Comprehensive Guide to Developing Employees Part 1: The Business Case For Employee Development

January 25, 2023
# min read
Doug Brown

Editor’s Note:This is the first installment of a two-part series surrounding what it takes to develop staff both within relatively small micro-businesses to more extensive organizations. Each article explores different aspects.

Regardless of the size of your organization, employee development is an essential strategic tool. It can enhance an organization’s continuing growth, productivity, and employee retention. However, employee development will be clunky for employees when neglecting particular challenges, leading to an uncertain value to the organization.

In this first installment of a two-part series, I will discuss the considerations in making strong business case for employee development, guidelines to consider and the various development methods available.

The Business Case for Employee Development

Finding qualified staff is seldom easy and may be very costly. According to research published by SHRM, up to 83% of HR professionals are having recruiting difficulties. Within those HR professionals, 75% say there is a skills shortage in candidates.

Some key considerations:

  • Competition is all around us, and they are competing for both market share and engaged employees.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are becoming increasingly more important. A trap is allocating more energy to external recruiting than developing and promoting current employees.
  • Create a culture that celebrates continuous learning and quickly adapts to new environments, protocols or shifting market demands.
  • You may need to rekindle employee development initiatives. Recently, limited budgets, scarce resources, shifting business priorities, lack of time or senior management support have been impediments to a viable approach. By providing creative development, executives signal that you value employees.
  • Acknowledge the need to adapt to your changing business structure. Leaner, flatter and continuously evolving organizations especially need employee development.
  • Workers who receive training and educational opportunities will become more productive. While there is a concern that developing highly skilled people will leave and take their knowledge elsewhere, employee training usually reduces turnover and absenteeism.
  • Align employee development with the organization’s strategic needs.
  • Do you face the impending retirement of staff?
  • What succession planning initiatives are you putting in place before you hit an emergency?

Guidelines to Support Employee Development Programs:

  • Find a common ground: Secure widespread agreement among executives and managers that development fits into workforce planning, succession or retention programs.
  • Tie everything into performance management: Differentiate between short-term plans for projects, long-term plans for the organization, career development plans for the employee, and skill-building for immediate performance deficiencies. Handle each at its appropriate phase of the performance management process.
  • Understand what each employee values: Knowing what each employee values and how that relates to their desired development needs should significantly affect the type of development activities provided.
  • Know your desired outcome: Be clear about which skills will be enhanced by particular employee development initiatives.

Although these guidelines do not guarantee a successful program, failure to follow them will almost certainly make the development program less effective for the employee and the organization.

Employee Development Methods

Some employee development methods occur on the job, with the manager or an experienced co-worker leading the development activity on site. Other development occurs at training facilities or online.

Coaching: Coaching involves a more experienced or skilled individual providing an employee with advice and guidance. The hallmarks of 1:1 coaching are: it is personalized and customized, it has a specific business objective, and it is accomplished over time. Approach coaching like any other strategic goal. It requires a plan to obtain results, qualified willing coaches, and a follow-up evaluation.

Mentoring: Mentoring may be formal or informal. Effective mentoring programs:

  • Match mentors and mentees based on skills and development needs.
  • Hold both parties accountable with goals.
  • Designate time & commitments needed.
  • Monitor the mentoring relationship.
  • Link mentoring to both talent management and business strategies.

Individual development plans (IDP): An IDP details an employee’s intentions, learning outcomes, and support, including adult learning strategies, experiential learning and interaction. It includes appraisal and assessment data that reflect actual and potential performance.

Cross-training: Cross-training refers to training employees to perform job duties other than those usually assigned. Cross-training can be a short-term or ad hoc fix or an ongoing, planned process and may help staff meet qualifications for future career advancement. All cross-training should begin by identifying the knowledge and skills needed for each position and understanding current employees’ proficiencies to reveal gaps.

“Stretch” assignments: Developmental assignments allow employees to develop new skills, knowledge, experience and competencies necessary for higher-level positions. Many workers do not know what experiences they will need.

Some Key Findings

Our experience has shown:

  • First-level leaders are more likely to succeed if they have had more cross-functional experiences.
  • Mid-level leaders are more likely to succeed if they have had experience handling tough challenges.
  • Executives are more likely to succeed when they have had high-visibility experiences along with having to manage high-risk situations.

Job enlargement vs. job enrichment: Job enlargement adds more tasks and duties, typically at the same level of complexity. On the other hand, job enrichment builds more depth through more control, responsibility and discretion. Motivation is unlikely when jobs are enlarged but not enriched.

Job shadowing: Job shadowing requires more than just having an employee follow a colleague around all day. It works best when employees learn firsthand about the challenges facing people in other departments and the impact their decisions have on others.

Job rotation: Job rotation, which usually runs for a year or more, is the systematic movement of employees from job to job within an organization. Typically, formal rotation programs offer high-potential employees customized assignments to provide a view of the entire business.

Assignments can increase product quality, allow employees to explore alternative career paths and perhaps, most importantly, prevent stagnation and boredom. Downsides may include increased workload and decreased productivity for the employee, temporary workflow disruption, line managers’ possible reluctance to lose high-performing employees and the costs associated with the learning curve on new jobs.

Succession Planning

Succession planning uses a one- to three-year window to identify long-range needs and builds your internal talent to meet those needs. Succession plans prepare employees for new roles in the organization – not to preselect them. Succession planning doesn’t have to be complicated and can significantly benefit smaller organizations with fewer resources.

Assessment Centers

An assessment center is not necessarily a physical site, but a program of tools and exercises designed to assess people’s suitability concerning a particular role. Assessment centers may be used for selection or development purposes and can involve several employees or candidates at a time. These may involve standardized activities, games, and other simulations to help predict the candidates’ future performance

Corporate Universities

Corporate universities usually focus on job-related skills, company-specific proprietary knowledge, or certification needs. They are designed to benefit the organization, not just the individual, with consistent messaging that reaches everyone.

Online Development

Organizations typically use classroom-based learning for topics unique to the employer and online learning for universal topics. Online training allows for self-directed, just-in-time, on-demand instruction. Content is best delivered in small, easily understood pieces to keep employees engaged. Employees should know how to use online training systems, online support and easily access supplemental information.

Up next: In the next issue, we will identify, explore and help you better understand some of the common issues and challenges when developing employees.

Read the next article in the series:
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