Employee Development: 9 Game-Changing Ways to Make It Happen

Employee development is a long-term approach to improving company performance, but once it takes root it has powerful effects.

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When it comes to facilitating success at your company, there are a seemingly infinite number of initiatives that you can implement. You can pull levers on product development, QA, sales, marketing, customer services, and more. The trick, and the art, is to pull the right ones. All too often, employee development falls to the bottom of this list.

The problem with implementing effective employee development programs has to do with the time it requires from leaders. In their workdays, beliefs, and available time, they are often biased towards short-term and medium-term growth. This is especially true at startups, where leaders anxiously look ahead to the end of the runway and try to determine how soon they can get there. Is it possible to trade tomorrow’s ROI goals for benefits that we will reap next quarter or next year?

The truth is that giving your employees learning opportunities can propel your business forward faster. Your people are your company. They want to feel that their managers are committed to supporting their professional advancement and even their personal growth.

According to the LinkedIn 2022 Workplace Learning Report, employees who spend more time learning and receiving training stay at their companies an average of 5.9 years. Employees who spend less time learning and feel that their skills are not being used are 10 times more likely to be looking for a new job, which means increased turnover for their employer.

Employee development is a long-term initiative, but it also leads to short-term benefits like increased loyalty and employee engagement as well as improved performance. If you don’t have the tools or framework to offer development opportunities to your employees, you can start building them today. Here are some ideas to help your business create effective employee learning and development programs.

1. Start with professional training

Create a knowledge base of critical information and best practices to pass on to new hires as you grow.

Depending on the role, formal employee training may be required to ensure competency and even excellence. Create a knowledge base of critical information and best practices to pass on to new hires as you grow. This will be time-consuming at first, but will pay off in the long run.

For many roles above entry-level, training manuals are as obsolete as time clocks. When you hire experienced candidates, they will put their existing skills and knowledge to work. At first, you will mainly have to teach them the particulars of your business and acclimate them to your company culture. If your culture is healthy and other employees believe in your product or service, this will happen almost organically through conversations and regular interactions.

As time goes on, you can augment their knowledge and abilities with business books, seminars, and access to e-learning on topics from project management to demand generation. By simply reading one or two online articles a week, engaged employees can stay up-to-date with industry trends and new practices, strategies, and tactics that others have found successful.

2. Leverage open-source learning

You can choose from many open-source resources to leverage as you create your employee development program..

For example, Google Re:Work offers free research and resources on its people-focused practices that can be easily repurposed at your office. They’ve got articles, case studies, checklists, and even full workshops with facilitator guides that you can print out and use exactly as is. If you have any strong presenters in the office, give them the opportunity to host one of these workshops onboarding new employees, professional development, leadership roles and career goals.

If you’re not interested in instructor-led learning, Coursera and edX have many reputable online courses that are both free and paid. Giving employees the time and funding to take courses is a great way to invest in their learning and bridge any skill gaps they have.

3. Initiate peer-to-peer learning

Tapping subject matter experts within your organization is another great way to create learning opportunities. In fact, Google Re:Work has an entire guide on how to create an employee-to-employee learning program. If you have any subject matter experts who would like to share their knowledge, have them do so through lunch-and-learn workshops or webcasts. For example, you could encourage employees who are great with Excel or presentation design to teach others.

You could also use this kind of informal learning to have people from different parts of your business share with the entire group more about their function, goals, and work. This results in a better understanding and communication around the work employees are doing and how each part of the business fits together.

4. Create a coaching and mentorship program

Many companies are realizing that their managers are overburdened and can’t or don’t know all the answers. In light of this, many companies are moving toward a coaching model that relies on employees’ critical thinking skills and career development, and this means coaching and mentoring.

Coaching may seem intimidating, especially for managers who have little to no experience. But today’s employees demand more than just telling them what to do. To ease into coaching, start by asking some simple questions every week:

  • Are you facing any obstacles, and can I help?
  • What’s an action you can take next week to improve your overall performance?
  • What would you like to learn that could help you in your role?
  • Is there a training program you’d like to take to help you develop and expand your existing skills?

When company leaders are intentional about having the right conversations regularly take place, employees can self-reflect on their accomplishments, and managers can support them in achieving their true potential. The end result is an engaged workforce and improved employee retention.

5. Include cross-departmental employee training

To improve the overall health of the company, management must guide each team. That means doing more than the status quo. Take as an example how Customer Success (CS) impacts product development initiatives and vice-versa. Customers demand a new feature and CS passes that information to the product team. When the new feature is released, CS will likely have to answer customer questions about best practices with the feature.

To encourage cross-departmental training, have a developer review a customer email or sit in on a call with support. Members of your CS team can join a scrum meeting or stand-up with the development team. This might not lead to anyone making a career shift, but it helps everyone see the impact of their efforts companywide.

6. Create a budget for relevant conferences

While you may not be able to create in-house opportunities for training, you can always send your top performers to industry-relevant conferences. Let them know that when they return, they will have to share some of their key findings with their teams. This way, everyone can benefit from the learning experience.

7. Train and develop “soft skills”

It’s unfortunate that these vital skills have been de-emphasized in corporate environments. Even the name “soft skills” makes them seem relatively unnecessary. Dan Goleman’s framework of emotional intelligence at work is just as important as the intellectual know-how required to perform a specific task. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and other social skills play a vital role in effective leadership and execution at all levels.

Try bringing in an expert to teach your team how to read body language or practice nonviolent communication. This might not seem as important a skill as learning to code or creating a pivot table, but it goes a long way towards improving communication and cohesion between employees. When the team is in harmony, work gets done more efficiently and with greater ease.

8. Have career development conversations

Whenever possible, have career development conversations with the people you work with and take the time to understand:

  1. Who they are
  2. Where they want to go
  3. How you can help them get there

If you want to create an environment in your small business where people invest in your vision, try thinking about how you can help them achieve theirs. This means thinking about employees’ career paths from the moment they are hired.

If you want to create an environment in your small business where people invest in your vision, try thinking about how you can help them achieve theirs.

9. Add personal development to employee development

Your employees have a life outside work, and it affects their work. They are whole human beings with physical, intellectual and emotional experiences. For them to evolve both personally and professionally, employee development must be holistic and include both personal and professional goals. Forgetting any of these facets does your employee development plan a disservice.

Emotional balance

Ask questions like, “How do you feel about your work lately? Are you struggling with anything?” This meets our basic needs to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and validated — needs that go unmet in many work environments. A supportive manager who has skills around listening and staying aware of employee challenges can help raise them out of a tough emotional space.

Intellectual growth

Books and seminars don’t just have to be about business. You can provide continuing education around personal finance or fostering healthy relationships. When you have the occasion to reward an employee for stellar performance, sponsor their attendance at a class that will further their personal goals and hobbies.

Physical health

Show your employees that you care about their physical well-being. Make sure your health plans are up-to-date with options for preventative medicine as well as disease management and make it easy for employees to enroll. Pay attention to work-life balance and make sure your employees have it. Finally, consider fitness breaks during the workday or offer virtual fitness classes.

As a business owner, having any kind of designated learning — or even a dedicated human resources professional — is likely not in the picture. After all, 70% of businesses with 5 to 49 employees add HR tasks onto the workload of employees, according to ADP’s Ad Hoc Human Resource Management Study.

The truth is that when people have the tools to do their jobs well and training to advance in their careers, they feel supported and happy. Not only are they likely to stay longer, but they will also perform better and contribute to overall company growth. And your reputation for stellar employee development might just encourage the best and brightest candidates to join your team.

If you need help onboarding, training, and communicating with your employees, Zenefits is here to help with advice from Workest, employee handbook builders, and people operations.

What are you doing this month to help your team learn? Tweet us at @Zenefits and let us know.

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