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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

What's the number one reason employees join or leave a company?

No, it's not flexibility, nor is it compensation. And in this era of remote/hybrid work, it's definitely not perks like an office ping-pong table or a stocked snack counter either.

After looking at thousands of onboarding and exit surveys, our people scientists found the answer: employee development.

Employee development also plays a huge role in driving employee engagement and retention. Culture Amp’s “Importance of Employee Development” report found that employees are 46% more engaged when they can develop skills that are relevant to their interests. Meanwhile, employees who feel like they don’t have access to L&D opportunities are 2x more likely to leave.

The numbers clearly demonstrate that employee development matters. And yet, figuring out how to develop employees in a way that's both personalized and scalable often feels ambiguous. In this article, our people scientists share 7 key tips for developing a meaningful and effective employee development program.

7 fundamental tips for creating an impactful employee development program

Forget haphazard growth plans that are quickly dropped and stale learning libraries that your employees rarely ever utilize. By incorporating these 7 tips into your employee development program, you can unlock continuous, personalized, and motivating growth and development.

1. Ensure development is a priority for leaders

At many organizations, development is treated like a perk or a benefit – something "extra" that is provided only when there is “adequate” time and resources.

"It's so easy for development to slip off the priorities list," says Jacqui Pooley, Learning and Development Lead at Culture Amp.

In reality, development is a core component of any organization's culture and overall success. That means it needs to be a top priority for not just your managers, but leadership in general.

This requires more than having senior leadership announce that growth and learning is a priority. To truly demonstrate and embody the fact that development is a priority, leaders will also need to equip their employees and managers with the support (e.g., training, resources, templates, frameworks, and time) required to achieve meaningful and motivating growth.

2. Clearly outline roles and responsibilities

There's been a broader shift toward employee-centric development and self-directed learning, in which employees are responsible for driving their own development.

That level of ownership matters, but it doesn't mean that leaders can or should sit back and just watch. "We like to think about employee development as a team sport," explains Jacqui. To succeed, each member (or player) needs a clear role, a set of responsibilities, and accountability.

For example, at Culture Amp, the expectation is that:

  • The employee owns and drives the development plan
  • The manager (or leader) supports and coaches the employee, and helps them find and leverage available resources
  • The company provides structure, resources, and sets the overall culture or tone for development internally

By setting clear roles and responsiblities, you can ensure that every person in an organization understands how they’re expected to contribute to their personal development (and if applicable, the development of their teams). However, remember that even if you go the employee-centric route for your development program, leaders and managers still have a critical responsibility to provide adequate structure and guidance to their direct reports.

3. Make development a balanced process

Ideally, employee development balances the needs and desires of both the individual and the business. That can feel tricky to manage – particularly in companies or industries where things change fast, but when you get it right, you can reach the “sweet spot” of employee development.

Creating this three way-balance also requires you to consider your timing.

"The timing of your development plans can play an important part here," explains Dr. Melissa Giles, VP of Learning and Organizational Development at Culture Amp. "Having [your development planning process] occur shortly after setting your performance objectives or goals for the period can be a great way to make the link more concrete." That way, employees know where they succeeded or fell short in terms of the organizations’ expectations and goals, and can use that knowledge to shape their development plan.

4. Make individual development personalized and dynamic

The development plan you create for an entry-level employee who is eager to master the skills necessary for their role will look quite different from the plan created for a long-standing employee who aspires to move up to a new position. Every employee wants something different, which is why the most motivating development plans are individualized and designed to evolve alongside the needs and expectations of employees at different stages of their roles and careers. Development plans "should grow and change as the employee does, as learning is a continuous process," says Dany Holbrook, Senior People Scientist of Product at Culture Amp.

Continuous development might sound like it requires a huge investment, but that’s not necessarily true. Consider the three E's of development:

  • Experience: On-the-job experiences that help employees grow (e.g., stretch tasks, special products, mentoring others, etc.)
  • Exposure: Learning through observation (e.g., working with a coach, seeking feedback, shadowing, networking, etc.)
  • Education: Structured learning (e.g., courses, books, conferences)

"Education is generally where you're going to have those expenses," says Jacqui. That could include things like conferences, courses, and workshops. "Experience and exposure are where you have a huge opportunity to help people develop their skills."

For example, if an employee wants to improve their project management skills, you could provide the opportunity to lead a small project, or connect them with a skilled project manager within your company. Both are meaningful for the employee's development – and come at no financial cost.

5. Provide continuous coaching

Even with the right structure and resources in place, development should never be treated as hands-off. Employees should be engaged in continuous coaching with a trusted mentor – likely their manager or perhaps a coach who has the necessary insights.

This person should have visibility into the employee’s development plans and the steps the employee is taking. That way, they can proactively monitor progress and provide support and resources when needed. Encourage them to schedule frequent check-ins (i.e., during their regular 1-on-1 conversation) with employees to ask specifically about their development goals, plans for next steps, and how they can help in the process.

6. Use the right tools and content

It’s essential that development is streamlined and not daunting for employees. Having the right tools and content makes it much easier for leaders to help employees engage in the right behaviors at the right time.

Development tools like Develop can give leaders insight into employees' career desires and ambitions, help employees create a plan to reach development goals, and empower HR teams to measure impact. Some tools like Skills Coach offer 3-minute, daily exercises on everything from coaching to holding better 1-on-1s. By employing the principles of conversational micro-learning and spaced repetition, such tools can help make L&D a daily practice.

7. Incorporate feedback and reflection

Development can be amplified by using and providing timely, specific, and highly actionable feedback.

"Past development can be used to help determine a starting point for development," explains Dany. That could include data from a performance review or a skills assessment, for example. As they work toward their development goals, "feedback then helps employees by reducing uncertainty on their progress toward their goals and helps them focus their effort and activity."

Employees also need plenty of time for reflection – not just self-reflection, but also coached reflection. That gives employees the opportunity to self-assess current skill levels, determine skill gaps, and ponder their future career aspirations.

Develop your employees (and keep them around)

Knowing how to help employees develop and grow in a way that's personalized and personally meaningful goes a long way when it comes to boosting retention, engagement, and business performance.

Of course, meaningful employee development involves work and commitment from all parties. There's no way around that. But, with the right structure, resources, and tools in place, you can support your employees with well-rounded plans for growth and development – without placing a huge burden on your leadership and HR teams.

Grow and retain your people

Learn more about how Develop can help you improve retention and accelerate business growth.

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