area
💡 If you’ve never experimented with a career progression framework, downloading our free template is a great way to start!
4. Promote structured goal-setting
If you’re a manager, you may have already encountered employees who had a clear vision of where they wanted to go in their careers, but weren’t sure how to set the right goals to get there. Professionals who want to advance into leadership roles must learn how to implement goals for themselves and their teams.
When teaching employees about structured goal-setting, strategic planning models — frameworks businesses use for establishing objectives and driving results — can be useful. These include:
- The OKR framework. Employees set ambitious objectives along with three to five key results they need to accomplish to achieve their overarching goal.
- A SWOT analysis. Team members identify the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats they need to overcome to reach their objectives.
- The Theory of Change model. Employees determine long-term goals and reverse-engineer them, identifying all the steps they need to take to achieve success.
- The SMART goal-setting approach. Staff members establish goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
5. Collaborate on team goals
One of the best ways for employees to gain practice with communication, leadership, and problem-solving is to work together on team goals and OKRs. This works especially well for organizations that use the cascading goal methodology to create objectives that work from the top down.
And once your organization has established its parent goals for the year, team leads and members can:
- Choose three to five team objectives for each quarter (or whatever timeframe your company is working with). They should be ambitious but achievable.
- Come up with three to five key results for each of your objectives. Your key results should have deadlines and be more specific and actionable than your objectives.
- Make sure each of your key results has an owner. The owner or directly responsible individual (DRI) will track its progress, address obstacles to completion, and push it forward.
- Monitor key results. Team leads should schedule a weekly or biweekly OKR check-in meeting to discuss progress and possible blockers to success, and set goals to advance key results. Keep in mind that the goal is progress, not 100% success.
6. Make shadowing a regular practice
Organizations may make job shadowing part of their initial onboarding process or take advantage of it when an employee expresses interest in advancing to another role. But shadowing is also a low-cost employee development method that companies can implement for team members looking to build specific hard or soft skills.
For internal shadowing to have the most impact, it’s best to build a dedicated framework or program around it. Here’s an example of how that could look and the steps you can take to get there:
- The team lead and their report discuss the skills they’d like to build and the shadowing opportunities they’re interested in.
- The team lead reaches out to potential mentor candidates and communicates why the employee is interested, how long the shadowing would last, and the main goals of the initiative.
- The mentor and the shadower get together and agree on the tasks and skills they’ll work on.
- The shadower lets other team leads and colleagues know about the professional development initiative to avoid bottlenecks and make everyone aware of what’s happening.
- After the shadowing period is over, the manager, mentor, and shadower meet to discuss how the process went, what worked, what didn’t, and how the skills the shadowing employee wanted to develop came along.
7. Experiment with bite-sized learning
Employees have lots of demands on their time. And, as modern learners, their attention spans are short. But with learning modules that range between one and fifteen minutes, bite-sized learning — also known as microlearning — is ideal for busy teams that don’t have much time to spend on long training courses.
Think of the way LinkedIn has become known for educational long-form posts and upskilling videos. Leaders looking for creative development ideas can leverage this approach to engage employees and build continuous learning into their company culture.
When exploring bite-sized learning for your company, we suggest you:
- Create a regular learning plan — Whether you share short learning modules with your employees on Slack or Microsoft Teams once a month, or embed educational videos into your company newsletter, it’s better to choose one delivery format and stick to it. You can also create bite-sized training programs for different subject areas that employees can access and complete when it’s convenient for them.
- Start with free resources from Open University, LinkedIn, or even YouTube — Don’t feel the need to invest in costly learning courses or elearning products before you know what works for your people and your business.
- Make it part of other training — For instance, you could host a one-day development seminar or conference and ask employees to commit to watching and completing short modules on their own time. That way, your development training doesn’t have to last longer than a day, cutting down on the time and resources you have to invest.
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8. Launch a mentorship program
If you’re looking for cost-effective ways to engage and develop your remote employees, a mentoring program is a great option. It’s also a powerful way to create a more inclusive work experience for women and people from underrepresented groups, who tend to struggle with finding mentors more than their white male counterparts.
And like other employee development programs, once created, your mentorship program will continue to benefit your employees without much maintenance or time investment. You’ll only have to help coordinate, and review and update it regularly.
To launch your mentorship program, you’ll need to gauge mentor interest levels first. Reach out to anyone who’s qualified for a mentorship role and may have the time and desire to participate. Then, determine how many employees might be interested in getting paired with a mentor.
Once you know the demand for your program, survey the employees looking for mentors about their preferences and the skills they want to develop. Then, match staff members with the mentor that aligns with their needs and interests most closely and have them schedule a first meeting. That gives both parties a dedicated space to decide on goals, meeting cadence, and duration.
9. Embrace employee-led learning
Companies typically offer tuition reimbursement programs to employees so their people will be motivated to learn skills that’ll benefit the company. But tuition reimbursement has the added benefit of letting employees take the lead in their career pathing.
However, people may fail to take advantage of these opportunities because they either don’t know they exist or don’t have time to take part in continuing education courses outside of work.
A tool like Learnerbly can provide a creative solution to this problem. As a curated learning marketplace for professionals, Learnerbly offers books, courses, podcasts, and elearning resources. A Learnerbly account lets you allocate a personal learning budget to all your employees, allows them to check how much they have left to spend, and provides tailored learning recommendations to you based on preferences.
If you already have great content you’d like to implement for employee-led learning, you can use Leapsome to set up individualized learning paths. With our Learning module, you can seamlessly embed LinkedIn Learning courses, elearning products, and other learning elements into a fully customizable curriculum.
10. Encourage team members to lead meetings
For employees who want to focus on building their leadership skills, taking charge of training and team meetings can be a great way to bolster their confidence and gain experience. An excellent starting point would be letting your team members lead a regularly scheduled department meeting. Why? Because they’re familiar with the format and already comfortable with their colleagues.
If you make this a consistent practice, be sure to standardize your process for employees interested in leading meetings. You could follow this procedure:
- The designated meeting leader sends colleagues a message a day ahead, reminding them to add any talking points they want to cover to the meeting agenda. If you use a platform like Leapsome for your one-on-one and team meetings, the weekly agenda template can help you fill it out faster.
- The designated meeting leader determines the focus of the meeting, which is what you’ll spend most of it discussing. For example, they may want to prioritize brainstorming ideas for future training, addressing a major issue, or exchanging updates on project progress.
- During the meeting, the designated meeting leader should keep track of time. It’s ideal to end meetings five minutes early, so people can stretch or go to the bathroom before logging into another meeting or entering focus work mode.
- The designated meeting leader should dedicate some time to praise and recognition, which boosts morale and encourages employees to improve their performance.
Prioritize growth & development with Leapsome
When it comes to employee development planning, it’s important to consider your organization’s business and revenue goals. But you shouldn’t prioritize them over your people’s needs.
With Leapsome, you don’t have to choose between organizational and employee goals. Our platform allows you to create dedicated development frameworks for every role that drive your business forward. You can also:
- Define what employees need to do to excel at every skill with our Skills Matrix
- Track employee progress by integrating development frameworks with performance reviews
- Let employees set their own goals based on their development frameworks
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With our Development Framework and Skills Matrix, your team members know what skills they need to work on ahead of their next performance review.
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