10 Employee Development Program Tips You Didn't Know You Needed
If your company does not have an employee development program, that needs to change STAT.
In the post-pandemic world, the average employee picks meaningfulness over money. So, unsurprisingly, lack of growth is one of the main reasons employees quit.
Companies offering compelling employee development programs that support people in advancing the competencies and skills they need and desire have won the competitive edge gold medal.
Learn how to create an employee development program and get the shortcuts to dodge common pitfalls.
Your employees will thank you. Hint: statistics show they want the training as much as you do!
🌱 What is an employee development program?
An employee development program is THE essential element of talent management.
Without clear professional and personal growth paths, employees hungry for more will look elsewhere.
Employee development programs can cover:
- Hard skills to help employees master their craft to reach their career goals.
- Soft skills like leadership, emotional intelligence, and communication
There's a vital difference between employee development and employee training: the time frame.
Employee training looks at a shorter perspective. An example: Daniel needs to get trained in the new slideshow software to ace an important presentation in two weeks.
Employee development, on the other hand, considers a longer timeline. Example: Anne needs to learn a new programming language to join a software development project starting next quarter.
Employee enablement is an umbrella term representing next-gen employee development.
It looks at how to maximize the potential of each employee from a multidimensional perspective: what training programs, support, guidance, and resources they need.
The enablement process looks different for everyone, but the end goal is the same – skilled and engaged employees.
🏆 7 Strategic reasons employee development programs matter
By now, you may wonder: how does having an employee development program help a firm or organization?
Here are the top 5 strategic reasons.
1. Keep your top talent
It is human nature to want to grow and evolve constantly. Something that reflects in employee retention – the main factor for staying at a company is satisfaction rather than salary.
Good news for smaller companies with a tighter budget!
Companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees for an average of 5.4 years, nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it, where the average retention span is 2.9 years.
In other words: successful employee development translates into higher retention, meaning lower hiring costs and higher profits.
Besides, keeping a low turnover gives a more appealing picture of your company and work environment.
Having people coming and going constantly can raise suspicion, and rightly so.
And since reputation is one of the most valuable assets for your company, running an employee development program is cheap life insurance, especially as you can do it on a budget.
2. Grow employees with potential into great leaders
Imagine one of your leaders unexpectedly quits or falls sick for a long period. Who will take over?
Succession planning is a strategic overview of the potential next leaders in your organization. It is the parachute you need to avoid getting sweaty palms facing the above question.
A correctly implemented employee development program prepares your top talent to take over the crown when it's time.
For future leaders, it has a particular focus on developing leadership skills. Consider creating a specific employee leadership development program – this can entice people to aspire for leadership positions within your company.
3. Impact on branding and talent attraction
There are ways to stand out and attract talent as a smaller or mid-size company without the bells and whistles of fancy marketing efforts or sky-high salaries.
Offering a solid employee training and development program is one of the best ways since it responds to the number 1 desire among employees: to grow and evolve.
Clear career paths can be the determining factor for job applicants choosing between two offers.
A learning and growth culture inside an organization will help attract new employees and improve the loyalty of the existing workforce.
Plus, promoting your learning and growth culture gives you a competitive advantage – a strategic move for smaller companies that may not have the same budget as bigger ones.
In today's fast-moving world, people crave authenticity and stable ground. So showing that you, as the employer, genuinely care can have a much more significant impact than you may think.
4. Improve employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty
Did you know that only 34% of employees are happy with their job-specific training? That's a sad piece of employee development statistics. Make sure to get your team out of the unhappy 66% by having a solid employee development plan. To further boost engagement, skip the top-down approach and let your employees participate in the creation of their development program! More on that shortly.
Employee development directly translates into higher employee job satisfaction – a whopping 94% would stay longer at a company if it offered regular training.
Similarly, satisfied employees are your company's best cheerleaders turned salespeople and can help attract new hires and clients. And loyal people = lower employee turnover = higher profit.
💡 Get proactive with nine employee engagement trends that will stick around.
5. Contribute to a high-performance culture
Regular employee development is part of a high-performance culture.
A high-performance culture is characterized by highly motivated individuals who fully own their work.
They do not require micro-management to succeed and exceed expectations.
Want it for your team too?
Employee development plans are a necessary first step.
People development makes employees feel recognized and gives them the skills and knowledge to perform better. And if you invest in your employees, they will invest in you.
That's what we call a win-win situation!
6. Show your employees that you care
Sure, there's a strategic and financial side to employee satisfaction. But you also want your employees to enjoy their time at the company. So whether you're a founder or in a leadership position, you are in business to help solve a problem and make your customers' lives easier.
The same philosophy should apply to your employees.
They have chosen your business above others for more than just money, probably because they believe in the company values and want to contribute to your company's mission. So it's only fair to compensate them with more than just money.
7. Employees want it, for real
Recent research shows that employees don't look at learning and development like going to the dentist – but rather something to which they look forward!
And as the saying goes: happy employees, happy boss.
🪜 8 Steps to designing your employee development plan
Use these points to create your personal employee development plan template!
1. Determine development needs
By now, you're (hopefully) convinced that employee development is a good idea.
But that's just the first step.
Choosing an employee development program is like choosing a pair of shoes in the shoe shop – you need one kind to climb a mountain and a whole different kind for a beach stroll.
Example areas to consider:
- Communication skills
- Work ethics
- Time management
- Organizational skills
- Leadership skills
- Problem-solving capabilities
To identify what training areas you need to focus on, compare business objectives and company values to current employee performance. Where do you see skill gaps?
2. Identify current competencies
The next logical step is to measure current competencies to estimate how much you need to focus on each area. To this end, you can use a skills matrix. Hard skills are often easier to measure by KPIs than their soft counterparts (like teamwork).
After that, pinpoint which topics you should target first, so-called high-potential areas. You should consider:
- How ready the employee is to grow within that area.
- How motivated they are to evolve this particular skill or competency.
For example, you may have a new hire with clear leadership potential, but the main focus, for now, should be to get them familiar and up to speed with their daily tasks.
3. Consult your workforce
Sometimes, we don't see the forest for all trees.
No one knows your employees' work better than your employees. So a crucial step is to engage them in creating the employee development program.
Ask them questions like:
- What would help you perform better?
- What do you find challenging in your work process?
- What would you want to learn more than anything right now?
- What skills and competencies would give us a competitive advantage over our competitors?
By now, you have a lot of valuable information about the employee development program. Add this part of the equation to the previous points to get a full view of the topic.
Tip: Consider creating an employee pulse survey to collect this information.
4. Determine development methods for your organization and workforce
The next step is to look at what methods and types of training are the most suitable for your organization and workforce.
Some forms are:
- mentorship programs;
- roleplay or active learning;
- peer-to-peer training;
- task or job rotations;
Courses are one of the more common methods due to their flexibility and adaptability. Microlearning is a course format that has skyrocketed in popularity lately. And for good reasons.
Microlearning fits seamlessly into the workday and makes it easier to retain information by avoiding overwhelm.
Plus, your employees can directly apply their learning, which helps anchor the information.
🏢 Check out 15 examples of how companies are using microlearning.
5. Harvest the power of development tools
Boring courses are a thing of the past.
In the roaring 2020s, learning – including employee development – can be fun.
An entertained employee is an engaged employee. And higher engagement means higher information retention.
Elements like gamification and simulation let your employees playfully explore new topics.
Formats like online courses make your training accessible for everyone in distributed teams and people working from home.
6. Set up company-wide growth cycles
Just like nature, we're cyclical.
It is easier to invest in professional growth if your employees see a clear path with a beginning and an end – which then repeats at a higher level or for different skills, drawing a cycle.
And joy is greater when shared.
Most people find it more motivating to engage in activities together.
Tip: Leverage the power of teamwork by having everyone within a team start a new employee development cycle simultaneously. Discussing growth cycles can be an excellent ice-breaker for newer or introverted team members.
7. Start individual planning
After assessing the overall business goals and needs, it is time to look at each individual in your team. What is the logical next step, considering their competencies and desired next step? Include specific and measurable milestones for each person to keep them accountable and motivated.
Looking back at point 4, you may want to implement the employee development program differently for each individual:
- Some people are visual learners, while others are more hands-on.
- Some prefer to sift through the material independently, while others thrive in a group.
Tip: Ask about their preferred learning style if you're in doubt.
🤜🤛 Want more guidance? We've got your back – learn how to create powerful development plans for your employees in eight easy steps.
8. Evaluate, measure, learn and restart
While preparation is silver, real-world feedback is gold.
No matter how well you have prepared your employee development program, chances are it won't be perfect. So don't let the idea of perfection delay its implementation.
Tip: Look at what worked and what can be improved. You'll get invaluable feedback for the next growth development cycle.
💡 10 Employee development program tips you didn't know you needed
Here are the tested and proven hacks that will take your program to the next level.
You can thank us later.
1. Tie employee development goals to business goals
Each employee development program should have clear and – if applicable – measurable goals. (Which may be more complex with skills such as communication or conflict resolution.)
That said, employees sometimes struggle to see how their efforts translate into cash flow for your company.
Help them bridge the gap by showing how their contribution adds to the big picture.
🎯 Learn how to align your employees with company goals and skyrocket performance in 14 effective steps.
2. Encourage knowledge sharing between employees
The immediate association that training evokes is often a leader or manager teaching their team.
Social or peer-to-peer learning is another popular format that invites employees to grow and helps the manager scratch a point from their long to-do list.
Social learning has another advantage over traditional training and workshops: more time for individual attention and questions.
It's often done on a one-to-one basis or in a small group, and some people are more comfortable asking questions in that setting. It can even feel less intimidating to ask a colleague than a manager to elaborate on something you didn't grasp.
Freeletics is an example of a company that implemented peer-to-peer learning. They found that the information and skills gained by traditional leadership training had a very short expiration date, so they looked for innovative approaches.
A part of this new initiative was to implement regular roundtable peer learning sessions where everyone could share their wins and challenges.
💡 Thanks to Freeletics employee development makeover, their leadership skills, and knowledge retention increased.
3. Start an ongoing lunch-and-learn program
Lunch-and-learn sessions are a strategic way of implementing employee development on a budget.
The casual nature of this arrangement adds a welcome contrast to more formal learning settings like conferences and workshops.
Tip #1: Invite a new speaker each time – mix employees with external speakers from your network
Tip #2: Mix the topics.
Some examples are:
- The latest research related to the project you work on.
- A tutorial on new software.
- Best practices within the project.
- Something related to soft skills, teamwork, time management, or Human Design.
Tip #3: Limit the time to 30-45 minutes to maximize engagement.
4. Incorporate mentorship and networking into the employee career development program
Human interactions can be as valuable a source of learning as books and courses – if not more.
Learning from a mentor makes the information come alive since the mentor has experienced what they teach.
Regular networking events should be a cornerstone of a successful employee development program. Subject-matter expertise and leadership skills are only part of the equation – having the right connections is the other half.
Tip: Form partnerships with other companies and industry speakers and consider co-hosting events.
5. Use technology to your advantage
Employee development is crucial – but can be time-consuming. Less so when leveraging the power of tech! You already have enough Excel sheets – invest in software that offers a training management system and automated growth cycles.
The software keeps track for you and delivers the right training to the right person at the right time. Win!
6. Encourage employee ownership
Development should not follow a top-down approach. As we mentioned, the average employee craves growth – so it's natural that they take ownership of the process.
Depending on the culture at your workplace and the employees' current roles, you may need to define clearly:
- What parts of the development program you are responsible for.
- What parts are on your employees' plates.
7. Track and use the insights to refine your strategy
You can continually improve employee development training.
Measure the results after the training.
Did the program lead to higher employee productivity and leadership skills? If not, how can you change the content or format?
8. Mix methods of learning
Most people value variation. We're all different – and so are our preferred learning styles. Those are two good reasons to mix things up when implementing the employee development program.
- longer formats like conferences and certification programs;
- microlearning requiring only 5 minutes per day;
- individual reflection and group sessions,
- formal lectures;
- informal events like happy hour networking, and so on.
One often overlooked way of training is learning in the flow of work. It refers to learning opportunities that arise naturally when completing one's work tasks.
For example, you're working on coding an algorithm that requires a special syntax you have never used before. So you ask a more experienced employee for help. And voila – you just used learning in the flow of work!
9. Allow self-directed learning and continued microlearning opportunities
Rather than hours of theory and passive learning, encourage shorter information inputs followed by active learning.
Getting your hands dirty is often the fastest way to gain a deeper understanding of what you just learned.
Microlearning follows this concept, where employees receive bite-sized pieces of information with a quick takeaway.
Self-directed learning means that the employee takes responsibility for their learning process:
- Identifying development opportunities.
- Estimating what training they need and how much time it will take.
- Finding a mentor or course.
- Following up after.
One benefit of self-directed learning is that it has your employees grow. They need honesty and self-awareness to reveal how they best learn and what competencies they need to develop. It can be particularly suited for highly motivated people looking to become leaders.
10. Incorporate constructive feedback
No process is complete without feedback.
So last but not least, we recommend including 360 reviews as a part of the employee development program for a more comprehensive image. This review includes input from everyone related to the employee, regardless of their position. It also has an element of self-evaluation.
➡️ Create a cycle of continuous development with Zavvy
Since you're still with us, we bet you can't wait to put your newfound knowledge into practice.
Zavvy's approach to employee development is in the form of growth cycles.
A cycle focuses on particular growth areas and ends with self-reflection.
Here are the eight steps of a growth cycle on Zavvy:
- Create role cards – Define the desired roles and what competencies are needed.
- Assign role cards – Pair the right employee with the right card.
- Start employee development cycle – You can decide the cycle length and set the major milestones along the way.
- Define focus area – Ideally, you decide on half of the skills/competencies to focus on and let employees choose the other for increased engagement and ownership.
- Exchange feedback – A round of feedback should be part of the growth cycle.
- Refine focus area – After receiving feedback, the employee has valuable input to change the focus area.
- Monitor progress – Hold progress-tracking meetings on specific dates. You can also send out pulse surveys where employees report on how they're pacing vs. targets.
- Link growth and feedback - This is our specialty at Zavvy. You can incorporate role cards and focus areas in your performance review cycles. So your employees can receive feedback on how they're progressing in their growth journeys and use the feedback they get to inspire new development focus areas.
- Reflect and repeat – Did you get the desired results from your employees? If yes, how can you do more of this? If no, what can you improve ahead of the next growth cycle?
Try it for yourself by creating a cycle of continuous development with Zavvy.