In today’s labor market, it is more difficult than ever for employers to find and retain skilled workers. Three years post-pandemic, companies still struggle to replace the staggering number of employees who exited the workforce since March 2020, making a full economic recovery challenging. For example, in March 2023, more than 50% of jobs in both the business and professional services sector and the leisure and hospital sector remained unfilled, and similar metrics have been recorded in other sectors. What can companies do, then, to right the ship?
The answer is simple: start investing in your employees.
Employee development is one of the best tools your company can use to minimize employee attrition: it keeps your strongest employees loyal and happy while attracting the best and brightest candidates for open positions. A well-designed employee development initiative offers your employees attractive opportunities to expand their toolbox and provides clear guidance on career advancement. So how do you put an effective plan in place? Here are 7 steps to guide you as you create a bespoke employee development solution for your company.
- Before diving in to create a program that feels right to you, make an honest assessment of whether your organization is ready. Perhaps basic skills training is already available to your team, but you want to add mentoring and stretch assignments (see #3 below for more about these methods). These components will require new ways of thinking, the buy-in of managers, and training plans. Way To Grow Inc, LLC, a consulting firm focused on organizational development, offers an assessment of culture transformation readiness. Such an assessment is a good place to begin understanding whether your organization has the will and resources to undertake a culture change around employee development.
- Confirm your employees’ expectations. For example, you don’t want to create a mentoring program if what your employees actually want is to increase their productivity with Outlook. Use meetings like 1:1s and Performance Reviews to ask your team and assess expectations. The result may be requests for specific skills training or opportunities to engage with leadership and learn about career paths.
- Prepared with information specific to your workforce, you are now ready to create a program incorporating various employee development methods. The following list is not exhaustive. Implement the methods best suited to your company culture.
- Skills training includes learning hard skills such as advanced Excel or soft skills such as effective communication.
- Mentoring is an opportunity for more experienced employees to meet periodically with more junior employees to share career-enhancing guidance, including how to navigate within the organization’s culture or to discuss a desired career path.
- Reverse mentoring is a relationship in which a more junior employee shares perspectives, teaches the latest technological skills, or explores workplace issues with a more senior co-worker or executive.
- Formal education to obtain a degree may be a necessary component for an employee to advance in their desired career path. The organization may support this effort by providing flexible work schedules and financial support.
- External workshops, conferences, or seminars, the cost of which are paid by the employer, may be offered to employees to expand their current skillset or to obtain new knowledge;
- Lunch-and-learns are offered during the workday and are an excellent forum to present on developmental topics. They can be offered by in-house resources who have knowledge and skills to share, or the organization can hire external resources to deliver the content;
- Stretch assignments are work tasks or projects identified by managers or suggested by employees that provide real work experience beyond an employee’s current role and responsibilities. Stretch assignments may occur on an employee’s own team or within other teams. For example, a human resources assistant might be invited to participate in an interview panel to recommend final candidates for CFO. Such an assignment might include training from a supervisor on interview techniques and orientation to the panel interview process by more senior panel members.
- Networking is the opportunity for an employee to attend external professional events or to join a professional organization to engage with other organizations and community members.
- Licenses or certifications may be a requirement for an employee to advance to a desired job within the organization. Organizations can provide time and financial support to accomplish the goal. A certified Nursing Assistant aspiring to become a Licensed Practical Nurse is an excellent example.
- Job shadowing, as the name suggests, can be helpful to an employee who expresses an interest in moving up within an organization but wants to observe a colleague and job responsibilities before pursuing a new role.
- Delegation of tasks by managers to their subordinates is perhaps one of the easiest developmental experiences to create. The task may be one that will help prepare the employee for future promotional opportunities, such as leading a team meeting.
- Individual development plans (IDPs) are action plans which indicate short-term and long-term professional goals, areas of strength that the employee may want to enhance further, or opportunities for improvement identified by the employee or supervisor. The plan will outline activities designed to help the employee move closer to their goals.
- 360 assessments are survey instruments that gather feedback from supervisors, peers, direct reports, and sometimes external, professional contacts. The survey and results are typically facilitated by a trained or certified practitioner who will help the employee take in and use the feedback in a positive, productive way.
- Exposure to leaders within the organization is often sought after by employees who want to be seen and recognized as potential future leaders. This experience can be created by bringing individuals together to meet with an executive, exchanging ideas over lunch, or in a dedicated meeting.
- Prepare your managers and human resources team for the parts they will play in implementing and nurturing the culture of continuous learning you are constructing together. Follow up with people actively engaged with your development program in dedicated meetings or Performance Reviews.
- Write and adapt your plan as a priority initiative. Assess learnings and include clearly defined measures of success..
- Share the initiative with your employees and follow through on all commitments outlined in the program.
- Assess and reassess the employee development program periodically to ensure forward momentum. Be prepared to adjust program elements as needed, but not so often that employees find it too confusing to take advantage of what is being offered.
How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of Your Employee Development Program?
Every organization tracks measures of success, and you likely already track sales, marketing expenses, quality, and safety indicators. Similarly, employee development can and should be measured.
Keep in mind its multiple purposes to:
- Attract, retain, and engage a skilled workforce;
- Create a culture of continuous learning designed to meet changing market demands; and
- Meet employee expectations for professional development.
These objectives suggest metrics such as the number of vacancies as a percentage of headcount; time to fill a vacancy (the number of days between the approval of a job requisition and the date that the candidate accepts the job offer); retention and turnover data; employee engagement and satisfaction as measured by surveys; and, stay and exit interviews that give insight into why employees stay and why they leave.
Choose measures that are aligned with the strategic plan for your organization and your program. Collect the data and be willing to engage in recurring cycles of reassessment. Don’t hesitate to share data and seek additional feedback from your team. Adjust along the way and keep moving forward to create a winning culture in your company.