They have the potential to earn huge returns on investment and improve company moral by showing employees they're valued and appreciated. This will in turn help you keep the very best of your employees from leaving and will also attract those who are driven and most likely to progress your business.
With this understanding of the benefits of an effective learning and development (L&D) strategy, the next question is: how do I get one?
While the main focus of any employee learning and development programme is undoubtedly the employee, you also need to think about what the business needs.
For instance, there’s a balance to be struck between long term and short term needs of the business. How much will the upskilled employee move the needle after each time scale? In the short term you might need teams to be prepared to plug skills gaps in case of people leaving. Employees may need to be able to cover each other’s roles through peer-led development and stretch assignments.
In the longer term this sort of skill diversity is less important. Instead your development programme should fulfil whatever the bigger aims are of your business, you may want to develop specialists, or your target may be growth which means you will require leaders that can step into new management roles. Before setting up a list of objectives, training and development strategy events etc. to satisfy employees you should take some time to consider this.
Make sure your employee learning and development plans suit where your business is going. If you’re going to diversify your products in the future, then you should diversify your employees’ skillset now. Or if you’re anticipating growth in your business then you will require new leaders within your business and so you should design your L&D programme to meet these demands.
Most importantly though your L&D programme needs to be a combination of your business’ goals and your employees career aspirations. This is in order that the programme really augments your resource pool. Through your employees’ enthusiasm and engagement. This will make a massive difference to the payoff to your company from investing in your teams’ skillsets.
In order to know what your employees’ aspirations and goals for career progression are, you first need to be able to trust that the career progression goals they have outlined to you are their true goals. To do this you need to establish a culture of trust and engagement with employees. They need to feel safe and secure enough to be honest about where it is they want to go in their career, even if this might not mean remaining in the firm long term.
If you achieve this strategy, then you kill two birds with one stone. You aren’t wasting resources on training in the wrong areas for careers paths going in other directions, and your employees are engaged and driven because they feel invested in and valued. This can only happen if you have created a workplace culture in which employees feel safe to ask questions and be honest with you.
This follows from creating an atmosphere of trust between yourself and the employee. For this conversation to be of any value it has to be open and honest. However, you still need to have an idea of what you want to know.
There are three key aspects you need to learn about any employee in order to optimise their development and learning programme for them and for you. You should find out and understand the skillset of the person, where they feel their weaknesses are, and where they want to take their career. The answers to these questions will give the objectives of the L&D programme as you seek to play to people’s strengths, fill any gaps in the skillset and offer a path for advancement.
Once you know what employees want and have isolated where these aims are in sync with the business goals, then it is essential to outline to employees how the training and development experiences and objectives you lay out for them are useful and relevant to their jobs now and to realising their goals for their careers.
You are equipping your teams with the tools to improve and benefit your company as well as themselves and as such they need to know this in order that you can harness the engagement and enthusiasm that this creates. It may seem obvious but people who are valued and whose employer takes an interest in their personal progress will be driven to do better, work harder and achieve more. All of which is a positive for you. It is essential that employees see that this is happening and see that you are giving them the right tools.
Assess the potential of employees based upon a real knowledge of the suitability of their personality and aptitudes for the career path that your L&D programme is a part of. If they’re great at technical assignments this does not mean they’re definitely going to be good managers. It’s important to be pragmatic in appraising your team’s strengths.
Be honest with them and with yourself and modify your objectives for these individuals to help them choose a career path that suits their strengths. This should not be considered a failure of the employee because doing and managing are very different in almost all sectors and careers. The more technical roles require different but equally impressive abilities and qualities.
Training isn’t just formal courses or management opportunities it can also involve time on projects that are out of your employee’s comfort zone or general experience. There are really good, well established, development and training strategies that make use of these tools as they are inexpensive to implement and highly beneficial.
These can include stretch assignments. Where an employee is asked to take the lead on a project for the first time, or move to working on a project in an area out with their experience. This gives them the chance to develop quickly as a leader or in a new area. They offer invaluable training with none of the expense of formalised courses. By putting someone out with their normal comfort zone you expose them to new experience and put them in a position where they will learn quickly.
Build development and training opportunities into a progressive structure that leaves time for consolidation periods and meetings to assess progress. This is to allow time for improvements to be observed and for allowing these improvements to take shape. The benefits of training and development can take a while to kick in. This is especially true if there are techniques to be mastered or refined, or in many of our cases bad habits to try and dispel!
Any training will take time to properly become second nature and for the benefits to employee performance to become observable so it’s important not to jump the gun. It’s also important after this for you to meet again with the employee. This is to reflect on the benefits and to set the new objectives that are the next step on the employee’s career path.
These steps require a thorough understanding of your organisation, its future and your employees. With no small amount of trial and error, you can establish an extremely effective employee development strategy. This will augment the resources and lead to a healthy and growing human resource management programme with all of the benefits of employee loyalty, attractiveness to job applicants, the best return on investment and a robustness to fluctuations in the talent market.
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