When I was first asked to write about encouraging employee development, I thought "cool, this should be easy." After all I'm a huge proponent of professional development! I have my HR certifications and regularly attend learning sessions, in person and online, to maintain those certifications. I have encouraged others to obtain their certification. I work for a boss who also encourages professional development, through formal higher education or through professional organizations. We encourage license or certification when available, even if not required for a position. And I get that not everyone works for a boss who is such a big proponent of ongoing education and development.
So with this background, I thought it would be easy to write. You can hit on formal education, online programs or webinars, professional certification or license, mentoring, bringing in speakers. And yet, I struggled.
This information is readily available. What could I possibly say that's new? Then, this morning on Twitter, I saw the perfect post from my friend Sue Ellen Watts: "Remove the obstacles."
Most employees are interested in some sort of development, so we, as managers, supervisors, leaders, need to remove the obstacles.
Obstacle 1: Money
The first obstacle that most people come to is money. Formal education is very expensive and a bachelor's degree has become what a high school diploma was in the 1970s and 1980s. Even certification and licenses can be expensive and out of reach of the average employee. I would encourage every employer, however, to do what they can to help employees obtain these.
Maybe you can't do a tuition reimbursement, but perhaps you can assist with finding scholarships. For those certification programs, work with local professional organizations who may offer discounted materials. My local SHRM group will host a study group when we have 5 or more interested. We are able to purchase the study program at a discount if we have at least 5 interested.
Sending employees to a conference can be a great way for them to gain skills in a short period of time. If you really want to ensure a return on this investment, ask your employee to go with a certain focus and upon their return, have some way to share that information with other staff. They could present the information during a meeting, bring back information on a vendor or even some sort of training to share with other staff.
Obstacle 2: Time
Another obstacle is time. People are busier than ever, so it can be really difficult for staff to find the time to study or even attend a class or conference after work. Perhaps you can offer time during the workday to attend a class or even study. I've worked for employers who have allowed a certain number of hours each week (pre-approved) to attend class regularly on company time.
Implementing e-learning programs or online courses in your employee development is a great way to help employees save time! Employees can learn online at whatever time suits, whether during the workday or during outside hours. You can also set aside time during the workday. so employees don’t have to take personal time to focus on their own development.
From the employer standpoint, you need to look at this time as an investment in your employee, knowing your employee growing is good for your bottom line in the long term. Development can and should start right from when the employee begins working for your company. Krish Ramineni from Fireflies.ai says,
Investing in employee onboarding has paid great dividends! We map out exactly what an employee will do during the first 40 days. A great amount of time is spent on coaching, training, and educating the new hires about our mission and where we stand in the market we are in.
Employee Development should continue beyond the onboarding phase of course, but laying down a strong foundation right from the start is important. New hires will be more invested in your company knowing that you are willing to spend the time to develop them on a personal level.
Obstacle 3: Resources
Perhaps the obstacle is within the organization. Maybe those paid development opportunities are out of reach for you. Maybe you need to look more internally to help develop your employees. What internal resources do you have? Laura Macleod at From the Inside Out Project says,
Begin by finding out what the employees NEED. This means checking into what the practical, as well as professional needs, are. Brainstorm and collaborate with employees to meet these needs. If no professional training is available... find a way to help them learn through other ways like mentoring from senior employees or coaching from you and other supervisors.
Mentoring is a great place to start. Experienced employees can partner with a new employee. Start with the staff members who do this naturally, who reach out to the new employees or who others already point new hires to for help. Talk with them about what your expectations are for them to take a new employee under their wing.
A mentoring program doesn't need to be difficult, just encouraging 2 employees to get together and share information. Start small and let it grow with ongoing encouragement and follow up.
Offer additional duties or cross training. I assisted a custodial department with this. We had staff who were interested in becoming supervisors, but we didn't have a good way for them to get the skills or experience necessary to help them understand their role and responsibilities. So we created a temporary additional duty program. Staff members are trained on a few duties that are typically done by supervisors, such as quality checks, attendance, training, ordering materials or managing equipment. By having staff complete these duties, supervisors have more time to do higher level supervisor duties such as evaluations and coaching.
Other Unknown Obstacles:
Perhaps the real obstacle is your employees aren't sure what they want or need. Have you spoken with your staff about what they want? Have you shared options with them? There will always be staff who aren't interested in moving up but have skills or experience that is worth sharing. Invite them to share their knowledge in a meeting or in a small group can be a great way for the information to be shared and the employee to gain experience in sharing in a more formal way. Dr. Turnage, Director at Talent Plus says,
Get to know your people. Learn about their unique goals, interests, and strengths. How much time do they want to spend with you as their manager? How do they think you can best help them achieve their goals? Listen and individualize your approach to each person. Meet people’s needs.
While goals are typically always part of the traditional evaluation process, you may need to help your staff here. Many staff struggle in this area because they aren't interested in a formal education program. They may not know what options are out there. Talk about some of these options with them, not just during that one time of year you have to talk to them, but throughout the year. Touch base regularly on their performance. Look for those informal learning opportunities or places where they can informally share what they know.
Employee development does not have to be complicated or expensive. Talk with your staff to get their ideas of how to best share information within your organization. They just might surprise you.
Wendy Dailey is an HR Business Partner in South Dakota. With almost 20 years of experience in human resources, she has worked in a variety of industries including construction, airlines, banking, and healthcare. Wendy is active in her local SHRM group, DisruptHR and in the #HRTribe on Twitter. She is co-host of the #HRSocialHour podcast and twitter chat. Wendy was named to the 2018 SHRM blogging team and writes for Workology, Prosky and on her Personal Blog: My Dailey Journey
In her spare time, Wendy enjoys spending time with her family and leading her daughters’ Girl Scout troops Connect with Wendy on Twitter.