Development matters to employees. It’s a major reason they accept certain jobs, with 48% of workers reporting that training was a factor when choosing their current roles. It’s also why they stay with companies long-term, with 76% of employees saying they’re more likely to remain in a position where they have access to continuous training.*
Development programs have many benefits, including increased engagement, productivity, and performance. But they have to be effective because training that’s outdated, hard to implement, irrelevant, or too time-consuming frustrates employees.
So, how do you design a growth-focused employee development program that provides value to your team members? It takes collaboration with leadership, human resources, and the employees themselves.
We’ll cover all that and more in this step-by-step guide to creating an employee development program.
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What is an employee development program?
An employee development program is a training curriculum that organizations design for all staff members or a specific department or team. While every company may create employee development programs for different things, some classic examples include:
- Orientation and onboarding
- Management training
- One-time training related to specific topics or events
- Regular, company-wide professional development workshops and conferences
But you can create an employee development program about anything you need to address at a department or company level. For instance:
- Building a time management training program if your employees need help organizing their time effectively.
- Designing a finance-related program to help employees understand their compensation package and manage their money.
- Starting a mentorship program for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups as one of your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Employee development programs vs. plans: What’s the difference?
It can be confusing to distinguish between employee development plans and programs. You might even wonder whether the difference matters, but it does — because creating a training program is a much larger, more costly endeavor than setting up an individualized plan.
An organization might create an employee development program to address recurring issues or challenges like onboarding or leadership.
For instance, managers may have noticed many employees having the same concerns and hurdles, like a long learning curve with certain tools or a need for mentorship, so they decide to create a development program in anticipation of them.
On the other hand, a manager or team lead may create an employee development plan for a few specific team members or an individual. Think of a performance improvement plan that leadership might implement for an employee who isn’t meeting workplace expectations. Or, a team lead and their report may decide to work together to create a plan around that employee’s specific goal, like improving their communication or writing skills.
So, breaking it down, an employee development program:
- Exists for all employees, a specific department or team, or a certain subgroup of employees
- Is created once to address recurring needs and challenges
- May run on a specific schedule, where applicable
- Likely won’t need much managerial or leadership oversight
- Exists for an individual or a select few people
- Is created to address a particular challenge or meet a particular goal
- Can be implemented on an as-needed basis and doesn’t need to follow a specific structure
- May require more managerial or leadership involvement
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The benefits of a development program
Demonstrating a development program’s return on investment (ROI) to your organization’s leadership isn’t easy. But creating one is well worth it. Here’s why:
- Attract more employees. With ambitious millennials and Gen Z professionals dominating the workforce, learning and development becomes increasingly vital. In fact, 59% of millennials say that employee training opportunities help them determine which jobs they’ll apply for. And a staggering 87% report that growth and development matter to them in a job.
- Build a more diverse and equitable culture. If you want to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace, creating a development program is a great place to start. Doing so closes skills gaps between employees who belong to underrepresented groups and their peers. Listening to team members from diverse backgrounds is essential to helping you determine what kinds of training you should prioritize.
- Instill a growth mindset. If you want your business to expand and thrive, you need a driven team that wants to grow together. And development programs help create a solid foundation for an ecosystem of learning and advancement. But you have to take the time to develop your programming in collaboration with managers, leadership, and team members so everyone is involved.
- Increase employee engagement and boost retention rates. Professional development is a key driver in employee engagement and retention. That’s because training not only equips employees for their current roles, but also helps people establish and work towards specific career paths and opportunities.
7 steps to establishing a development program for your employees
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It’s often the managers’ job to initiate development programs for their employees. And if your organization hasn’t created a structured process or roadmap for creating such a program, you might not know where to start. In that case, we recommend following the subsequent steps to establish a successful development program.
1. Take stock of your company & departmental OKRs
If you’re in a managerial or leadership position, avoid creating an employee development program in reaction to a problem. You’ll have much more success and get company-wide support for your professional development initiatives if you base them on your company goals and objectives & key results (OKRs).
Connecting your employee development program with your OKRs helps align company goals and initiatives to ensure you’re moving the needle forward effectively.
Another reason to bring development into your OKR review and iteration process is that it’s already collaborative. So it’ll naturally prompt you to work with leadership, team members, and even cross-departmental stakeholders to make sure your ideas are meaningful and realistic.
That way, when it’s time to implement your OKRs — which in this case would include creating a training program — you’ll have the support and backing you need.
2. Do a needs analysis to identify skills gaps
There are a few ways to go about performing a needs or skills gap analysis for your employees, but here are a few methods you can use:
- Analyze previous employee surveys and questionnaires. Make sure you evaluate the answers to open-ended questions, as well as responses where employees rated their experiences on a Likert scale from one to ten.
- Review data from previous exit interviews. Get valuable insights into why your development initiatives may have failed in the past and how you can improve them in the future.
- Revise the core competencies listed in your current job descriptions. Are those qualifications still sufficient for the role, or do they need to be modified or added to in any way?
- Ask for direct observations from managers. Managers can speak directly to gaps they notice in team members’ performance. They may also identify soft skills that could make internal operations more efficient.
- Study previous performance review and performance objectives data. Performance reviews and objectives can help determine where employees need to develop in line with their current roles and aspirations.
3. Ask employees for feedback
If your organization is dedicated to helping staff members better themselves professionally, regular employee feedback should be part of your development programs. And you need to ask about the right things, too.
Here are some questions we recommend including in an employee survey about development:
- Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with our current training programs? Can you explain why?
- What do you value about our current training programs?
- What soft skills would you like us to prioritize in future development programs? Choose as many as you’d like:
— Time management
— Critical thinking and problem solving
— Creating a more inclusive, equitable work environment
— Flexibility and adaptability
- How often would you prefer development and training to happen? Please choose only one:
— Once a month
— Once every three months
— Every six months
— Once a year
— As needed
- What learning methods or tools do you prefer? Please rank them from one to eight, with one being your most and eight being your least preferred:
— Video training
— Webinars and lectures
— Simulated environments
— Podcasts and audio
— Online articles and resources
— Structured courses with learning modules
— Print resources like textbooks or manuals
- Where do you prefer to learn? Please rank them from one to five, with one being your most and five being your least preferred:
— With an instructor, in-person
— With an instructor, remotely
— A hybrid of in-person and virtual training
— Online, but self-paced
— Offline, but self-paced
As you process employee feedback, keep an open mind and think critically. You won’t be able to approach all knowledge or skills gaps with the same solution. And even if most of your employees prefer online, self-paced training programs, that may not be the best way to address your team members’ needs.
4. Evaluate your training options against your available resources
Now that you’ve collected executive, managerial, and employee feedback, you should have a good idea of the training options that would work best for your development program.
But before deciding which type of training to implement, assess the resources you currently have at your disposal. These include:
- Budget — First, determine how much it would cost to train one employee. Then, multiply the number of employees you’ll be training by the cost of that training to figure out your total training expenses. If your calculations show you’ll go over your current budget, talk to your leadership team to determine if there’s a workaround or ask them to adjust it.
- Time — Consider how much time it’ll take for employees to learn and gain confidence with their new skills, and make sure you’re using their time wisely. If your employees find training too time-consuming, it may demotivate them and make them feel it’s only interfering with their other duties. You may ultimately decide in favor of a short, hour-long webinar or single-day seminar to minimize the impact on employee schedules.
- Return on investment — It can be challenging for managers and HR professionals to prove that training programs boost metrics like productivity and profitability. But employee development tends to positively impact job satisfaction and engagement, improving output and enhancing business performance. That means you can use your engagement scores to indicate a good return on investment.
5. Report your training plan recommendations to stakeholders
It’s essential to secure stakeholder support before going ahead with your employee training program. Keep in mind that they likely don’t have as much visibility over your team and employee training needs as you do and may be more invested in staying under budget and keeping any time commitment to a minimum. Be sure to anticipate these or similar questions from your leadership team and other stakeholders:
- Are we already offering similar training on that subject?
- Can we combine these training sessions?
- Is this a training that needs to be provided company-wide, or is it only useful to a select group of employees?
- Would it be possible to conduct this training session 100% remotely?
- Do we have someone with experience in-house who could lead a short training, rather than having to pay an external expert?
- How much time will it take for employees to achieve proficiency after the training?
- Will this training be mandatory? And if not, how will we motivate employees to complete it?
6. Design incentives for employees to complete your program
Employees will want to know whether your company’s training sessions and professional development workshops are mandatory. Because even if they find your courses useful, some team members will need extra motivation to complete them.
Consider setting up a rewards and recognition program for employees who complete certain training milestones and demonstrate proficiency with their new skills. You could even harness the power of healthy competition and design a contest around one of your training programs, for example, by dividing your trainees into teams and seeing which group accumulates the highest number of points on quizzes.
Your training and development program should also be part of your employee development frameworks and promotion criteria. Employees should know they’ll have to complete specific training before advancing to another role.
7. Make space for practice & mentorship
It doesn’t matter if your training focuses on nurturing hard skills or soft skills — employees need time to practice. Think of training sessions as introductions to skills rather than exhaustive courses. Indeed, employees will need time to grasp all the applications of the learning material.
With this in mind, managers should expect employees to need a few months to build proficiency with their new skills. That means incorporating those months into your employee development program’s timeline.
Where possible, you should reinforce any training with coaching and mentorship. Ask employees who have more experience with a certain skill to check in with your trainees. This is particularly important for skills like coaching, leadership, and communication, which often require more interpersonal guidance, exchange, and experience to improve.
How Leapsome enables employee development
You can’t create robust development programs for your employees without collaboration, transparency, and data.
And that’s what sets Leapsome’s Development Framework and Skills Matrix apart. Our platform enables you to create a development framework for every role in your organization and allows for easy communication between stakeholders. Use data analysis from performance reviews, team and individual goals & OKRs, and 1:1 meetings to set your employees and leadership up for success.
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