6 Effective Employee Development Methods that will Turn your Company into a Learning Organization

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13 minutes
Last updated:
August 16, 2021
Time to read:
13 minutes
This article presents 6 easy-to-implement employee training activities and methods you don't need an expensive course library for.

If employees in your company feel supported and inspired, they are more likely to stay with you and give their best effort.

In an age where remote work makes it easy to find jobs across the world, making an effort to keep your employees working for you is essential.

One way to show your employees they matter is to introduce them to a wide variety of employee development activities. Not only will this make them more motivated and productive but it will also benefit your company in the long run.

Employee training is more than buying your people access to video courses they won't do anyway.

Employee development activities don’t have to be boring workshops or piles of books for your employees to read through. Thanks to modern tech, everyone can learn and develop themselves at their own pace.

Here is how to get started with your employee development activities today. Get inspired from best practices you can easily steal for your own organization.

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The basics of employee development activities

To get to the definition of these methods, we must first ask another question - what is employee development?

In short, employee development is the process where the employee and the employer work together on upgrading the employees’ knowledge and skills. It entails getting the employees up to speed with the latest industry trends, developments, courses, conferences, and more.

Where most business owners make a mistake is believing that employee development is purely for the sake of improving an employee’s personal skills. However, a properly designed employee development program benefits the employees’ careers in the long run while bringing immediate results for the company too.


Why is employee development important?

There are quite a few reasons and solid research to back up the claims that it’s worth investing in employee development. For one, 74% of all employees believe that they don’t reach their full potential in the workplace.

Also, companies that invest in employee development make more money. 24% more money, to be exact. The reason is simple - if you invest in your employees’ learning and development, they hone their skills and become more valuable to the company. Also, they feel happier and more fulfilled and turnover decreases too.

One more reason - if you don’t offer employee development opportunities, the chances of your employees leaving you will increase greatly. According to one research, 40% of employees will leave a company within one year if they don’t have opportunities to learn and grow.

In the end, having great employee development opportunities could be the reason why a superb candidate chooses you over another company that doesn’t invest in its employees in the long term.

Employee development goals

The specific goals you set for your employees will depend greatly on your company and the role they work in. However, some goals could include:

  • Completing a specific course
  • Being promoted into a certain role
  • Hitting certain performance metrics in their role
  • Mastering a new program
  • Improving your communication skills
  • Improving your project management skills
  • Etc.

It’s a good idea to set these goals together and monitor the employees’ progress on agreed milestones. The success of your employee development program will greatly depend on the goals you set and in particular, how measurable and relevant they are.

For example, merely focusing on “improving your communication skills” is a good effort but you can hardly measure whether you’ve improved them or not in a tangible way. On the other hand, something like “decreasing your sprint time by 2 days per development sprint” is a much more precise and actionable goal. The more focused your goals are, the easier you can tell if your employee development activities are fruitful.

If you want to create structure, it’s best to monitor your employees’ progress on these goals occasionally. Most employee development initiatives take up to a year or more and checking the results at the very end may be a pretty bad idea. Instead, do weekly or monthly surveys to check on what your employees have learned. You may not get measurable results every time, but you will get immediate feedback, which is just as important.

You can find a more detailed guide on creating employee development plans here.

Employee development types

Depending on where the employee development activities are done, they can be classified in the following groups:

  • On-the-job (employees learn as they work)
  • Off-the-job (employees learn as they acquire knowledge outside of the workplace)

Both have their pros and cons and both work well, depending on your goals and the way you measure them.


On-the-job development is good because it’s cheaper, easier, and quicker to do and can be fully customized for your workplace. The problem is that your employees are teaching themselves, which is practically making two employee groups stay away from work until training is complete.

It’s a good way to engage both the instructors and the “students” and get them to work together on a common goal. Both sides will appreciate the dynamic and fully practical nature of the development activity. You won’t have to resort to theory because new situations and problems will arise from the situations that happen naturally in the course of the work.

On the flip side, off-the-job development brings fresh ideas into the workplace, as it’s taught externally.  It comes in many shapes and forms, from webinars to ebooks, podcasts, and many other modern formats.

Off-the-job development is usually led by industry experts and it makes the employee feel more appreciated since you’re spending money on them. Speaking of which, off-the-job development is usually more expensive thanks to education and travel costs and thanks to the recent pandemic, it’s also not very practical in 2021.

However, the biggest issue with off-the-job training is its theoretical nature and the fact that employees are learning from imagined situations that are put before them. There is no hands-on approach and the employees practically need to guide themselves through the curriculum.

Given the rapid spread of remote work, many companies today are forced to use a hybrid model of employee development that works for both types of arrangements. Cost plays a major role too, so make sure to weigh out your options and choose the one that best suits your organization and budget.

Traditional employee development methods and activities

Before the pandemic hit us and before remote work became a global trend, there were only a handful of ways that employees could develop themselves professionally. These include the following:

  • Workshops
  • Video training
  • Academic degrees

For a good while, these were accepted as the only forms of learning and development that could improve an employee’s skills. And indeed, they have their merits and a big portion of today’s professionals have been educated through these systems only. However, they are far from ideal, especially nowadays with a wider choice of activities for teams of all sizes.

Their main issue is the low engagement since employees mostly acquire theoretical knowledge without the ability to apply it in practice. As such, your employees may quickly get bored of these activities if they don’t see the practical value in them and have no chance to apply the knowledge in their day-to-day work.

Without getting into the debate of whether a degree is necessary to do a good job, it’s important to mention that upskilling through formal training is another route that you can take. If your organization can afford it, sending an employee to get a BA or an MA degree is a noble cause, but it has two downsides. It takes time and it’s very expensive. As such, it’s far better to choose more informal, bite-sized formats of education.

Also, as mentioned above, traditional activities are usually off-the-job types, which means that they are quite costly compared to setting something up in your company.

Here’s what you can try instead.

6 Engaging and Innovative Employee Development Activities to Try

If you don’t want to send your employees back to universities and you’re more fond of practical, fun methods, here are a few you can try within your organization.

Learning day or learning hour

One of the best things you can do for your employees is to set aside some time in their schedule where they do nothing but learn. For example, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and many others use something called the 5-hour rule. Essentially, most successful people set aside one hour per day (or five hours per week) for reading or learning in general. This could be on mastering a new op or picking up a new skill set, working on communication skills, etc.

If you do go this route, make sure to adopt some kind of a system where employees can report on what they have learned. Something like a weekly or monthly report in Slack would be great to have and it can be a way to show progress both to the management and to the rest of the team.

If you’re more fond of long-term activities, set aside an entire day for learning something new. This could be the perfect opportunity for a remote company meetup where instead of team building, you acquire practical skills you can apply immediately. This can be an on-the-job or off-the-job activity too, where you bring in an expert from the outside to share knowledge.

Learning days are best done in an offline setting simply because you can have more control and you know exactly what the employees are doing at a given point in time.

Peer learning

People learn from people. And your people's knowledge is rich. The challenge is just to break down silos and help employees exchange.

Peer learning is an important concept in education where students teach each other lessons while the teacher merely facilitates the training process. The good news is that you can replicate that same kind of learning experience in the workplace.

For example, having someone from the marketing team teach the basics of content marketing to your sales team. This will not only help your team learn more and sharpen their skills, but it will also improve your internal communication and collaboration. Even better, you can give your employees a feeling of autonomy by letting them be the ones creating and leading employee development activities.

The great thing about peer learning is that there is no shortage of tools that you can use for this activity. You can do something basic like sharing a Slack channel for education purposes. It will be a good way to get started until you’re ready to use something more robust. There are countless learning management solutions that let your employees share knowledge, provide feedback, and have structured ongoing lessons in the workplace.

There are quite a few peer learning tips to help you create a better experience but perhaps the most important one is to assign a peer learning facilitator. They can provide structure to the experience, guide the discussion and make sure that new employees are paired with seasoned veterans.

For example, LinkedIn had a peer learning activity where employees taught each other about the key company values through practice in difficult conversations. It was led and facilitated by the employees and it showed them that there is immense value in the real-world experience this exercise provided.

Communities of practice

This is an example of another great activity that doesn’t originate in the workplace. A community of practice or a COP is a group of people who share a common interest or a desire to solve a problem. The goals they are trying to achieve could be related to the entire group or individual members.

A community of practice could be any group of employees focused on a common goal. For example, trying to cut down a long sales cycle, trying to find better marketing content, organize meetings in a more structured way - you name it.

For example, Hewlett Packard is well known for having communities of practice where the main aim is reducing downtime for their customers. The meetings are held monthly via video calls.

Mentorship routines

Unlike peer learning, mentorships are more one-sided. With peer learning, employees learn from each other and teach each other while mentorships are a guided experience where senior staff members teach others the knowledge and skills needed to advance in their job and career.


This is a well-known method of employee development and it can be used in diverse settings. The one rule is to have people apply to become a mentor or a mentee instead of forcing the role of a mentor on someone who’s excellent at their job. They may not have the teaching skills necessary to transfer the knowledge and/or they could be just too busy with their own workload to have a mentee to take care of.

Despite being technically one-sided, it still requires a conscious effort from both sides for the routine to work. Both the mentor and the mentee need to have a structure in their meetings, they need to give each other feedback, help schedule their sessions, and more.

General Electric is a well-known example of a company with a superb mentoring program. Top-level executives are connected with all types of employees to not only help them learn more but also to educate a new generation of leaders for the top management tiers.

Hybrid onboarding

Whether your employees work remotely, in the office, or in a hybrid model, onboarding is a crucial step in an employee's personal development journey. This is especially important in remote companies, where it could take months for new hires to actually meet someone in person (or it may never happen), and giving a great onboarding experience online can be very difficult.

How does it work? When you use a piece of software such as Zavvy, you can guide your employees through the onboarding experience, no matter where they are. This means showing them around the virtual workplace, introducing them to their colleagues and managers, and much more. It’s interactive and entails much more than just reading.

For example, Roadsurfer is a company that is rapidly growing ever since it was founded and with 36 locations all around Europe, intentionally growing the company and onboarding new people is a challenge. With Zavvy, they’ve been able to onboard an average of 27 employees per month quite easily.

Another great example comes from software giant Microsoft. Ever since the pandemic started and they rolled out fully remote work, they’ve hired more than 27,000 new employees. In one article on their blog, they attribute the success of their program to hybrid onboarding and the excellent connection new hires made with their managers.

They’ve done their own research too, with more than 150,000 remote employees all over the globe. One key finding is that when managers are active in the onboarding process, new hires are 3.5 more likely to say that they are happy with how their onboarding went. Communicating early and often is the key to success.

Hybrid onboarding is something that we’ll all have to learn how to be good at. According to Flexjobs, remote work is projected to grow quite a bit in the upcoming years. By 2025, 36.2 million people in the USA will be working remotely. Some of them will be fully remote, but we have reason to believe that the hybrid approach will be alive and well.

As such, it’s a good idea to get the most out of a hybrid workplace and get accustomed to onboarding employees in this new setting.

If you’re not fully convinced yet, there is some science to back things up. According to research, 22% of all turnover will happen in the first 45 days after a new hire starts on their job. If you don’t set things off properly, you’ll have to hire a replacement employee quickly, costing you even more time and money.


Not all learning has to take days and hours. Some of the best learning methods are bitesize activities that don’t take more than a few minutes to complete. For example, an activity in a certain app, writing a piece of text, analyzing an image, and so on.

Walmart is one of the biggest companies in the world and they have an excellent example of microlearning in place. They had issues with work-related accidents and since they have varied age groups, they used microlearning to prevent a problem. They had short 3-4 minute quizzes that each employee would do during their shift so they could remember more easily what (not) to do. As a result, incidents in some Walmart stores dropped by an amazing 54%.

Another great example of microlearning comes from the tech giant IBM. In 2018, they were doing a project called IBM Cloud, which required a large number of professionals to familirize themselves in an area that was unknown to them. Being IBM, of course, they developed their full-fledged platform called IBM Micro Learning, where they had brief exercises for different roles, each aiming to teach a specific skill.

If you take a brief look around, you’ll see microlearning examples from companies such as Google, Cisco, Unilever and many others.

It is no surprise then that the microlearning niche in software is booming. There are quite a few apps that allow you to take the entire microlearning experience to your employees’ phones and computers and make them learn one second at a time. One such app is Grovo, that lets you pick a variety of lessons on compliance, personal development and many other topics which are crucial for the workplace. You can use their templates, edit them or create something of your own for your specific needs.

How to get started with employee development activities

There are two good bits of news here. The first one is that you can start with these activities as soon as today because you’ll only need some goodwill and a bit of spare time. Most of these methods require nothing but a few hours of preparation and an internet connection.

The second piece of good news is that, unlike traditional learning methods, these development activities are fairly affordable and some of them can be done completely free. For example, mentorship programs won’t cost a dime and they’ll produce amazing results both for your business and your employees.

But keeping people engaged requires quite some manual effort.

Examples of employee development methods that can easily be set up on Zage

If you’re looking to go the easier route, there are excellent apps and resources to try. For example, Zavvy will help you both with a structured onboarding process and a host of other activities - regardless of where you work and how.

It lets you set up virtually any learning initiative you can imagine, create complex worflows as easily as writing a doc - and engage people on autopilot.

View of the workflow builder on ZAGE - to set up employee development methods and activities.


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