Employee development is vital in order to keep people engaged, growing, and fulfilled at work. In the last Deloitte Millennial Survey, almost half the participants said they would quit their job in the next two years given the choice. Besides being dissatisfied with pay, the top reasons for this were:
'Not enough opportunities to advance' at 35%, and
'Lack of learning and development opportunities' at 28%
Surveys like this prove the demand for employee development, particularly in younger generations. The requirements of the workforce have changed in recent years, and with Gen Z now entering the business world, there's more pressure on organisations to invest in personal and professional development.
What is employee development?
Simply, employee development is when businesses invest time, money, and resources into helping their employees learn new skills and acquire knowledge.
A company that values and prioritises employee development is likely to also have a strong learning culture, where employees are supported and actively encouraged to learn and grow. This type of working environment is more productive and more profitable, with higher employee engagement and lower turnover (Source).
7 ways to improve employee development in your organisation:
On the surface, corporate training might seem like the most obvious and straightforward way to develop your employees. But a lot of research highlights how training programmes fail, with them often being educational but not actually changing behaviour. There is a general consensus that training often contains too much lecturing, and not enough learning, and that even if employees find the training useful, they're less likely to action what they learnt in their day to day work lives.
That's not to say all training is redundant, of course there are many kinds of training that are still essential to employee development. However, training programmes alone just won't cut it. So here are 7 things to instil into your company culture that will encourage employee development at all levels:
1. Company-wide mentoring
Mentoring is one of the simplest ways to foster a culture of employee development. Many companies run tailored mentoring programmes for specific groups within their business, such as senior management, or high-potentials. While this is valuable, and can accelerate individual career progression, it's also highly exclusive. In order to build an inclusive workplace which gives everyone equal opportunity to career development, companies need to make mentoring accessible to everyone.
By establishing internal mentoring as a core part of your organisation's culture, you will encourage employee development at all levels of the business. One company that has seen success from this approach is Marks & Spencer, who have incorporated a mentoring platform into their internal system, so that anyone can mentor, or be mentored by, anyone else within the business at any time.
2. Coach training for your managers
To go alongside this culture of mentoring, a further way of improving employee development is to provide coaching training for your management teams.
If managers are supported to become better coaches, they will in turn become better leaders. Their management style will then filter down through their team, embedding a coaching kind of leadership within the business. They can develop skills such as asking questions the Socratic way, encouraging others to think for themselves, and also building deeper human connections. Helping your managers to become better coaches will not only improve their employee development, but also their team members'.
3. Focus on learning in the day-to-day
This is a small cultural change which can have a big impact if done properly. In order to build a learning culture that values employee development, people need to be given the opportunity to focus on it.
By incorporating a learning focus into every day meetings, or allowing time for additional learning in people's weeks, you create small but impactful change. Mindsets will shift from learning or training being an 'away day' every quarter, to something that is a part of their day to day routine. Some simple ways to do this:
Begin or end meetings with everyone sharing something new they've learnt – this could be specific/technical, something about the industry, or the way that they best work.
Framing and discussing 'mistakes' as 'lessons' – language is important, and something as small as this shift can make a difference to employee mindset.
Giving people time in their weeks for learning: something they want to read more about, a course, a mentoring sessions. Make it clear that this is not only accepted but encouraged – giving people the freedom and respect to focus on their own development is an impactful cultural value.
4. Encourage personal development
Following on from that final suggestion, encouraging personal development is also a sure fire way of improving employee development (because really, they're the same thing).
This again is a mindset shift, 'employee development' makes it seem like it's contained to life at work, and has associations of old fashioned corporate training. When really, if you encourage people to focus on their personal development, there will naturally be a positive impact for the business. It also shows that you care about them as individuals, and not just as employees. Some simple ways to encourage personal development at work:
Setting personal development goals alongside work goals and discussing how they can best be achieved.
Focus on self-awareness and have open discussions around the different ways people think and work.
Setting personal development challenges in teams to add an element of community.
Sharing and celebrating personal development wins and achievements in the workplace.
5. Establish a feedback culture
Feedback is one of the best ways that people learn and grow. To improve employee development across all levels of the business, it's vital to try and instil a culture of feedback where people feel comfortable giving it and are hungry to receive it.
This can be a challenge, as people respond to feedback in different ways, which is where having managers who have had coach training comes in very handy. But there are some simple things any business can do to create a better feedback culture:
Have an accessible doc / video on what good feedback looks like that's shared across the business, shown to new starters, and re-circulated regularly.
Have managers schedule in feedback sessions so that both parties can mentally prepare for feedback. Often people take feedback badly when they've been taken off guard, or they feel it's been delivered in a rush.
Encourage two-way feedback. Make it clear that the feedback culture isn't just management downwards, but that as a business you welcome upwards feedback in order to continually improve.
6. Encourage managers to delegate
Again, another simple behavioural change that can improve employee development. By getting managers to delegate more, you create an environment where people are levelling up, stepping out of their comfort zone, and learning by doing. This will make employees feel a greater sense of responsibility, which additionally contributes to their development.
Delegating is also an opportunity for managers to relinquish a bit of control, and be more collaborative, which further helps them develop as leaders.
TIP: When delegating, ensure people feel that they're not solely responsible for the task or project. Feeling pressure to complete something by yourself can be detrimental to employee development, so managers should still be available to support and they should feel comfortable asking questions.
7. Get managers and leaders on board
Finally, none of the above employee development tips can work successfully without managers and leadership on board!
A thriving learning culture has to come from the top, with managers encouraging their teams, opening up conversations, and supporting their growth and learning.
Ensure managers and leaders are bought into the same vision for the company culture, and you're bound to see employee development improve!
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