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Employee development refers to the complete set of processes that enable professionals to excel at their jobs. It encompasses all the initiatives organizations undertake to polish their workforces’ existing skills and competencies. It also involves activities that help employees develop newer skills aligned with the organization’s needs.
Helping engineers develop project management skills and training sales personnel on relationship-building skills are examples of employee development initiatives. Such employee development programs boost employees’ performance at work, enable them to achieve their career goals, and provide them with a fulfilling experience at work.
However, employee development is more than meeting employees periodically to provide feedback on their improvement needs. Nor is it the mere development of employee learning & development strategies and the rolling out of planned employee training programs. Instead, employee development is the investment of time, effort, and money – targeting the longer-term benefits to the organization.
For example, a practical everyday situation confronting organizations is – having to let go of an employee with inadequate skills or training the individual to develop the required skills. Both cost the organization time, effort and money. However, if the employee’s development leads to longer-term employee retention, it is better for everyone.
Here, the investment in employee development helps the organization avoid the cost of hiring a new employee as a replacement for the outgoing one. It saves the cost already invested in the employee and obviates the need to build from zero on a new hire.
The importance of employee development arises from the need to boost employee engagement, improve retention and ultimately, encourage exceptional performance. Employees appreciate it when the organization takes a genuine interest in their professional and personal development. It engenders loyalty, boosts employee productivity, and leads to positive business results.
Moreover, effective talent management is a pressing concern for business leaders today. The scarcity of quality talent is so acute that it has sparked fierce competition and a literal war for talent among businesses. Simultaneously, employees are now more selective about how they will work and where they will work. Moreover, as the recent ‘Great Resignation‘ proved, the cost of hiring and retaining talent continues to rise. As a result, businesses are thinking up novel ways to attract and retain talent.
When an organization’s workforce benefits from employee development through skills improvement or the acquisition of new skills, the organization also benefits. Therefore, employee training and development have a direct impact on business results.
A well-planned employee development program delivers multiple benefits to the employees, the managers and the organization. Besides providing obvious financial benefits, employee development also delivers advantages that have a significant longer-term impact on employee engagement, employee morale, and organizational performance.
The benefits of employee development include:
In today’s hyper-competitive business environment, organizations can only survive if they outperform the competition. Employee development is the means to help employees meet and even exceed performance expectations.
Modern-day businesses operate in an environment of high volatility and uncertainty. While managing volatility and tension can be challenging, it often throws up unexpected opportunities. Hence, companies need to develop the ability to respond to emergent opportunities quickly and efficiently. Adaptability enables employees to innovate continually to devise solutions to new challenges. An effective employee development program can prepare employees to quickly get on top of changed circumstances.
Businesses with a well-defined employee development program are better placed on demonstrating the organization’s culture of learning and knowledge-sharing. Organizations that invest in developing their talent with, for instance, personalized development programs can attract top talent. A demonstrable culture of learning can be a highly attractive recruitment tool.
Several studies have shown that attrition is high in firms where employees perceive a lack of opportunities for professional development. Investing in employee development and reducing attrition is a better choice compared to the cost of hiring and integrating a new employee into the organization.
Every organization needs to groom a pool of leaders that will take the organization forward. Development of leadership traits such as result orientation, customer focus, strategic thinking, conflict resolution, communication skills, decision-making, etc., is best done through in-house employee development and mentorship programs. In-house employee development programs offer the added advantage of customizing leadership development to the organization’s particular needs.
For any organization, having a workforce that is fully engaged and committed is crucial to its success. Engagement and motivation depend on a conducive working environment, recognition and appreciation of good work, and learning opportunities. Employee development addresses all the factors that affect engagement and motivation and furthers employee engagement as a strategic priority for the organization.
Together with adaptability, sector-leading organizations are flexible in their operating philosophy. They are also receptive and accommodative to the needs of their employees, partners and customers. Employee development helps impart the mindset and skills in the employees that equip the organization to compete for new business opportunities.
Organizations may undertake employee development on core technical skills and several soft skills. Cumulatively, these skills enhance the employees’ efficiency and productivity, leading to improved business outcomes.
Typically, the critical areas of employee development include:
Flexibility enables employees to adapt to the requirements of the ever-changing and dynamic business environment. Training for flexibility includes developing the ability to learn new skills, adaptability, improvisation, and respond to novel issues as they arise.
Developing a clear and transparent communication culture across the organization is important for knowledge sharing and trust-building. In the absence of open communication, employees work in silos and wastefully repeat each other’s mistakes. Communication helps develop teamwork, collaboration, empathy, listening skills, the ability to convey ideas, make presentations, and build relationships.
Leadership skills are highly prized in employees since these skills help employees motivate others and help everyone in the organization succeed. Good leaders are characterized by their management skills, confidence, problem-solving ability, strategic thinking, motivation, delegation, decisiveness, team management ability, etc.
There are bound to be ruffled feathers in any organization involving teams and teamwork. Conflict resolution skills are needed to mediate and prevent a breakdown of teamwork and collaboration.
Working in an organizational setting requires prioritizing tasks, multitasking, managing time, managing schedules and deadlines, and working productively. Hence, it is essential to cover this area in your employee development programs.
Developing the ability to think creatively helps people generate innovative ideas for problems in the workplace. Creativity requires curiosity, imagination, and the ability to find patterns.
There is a wide variety of ways in which organizations can progress employee development. Although the purpose and principles of employee development goals stay the same, the actual implementation may vary slightly depending on the industry’s nature and the workforce’s ability.
Employee development is more than regular training and requires employees to be provided with the latest information and new skills. It is a long-term activity that can provide immediate benefits such as improved performance and superior business results.
Experts recommend the following methods to improve employee development in an organization.
Professional training requires providing employees with the tools, resources and professional skills to deliver superior performance at work. Creating a repository of knowledge and best practices is vital as the organization scales up and acquires more experience.
How to conduct training needs analysis: A functional toolkit
This method is used to impart the required skills through lectures, hands-on exercises, simulations, and individual/group assignments. Suited for both technical training and soft skills (communications, etc.) training.
Typically employed for the development of role-specific skills. This method of learning-by-doing is most effective when done at once after training.
This method encourages employees, outside working hours, to pick up subjects of their interest/passion and acquire the related skills and knowledge. In addition, this method offers the employees the choice of pursuing subjects of their liking.
A cohesive workforce can work collaboratively across departments. Therefore, the organization should be structured to promote collaboration and for the people to be able to see the big picture – beyond their work.
Task rotation is used for training employees for flexibility and adaptability. It is implemented by asking employees to exchange roles with their peers to understand various processes. Doing so helps employees acquire and apply new skills.
Managers as coaches
Managers need to understand the needs of their direct reports, their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates/demotivates them, and then work with them to enhance their performance. It would require a culture of open communication and a genuine commitment to improving overall organizational performance.
Executive coaching is ideal for leadership development, team management and organizational skills improvement. Typically, it involves a senior colleague sharing knowledge with a junior colleague.
It involves senior leadership team members taking responsibility for the juniors to teach them high-level skills such as strategic thinking, management, etc.
Workshops and working-groups
These methods enable employees to learn from experienced people within and outside the organization. They provide the best results in the development of soft skills.
Simulations are an effective method of employee development owing to their inherently engaging nature. However, it usually requires applying theoretical knowledge in a practical situation.
Conferences help employees learn from people outside the organization and people outside the industry.
Personal development cannot be separated from employee development. Employee development needs to work on the intellectual growth and the emotional and physical health of the employees in a holistic manner.
Often, soft skills are ignored and neglected as being unimportant. That can be a huge mistake. Soft skills take years to develop and are essential for people to work together, build relationships, communicate, and collaborate to achieve common goals.
Just as a business strives to understand its customers’ needs and address them in the most impactful manner possible, organizations need to understand their employees. Based on that understanding, it is imperative to have suitable employee development strategies to help the workforce be the best at what they do. Employee development helps employees bridge the gap between their current skill level and where they and the organization would like them to be. Furthermore, employee development prepares employees not only for the present but also for the future.
Employee development helps prepare the workforce to respond effectively to unforeseen business conditions. In addition, employees aspire to better themselves professionally. Therefore, when organizations invest in developing their employees, it increases employee engagement, enhances their productivity, reduces employee turnover, and delivers superior business performance.
Organizations can empower employees by building a culture of trust, providing objective and honest feedback, showing empathy, having open communication channels, delegating responsibilities, and supporting growth opportunities.
Organizations need to see employees as a talent pool that they can develop to perform at their best. Organizations need to recognize and reward superior performance, communicate clear goals, be open to feedback, provide the necessary support, and work with the employees to enhance organizational performance.
Originally published May 20 2022, Updated May 20 2022
D’ipanjenah is a writer and marketing professional associated with Mercer Mettl since 2020. Her working style thrives on a balanced approach towards standard insights and novel trends. She utilizes creative content and digital strategies to help brands start important conversations. When not reading/writing, she enjoys art and parents a calico.
Employee engagement is a process by which companies undertake specific activities to interact with employees and engage them. The activities include employee development, team building, skills development, trainings etc.