Guide to prioritizing employee development
In a 2021 hiring survey, 46% of employers reported that sourcing talent with the right skills was one of their top challenges, second only to verifying the skills of those candidates at 48%.* In light of that striking statistic, it’s surprising more companies don’t prioritize employee development to overcome recruitment obstacles.
Too often, executives and leaders turn to employee development as a band-aid solution in reaction to issues like low employee engagement rates or high employee turnover.
But companies that prioritize employee development know investing in their people — from junior employees to top executives — is key to growing as a successful business. They understand that a learning-oriented environment is the basis for a multi-talented workforce that doesn’t just know how to handle the basics, but also excels in solving unique, complex problems.
But what does it look like when managers and HR professionals put employee development first? And what can they do to create a culture of learning in their organizations?
That’s exactly what we explore in this guide to prioritizing employee development. We’ll cover:
- What employee development is
- Why you should prioritize it
- Employee development tips for managers
- Real-life examples of businesses with successful employee development initiatives
What is employee development?
Employee development — also called career development or professional development — is an organizational practice in which employees undergo training or pursue learning paths to gain skills, knowledge, and experience to help them progress both professionally and personally.
One of the core goals of employee development is increasing management effectiveness. The idea is to start training junior employees on managerial responsibilities now so they’ll be ready to step into more senior positions later.
But HR professionals have found that a robust employee development program can impact retention, engagement, and even productivity. It helps managers hone the leadership, coaching, and communication skills they need to support their teams, and motivates employees by fulfilling their desire for sustained growth.
5 reasons to prioritize employee development
72% of businesses acknowledge that learning and development (L&D) has become a more significant part of their organizational strategy over the past year. And companies that prioritize development take their training initiatives beyond the orientation and onboarding stage. Here’s why providing employees with additional training is worth the time and resource investment.
1. Attract the best employees
With 71% of surveyed US workers saying that training increases their job satisfaction, it’s safe to say that training opportunities are an attractive prospect for people seeking employment. And it’s almost always something they’ll ask about in an interview.
Investing in employee development communicates, “We want you to stick with us. There’s a long-term place for you here and opportunities to come in the future.” It also shows you support employees as people, care about their careers and professional development goals, and respect the fact that they may make a career shift in the future if their current position doesn’t align with their aspirations.
2. Boost employee performance
Have you ever known an employee who performed really well during their first few months in a new role but started to struggle after that? There are many reasons this happens, but it sometimes occurs when someone has already acquired the basic skills they need for a position and doesn’t see a path forward in terms of development.
Avoid this problem by making employee growth an integral part of your culture. Providing everyone in your company with an easy-to-follow development blueprint shows them what skills they need to build and helps them avoid the stagnation that can come with a lack of clarity. You can easily do so with a career path framework, which is a tool that maps out the skills and qualities every employee needs to advance to their next career level within your organization.
3. Improve employee engagement
Employee engagement refers to how physically, mentally, and emotionally committed employees feel to their organization’s mission and goals, and their everyday work. One of the key drivers of employee engagement — besides factors like cultural fit, work-life balance, values, and pay and benefits — is growth and development.
But not all growth and development initiatives automatically translate into engaged team members. Leaders who take the time to have career development talks with employees and personalize their training plans are more likely to foster happier, more satisfied team members.
4. Increase employee retention
Employee turnover is one of HR teams’ and managers’ most pressing concerns. And many leadership professionals worry their development efforts will go to waste with the recent rise in turnover. But investing in employee development is worth it, especially considering the 34% higher retention rates among workers with access to professional development opportunities.
And consider this: A well-trained employee who stays with your organization long-term is more likely to become a competent, empathetic manager — another powerful strategy for retaining employees.
5. Augment profitability
It isn’t immediately obvious how employee development can affect company profitability. But think about how enriching your team members’ soft skills like communication, problem-solving, empathy, leadership, and teamwork could impact it by proxy.
That’s precisely what a study from MIT Sloan proved back in 2017. When they conducted a year-long soft skills coaching experiment with five garment factories in Bangalore, their results showed a 250% return on investment.
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Employee development tips for managers
People-focused managers aim to create robust employee development programs that center around employee needs, thereby boosting engagement and productivity. That’s a lot to accomplish in one endeavor, but it’s possible. And you’ll be more successful if you remember the following best practices:
- Focus on progress and building skills rather than employee promotion. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t help employees work toward promotion goals if they have them. But not all team members will want to progress at the same speed, and some might not want to move up at all and favor lateral or diagonal career paths instead. Adjust your employee development conversations and training sessions with this in mind.
- Individualize development. Some of your company’s training programs will have to be general enough for everyone to take, like courses or coaching related to widely used software or modules. But your organization can provide more individualized learning paths using performance reviews for development. Both managers and reports benefit from working together to determine what action steps employees need to take to improve specific skills ahead of their next assessment.
⭐ An excellent way for managers to collaborate with team members on their personalized development paths is to have them fill out performance appraisal forms, which help staff take stock of their current competency and skill levels.
- Think long-term, rather than reactively. A time-strapped manager who sees a team member with a knowledge or skills gap may look to training courses as a quick fix. But professional development most often isn’t a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem.’ Instead, consider what skills or training would benefit your staff members most and reflect on how to facilitate it. And don’t forget to collaborate with HR, people ops, and talent development teams.
“[In the development planning process], it’s important to do a good needs analysis. So, what kinds of skills or knowledge do people need to be successful in a situation? What’s the best vehicle for giving them that information or those skills? And then how can you establish whether they’ve actually learned them?”
— Cassandra Naji, VP of People Development at Animalz
- Don’t neglect soft skills. When you hire someone, your initial goal should be to give them the technical training they need to do their job (or make sure they already have it). But soft skills like those related to flexibility, communication, or leadership often require a lot of on-the-job practice. You can’t effectively monitor or evaluate soft skills with one training session or course. Instead, approach employees in a one-on-one setting to set performance objectives they can work on in their own time and at their own pace.
- Give employees time to practice. Would you be able to code an entire web page without assistance after taking one HTML course? If not, you probably shouldn’t expect employees to be proficient with a new skill after completing one training program. Determine what competence looks like, account for the learning curve, and give your people ample time to practice.
- Encourage employees with incentives. You can’t always make professional development mandatory — in fact, we recommend that you don’t. So you may need to incentivize employees to complete training. One way you can bake rewards and recognition into your employee development plan is by offering an extra day off or a small bonus once staff members finish a certain training program. Another option is making the completion of a course necessary to work toward a specific promotion.
Current & future trends in employee development (2022)
Employee development evolved to the point where companies have departments dedicated to managing it. And it’s continuing to grow.
Here are a number of learning and development trends we expect to see play out in the next few years.
Companies are moving away from only offering development opportunities to high performers
Using professional development as an incentive makes practical sense — you want to motivate employees to perform better and reward those who demonstrate the most potential. But it’s not a very effective strategy in the current world of work, partly because more and more professionals consider development a right, not a privilege. In fact, 76% of employees say they’re more likely to stay at a job where they receive continuous training and education.
The distribution of development opportunities also affects DEI since only developing your high performers can contribute to greater organizational inequality.
Managers are playing greater roles in driving training efforts
While employee development often fell under the purview of HR teams in the past, managers now play a more prominent role in getting the ball rolling. And they’re well-positioned to do so, as they typically know their team member’s strengths and needs more intimately than anyone else at the company.
With this in mind, HR, people ops, and talent development professionals should make managers active participants in the development planning process, and rely on their insights to build more effective programs.
“As a manager, my top tip for prioritizing employee development would be to foster an environment of continuous learning. This can be done by providing meaningful training opportunities, offering career development resources, and encouraging employees to take initiative and learn new skills.
Additionally, I would suggest having regular one-on-ones with employees to discuss their career growth and identify areas of improvement. Finally, I would suggest providing rewards and recognition for employees who demonstrate a commitment to learning and development.”
— Tomasz Niezgoda, Head of Marketing and Co-founder of Surfer
Managers and employees will work together to create personalized development paths
Not all employees want traditional career paths and promotions. This is especially pertinent as we’re seeing more job hopping and shorter tenures with millennial and Gen Z workers. So, many companies are working to accommodate lateral and diagonal career paths, which means spending time creating more individualized courses and training programs.
And while these approaches to learning play an essential role in professional development, the practice will become more interactive, exploratory, and collaborative in the future.
🤔 Developing professionally is a personal journey
Leapsome’s platform makes it easier for managers to guide employees through their individualized competency frameworks every step of the way.
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Employee development plans vs. employee development programs
We’ve discussed employee plans and programs, but what are they exactly? How are they different? And how can they help your business grow and prosper?
An employee development plan is a training roadmap managers provide to team members who need help building specific skills. So, for example, an HR professional might create a managerial training plan for employees interested in eventually working their way up to a leadership role. It might involve a certain number of shadowing hours, management courses, and on-the-job training.
The great thing about creating a development plan is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every employee ready to take the next step in their professional journey. When someone expresses interest in a specific professional goal, you may already have an established set of action steps they need to take to move forward. And while not everyone will be ready for the next stage in their career after they complete your development plan, it helps to have structured, dedicated tracks for different professional development areas.
Companies create development programs to offer all employees. And because organizations gear these programs to everyone, they often involve more structured learning like asynchronous training courses, in-person classes, and webinars rather than less structured 1:1 coaching and mentorship.
A good employee development program is essential for any business that values learning and wants to create a culture of continuous professional growth. And while development programs take time to establish, they’re a great way to engage remote employees and ensure everyone is on the same page about your company’s ethos and processes.
Plus, since all your employees ideally go through the same development program, it should help build interdepartmental cohesion and foster friendships.
4 great examples of businesses doing people development right
Talking about prioritizing professional development in theory is great, but it’s much better to see how companies are putting learning and development initiatives into practice. And while no two organizations share the same struggles, it can be helpful to see what employee development challenges other companies face, what solutions they come up with, and what results they yield.
Here are a few examples of companies that found effective solutions to their employee development problems.
SIDES was growing quickly as a leading provider of restaurant and food delivery management software in Europe. As a result, the company needed to solidify its internal structure by providing its young, dynamic workforce with clear advancement opportunities and professional development paths.
In particular, SIDES wanted to create a more transparent career competency framework that prevented managers from making promotion decisions based on their instincts instead of data.
Thanks to people development manager Tara Todorovic, her clear vision, and her background in organizational psychology, the development team at SIDES used Leapsome to:
- Build a transparent competency framework so employees know exactly what skills they need to advance.
- Create a platform where managers can act as coaches and give regular feedback and praise.
- Establish a structured system for performance reviews with analytics dashboards and reporting that makes it easier for managers to track progress.
SIDES employees and team leads alike have enjoyed these results, feeling confident because all their development and performance data is stored in a central platform where they can track their upskilling and growth progress.
DCMN provides startups and digital businesses with growth marketing strategies. And as an organization with international locations and employees, it needed a more reliable communication and feedback structure to help staff members understand how they could grow in the long term. Another major issue was that DCMN was using Typeform and Excel to run performance reviews and feedback cycles, which took a lot of extra time.
Essentially, the organization wanted to create a more solid feedback culture to help employees develop personally and professionally. That’s why DCMN implemented Leapsome to:
- Run biannual 360° reviews for all employees with our Performance Review software.
- Facilitate more frequent, structured, and detailed feedback exchanges across the organization.
- Create a culture of praise and encouragement with our Instant Praise feature.
Overall, partnering with Leapsome to drive their employee development has helped DCMN create more unity across their offices worldwide.
3. City National Bank
Named a Forbes ‘Best Employer for Women,’ City National Bank is proud to say that women and people of color now hold 50% of their top 20 senior leadership positions. They also offer 11 employee resource groups, which provide programs that help their employees with professional development, including groups for Black, Latino, and Asian-American colleagues, women, LGBTQ+ community members, and veterans.
Most recently, City National Bank launched its Ex-Change program, an informal mentoring program dedicated to creating a supportive, comfortable environment for women to learn and develop themselves.
4. Urban Company
Urban Company, India’s largest home service marketplace, helps people book all kinds of services — from plumbing to personal training. Before the pandemic, they had a large, in-office workforce, but they shifted everyone to remote work when COVID-19 struck. That meant rethinking their previous approach to in-person learning and development.
Urban Company got creative and launched Urban Academy, which provides courses focusing on hard skills — like the basics of Excel and SQL — and soft skills like leadership and problem-solving training.
And Urban Academy was a success! As it drew more internal interest and started to grow, Urban Company was able to add 25 new instructors and even invite leaders from other industries to give lectures.
Leapsome’s approach to professional development and people enablement
At Leapsome, we believe professional development and people enablement should drive everything an organization does. After all, if your people lack knowledge and skills, how can they help you stay afloat, let alone grow and thrive? And with this notion as your guiding principle, we don’t think your HR department should be the sole owner of your development efforts.
Professional development presents multifaceted challenges that require holistic solutions. That’s why we’ve designed all of our modules — including our Competency Framework — to integrate with our software for performance reviews, goals and OKR management, 1:1 and team meetings, and learning and onboarding.
Leapsome’s Competency Framework feature lets you:
- Create customized paths for every role in your organization
- Have managers set development goals transparently
- Offer feedback within the platform for specific skills
- Connect the framework to our modules for performance reviews and meetings to keep everything — your progress, data, and communication — in one place
🔥 Provide managers with the modules they need to enable teams
Leapsome’s platform integrates competency frameworks with modules for performance reviews and goals, making it easier to track employee progress.
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