If your company views professional development as a costly line item on an expense report rather than a critical component of a well-rounded human resources strategy—you’re missing the big picture. Countless studies show that organizations who invest in professional development for their staff benefit from boosted employee productivity and engagement, higher profit margins and lower turnover rates.
In fact, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 93 percent of employees reported they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.
Ultimately, professional development is a win-win for your business and your team. By enhancing your associates’ work skills, you not only contribute to employee effectiveness in a given role—but to the greater success of your company at large, and their long-term commitment to a career with your organization.
So how do you incorporate professional development into your human resources strategy to ensure employees are given the support they need to grow within your organization? Read on for six simple-but-effective tips to make professional development a strategic priority for your team.
1. Create a growth plan
Whether you’re working with a current employee or a new hire, it’s important for managers to have a conversation to learn where they want to grow and discuss how you can support them to achieve their goals. Keep the plan simple and actionable, focusing on:
- What role or additional skills are they aspiring to achieve, and why?
- How do these goals impact other departments and the company at large?
- What tools and/or resources can help them accomplish their goal?
- How can you as a manager, in addition to the company, help them to grow?
Keep in mind, this exercise should be fun, says Forbes. Don’t just identify what an associate is “supposed” to learn, but what they’re excited to learn. By prioritizing practical growth opportunities that are exciting, interesting or fun, team members are more likely to gain context that makes other “should-learn” skills more interesting.
2. Allow for ‘growth time’
While short-term goals help employees remain committed to and excited by their growth plan, professional development is an investment in the long-term development of career success. After all, growth in nearly every facet of life takes time.
Set realistic short- and long-term benchmarks accordingly—and be sure to build in time for professional development during the workday to support employees in reaching them.
A general rule of thumb is that 10 percent of an associate’s work time should be allocated to personal or professional growth. As long as this time benefits the business—whether employees are building a skill linked directly to their role, or engaged in an activity to develop or strengthen their leadership abilities—it’s time well spent.
3. Nurture a safe-to-experiment culture of learning
The foundation of human learning is through experience—a trial-and-error approach. As such, it’s important to let employees know that it is safe to experiment with new or “out-of-the-box” ideas to encourage both individual and organizational learning.
Key to fostering this growth mindset among your team is to not only talk the talk but walk the walk like a leader, says Harvard Business Review. By demonstrating creative and risk-taking behaviors yourself, and handling failures and setbacks with grace, you ensure others feel safe and supported to do so within your company culture.
Also critical to empowering employees with a growth mindset is the application of emotional intelligence skills to identify when a team member is holding back from their full potential, and coaching them through it through opportunities for growth and learning.
4. Provide creative learning opportunities
Create innovative and entertaining opportunities for growth and learning in order to get employees excited about professional development. Go beyond boring conference room lectures and dreaded “trust fall” routines—planning learning activities and team-building outings that give employees the opportunity to get to know one another and grow together.
Not sure where to start?
We recommend creating an article- or topic-sharing club where employees can share and discuss the current industry trends. You can also provide short learning break-outs where employees can take turns to present and teach each other skills. These are cost-effective yet powerful learning opportunities to encourage your team to grow together.
Want more ideas? Check out others from Glassdoor’s list of 10 companies offering incredible professional development programs, as well as Hubspot’s guide to 27 fun corporate team-building activities and outing ideas everyone will enjoy.
5. Make sure it’s not all about work
While professional development certainly focuses on an employee’s career development—a well-rounded human resources strategy accounts for personal development, as well. After all, employees’ satisfaction and well-being in their personal lives—or lack thereof—is sure to affect their performance at work.
Additionally, if a growth plan feels like it’s all work-related, people may feel it is restricting or obligatory, and won’t embrace the comprehensive benefits from what they’re learning.
As such, take time to not only discuss an employee’s progress along with established goals but what interests them outside of their normal job—and encourage and support them to pursue it. Approaching a personalized plan from a balanced-life perspective will encourage employees to adopt a positive, growth-oriented attitude from home to office.
6. Take an active, ongoing interest
Meeting with and establishing a growth plan with an employee upon hire isn’t enough to keep them set on the path to reach their goals—or to ensure they feel supported and empowered by you and the company along the way. Make time to schedule one-on-one meetings regularly to specifically discuss professional and personal development, whether bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly.
During one-on-ones, listen with attention and intention. Don’t multitask, going through emails or taking calls, or focus first on what you’re wanting to say and get out of the meeting. Employees should feel they have your full attention and are driving the conversation.
A true growth plan isn’t a stagnant agreement. It’s a living, breathing strategy that grows, changes and adapts along with the individual—showing mutual, personalized care and investment between you and your employee.
Next steps: Auditing your professional development strategy
Does your current human resources strategy effectively promote professional development within your organization? Or does it need work to maximize your employees’ potential—and your organization’s return?
If you’re not sure—or don’t have a professional development plan and aren’t sure where to start—conduct a thorough HR Audit to review your current human resources systems and identify areas for improvement. We recommend engaging a trusted third-party to conduct the audit to not only ensure your business is implementing cutting-edge best practices for professional development but doing so in compliance with ever-changing industry rules and regulations.
Click to request a comprehensive HR Audit from ConnectedHR’s team of human resources experts—and receive recommendations to improve your professional development strategy.