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Creating employee development plans that work

With the competition for in-demand talent so fierce now, companies cannot afford to lose employees to factors under their control. Engagement in the workplace – or a lack of it – is a major contributing factor for preventable employee turnover. 

According to Gallup, 85% of employees globally are either not engaged or actively disengaged on the job. At the same time, consider that most workers – and 87% of Millennials – consider employee development a top priority and contribute to better engagement. 

That means that you can take a bite out of that whopping disengagement number by ensuring that every employee at your organization has an active employee development plan. 

This article will act as a guide for how to create an employee development program at your organization, and provide tips and ideas to tailor your plans to your employees. 

Let’s jump in! 

What is employee development?

Employee development – also known as professional development – is how your employees go through to improve their skills, grow their knowledge, and become better and more productive members of your workforce. 

Employee development plans are detailed road maps of the learning activities that the employee will complete to meet predetermined learning goals. These activities are usually facilitated, aided, and funded by the employer in collaboration with the employee. 

Because employee development is closely linked to career growth, employees are usually in charge of which activities and learning priorities are included in their plan. Employers and managers then provide guidance, support, and financial backing.

In general, employee development can be thought of as an employer-backed learning path that helps employees progress along their career path. This process is repeated for each employee within the organization, ensuring a culture of continual growth and improvement. 

Employee development can be time consuming and expensive. But, it also provides a slew of positive outcomes that more than makeup for the investment. 

Why is employee development and training important?

When thinking about the importance of employee development, and whether or not it should be a priority for your organization, it’s important to do a bit of self-reflection. 

Would you be content in a job that didn’t provide opportunities for you to learn and grow? Or, worse, a position that didn’t lead anywhere? Most people would likely answer “no.” And that’s exactly why it’s important to provide those employee development opportunities. 

Beyond that, employee development offers a wide range of measurable benefits for employers and employees. 

Here are some of the most significant benefits of employee development:

  • It gives employees confidence that they aren’t working in a dead-end job and that there’s a future for them beyond their current role. 
  • It enables employees to stay sharp and relevant in their position and industry. 
  • It keeps employees and teams in tune with industry trends and best practices.
  • It facilitates ongoing performance improvements by helping employees hone their strengths and grow their skills. 
  • It improves employee morale and helps to build a strong company culture of innovation and betterment.
  • It improves staff engagement and commitment to their role and the company. 
  • As a result, it’s been known to increase employee retention rates. 
  • It’s seen as a desirable factor by job seekers, helping you attract and hire better talent. 

A lack of growth opportunities and a commitment to employee development are major reasons people leave their jobs. Employee development helps to reverse negative retention trends and provides ongoing benefits for organizations. 

Companies who ensure that all workers have active employee development plans have reported: 

  • Better performance 
  • Better business outcomes
  • Better ability to handle unexpected changes and challenges 
  • Stronger adaptability skills in their employees 
  • Stronger ability to expand operations and compete more effectively 

As you can see, employee development is a win-win situation for employees and organizations. It gives employees the tool and support they need and want to grow. And it helps organizations grow teams that can execute on their strategic vision more effectively. 

In the next section, we’ll dig into how to create an employee development plan.

Steps to creating an employee development plan program

Creating an employee development plan or employee development program comes down to six main steps that we’ll explain in this section. This is a general guideline – written for the employer’s perspective – that can be adapted as needed for your organization. 

We should note that employees will likely have their own process for creating their unique employee development plans. This should be facilitated in collaboration with their manager to ensure that the plan is mutually beneficial to the employee and the organizations. 

With that said, here are the six steps you can take to implement a company-wide employee development plan program. 

Step 1: Evaluate your long term goals

Before opening the floodgates and encouraging everyone to create an employee development plan, you must step back to assess your company’s current position and long term goals. 

Meet with your executive team to gain perspective on what the long term strategic goals are for the company. What skills and knowledge will your organization need to hit those goals? This will help guide your learning and growth priorities from the company’s perspective. 

Next, assess how your teams operate today and what types of skills are currently available. This will help you identify skills gaps and upskill potential to fill those gaps through employee development.

Finally, survey the company to get an idea of what types of learning your employees want. Get an understanding of their priorities and wishlist for employee development. 

By stepping back to conduct a 360-degree assessment of your organization, you’ll ensure that your employee development program is providing the learning opportunities that employees want and is building the skills you need to hit your strategic goals. 

Step 2. Establish how you’ll measure success

Like any new program, defining and measuring success is critical for effective employee development plans. For organization-wide employee development programs, KPIs should be set on both a macro and micro level. 

As an HR and leadership team, establish what metrics you’ll be using to measure success for the company-wide employee development program. This might be: 

  • Employee engagement
  • Long term retention rates
  • Specific performance indicators 

Success metrics should be established at the employee and manager level using SMART employee development goals for each development activity. Set a measurable goal with a clear benchmark for success that the employee is hoping to attain. This will help both parties reflect later on whether or not that goal was met. 

Be sure to set non-measurable goals for your employee development plans as well. Company-wide commitment to employee development is typically well-received by job candidates (assuming you communicate it publicly). 

Ask your recruiters and hiring managers to note instances where job seekers show interest or approval in your employee development programs. This can be a good indicator that your efforts are having a positive impact on your employer brand

Step 3. Tailor plans to reflect your workforce 

Employee development plans aren’t a one size fits all approach. They need to be tailored to each specific company, team, and individual to ensure success. 

Organizations and managers should ensure that they’re tailoring their employee development and training to their unique staff. Consider factors like:

  • Industry
  • Learning size 
  • Growth goals
  • Subject matter
  • Accessibility requirements 

This is particularly important when providing learning material at a company-wide level. Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) provide learning modules that help train workforces on common, in-demand skills like Excel. It’s important to ensure that the modules and topics you select in your training material are relevant to your workforce as a whole and that it’s accessible to people with different learning styles and disabilities. 

It will be necessary, of course, to create unique learning opportunities for individuals within your organization. That’s where the next step comes into play. 

Step 4. Create employee-centric development plans

This is where the micro-level employee development plans come to fruition. At this stage, your organization should ask managers to meet with their direct reports to talk about their interests and career growth within the company. These conversations will form the basis for which a unique employee development plan is created. 

Managers should ask employees to create a draft of their own development plan that reflects their learning priorities and employee development goals. The two parties can then have a conversation about that draft and refine the learning activities to ensure that they strike a balance between the employee’s goals and the organization’s needs. 

Once the employee development plan is finalized, the employee and manager should meet regularly to share progress reports and opportunities to integrate new learnings into the team’s workflows. 

Step 5. Provide company-wide learning support 

Leveraging an LMS to provide company-wide learning opportunities is a great way to foster a culture of continuous improvement and to streamline the cost of employee development and training. 

Once you have a representative number of employee development plans created, analyze them for commonalities or consistent focus areas. If, for example, a large pocket of development plans mention upskilling on Excel, then this is a great opportunity to invest in an eLearning module to train your workforce on that platform. 

Depending on the commonalities, you might also consider in-person training sessions from third-party experts, professional development groups, or lunch n’ learn series to share knowledge cross-functionally. 

Step 6. Monitor, track, improve 

Lastly, no employee development program will provide long term success without continuously tracking results and implementing incremental improvements. 

Remember those KPIs you set in Step 2? Ensure you track those regularly, and analyze your progress relative to your original benchmark and goals. 

It’s also a good idea to track employee sentiment around your development programs to ensure that it has the desired effect. Solicit feedback from your workforce using engagement surveys and opinion polls. 

Take this feedback and analytics, and adapt your employee development strategy accordingly. 

Employee development ideas and tips 

As mentioned earlier, the best employee development plans and programs are tailored to your workforce and the individuals within it. Don’t be afraid to test new ideas and tactics that may boost your employees’ commitment to their development. 

Here are some employee development ideas and tips to get you thinking: 

  • Encourage employee development from day one, rather than making it exclusive to establish employees more
  • Train your managers to be better coaches, and on how to facilitate better development
  • Encourage conversations and learning opportunities across departments and functions
  • Provide opportunities for employees to work for short periods in different roles within the organization
  • Provide internal and external mentorship opportunities 
  • Encourage shadowing, especially for jobs further along an employee’s growth path 
  • Create a lunch n’ learn series to encourage cross-departmental knowledge sharing – leverage internal knowledge and make it available to everyone
  • Provide professional training and certifications, either in-house or on-location 
  • Invest in an eLearning platform that provides ongoing training modules for the most in-demand and mission-critical skill sets 
  • Find learning activities to nurture and boost soft skills, as well as hard skills
  • Don’t forget about personal well-being – invest in programs around intellectual growth and physical health 

As the saying goes, your employees are your greatest asset. Organizations invest an enormous amount of time and energy in finding and hiring the best talent possible. Losing that expensive talent due to controllable circumstances like poor engagement or lack of employee development is a losing strategy that harms the company in the long run. 

Employee development plans are one of the most sure-fire ways to boost employee engagement, retention, and overall satisfaction. They also have the added benefit of building critical skills and knowledge within your organization, and reduce the need to source external solutions for your strategic goals. All of these benefits provide a net positive return on your investment. 

Lastly, employee development is simply an expectation amongst job seekers today. The best candidates likely won’t consider companies that don’t offer learning and growth opportunities. 

Additional reading: 10 common reasons for losing top talent

Creating and nurturing an employee development program is a powerful way to demonstrate that commitment, which has positive ripple effects on your standing as an employer within your industry. 

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