In the previous episode I discussed continuous conversations and why they’re important to have with your direct reports. As a follow-up to that topic, it makes sense to focus on the related idea of employee development. After all, in those monthly or quarterly conversations you’d spend a lot of time talking with your direct report about some kind of development, whether personal or professional.
Just as performance management conversations have begun shifting from pretty much only an annual, static review to a more frequent, dynamic growth process, so too has there be an evolution in employee development. For the longest time this development was not really development. Someone would get hired into a job role, and other than a promotion, that person was typically stuck doing the same thing, whether in a factory or at desk. Sure, there was the occasional training session on a new piece of technology, or a management seminar for employees who stood out to have that kind of potential, but by and large employees were boxed into their assigned set of tasks and responsibilities without much of an opportunity for growth.
Thankfully there’s an increasing acknowledgment that employees often want to change in some way. To learn new skills, to be in the know on cutting edge topics and technologies, or to gravitate toward roles and tasks within their organizations that would better allow them to more fully realize their strengths and potential. And although certain strategies around employee development are often determined by senior leadership, the individuals who are arguably most important in enacting and enabling those strategies are managers. Managers as coaches, as agents of change within organizations.
Now to get into the discussion, we at Quantum Workplace conducted a survey to explore employees’ thoughts about learning and development opportunities. So I’ll be going over three topics. The first topic is the mishap of communication surrounding formal employee development programs. The second topic is the mystery of enhancing opportunities for learning and development. Finally, the third topic includes some mishaps about those kinds of opportunities.
I’m gonna start this topic with some results of our survey, because one stat is incredible in just how strongly it showcases a glaring mishap.
In the survey, we found that 47% of respondents, so a little under half, indicated that they do have formal employee development programs at their current organization. This is great to start with, of so many individuals working for companies that have a system in place for employee training and development. What’s not so great is that 26% of respondents, about a quarter, indicated that their organizations don’t have formal employee development programs. This means that there is a lot of opportunity for organizations, especially mid- to large-sized organizations, to adopt those kinds of programs. But to me the most striking result is that 27% of respondents, or again about a quarter, indicated that they didn’t know whether their organization had a formal employee development program. Twenty-seven percent. In the dark.
I wanna back up a bit before continuing, to provide a little more background about why this is so important. In our engagement surveys at Quantum Workplace, we’ve noticed for years that seeing professional growth and career development opportunities is a consistent driver of employee engagement, yet it is also consistently lower in employees’ overall perceptions. This means that seeing some plan in place, some path for professional growth is important for employees to feel connected to their organizations, but that organizations, on average, often fail to adequately deliver on having or showing them that growth plan.
So to bring it back to the research result, the mishap is that a sizable number of organizations don’t effectively communicate what employee development opportunities they offer. This means that it’s your responsibility as a manager to first find out whether your organization has some kind of formal, or even informal, employee development program. Then share that knowledge with your team and go from there.
The main takeaway from this first topic is to make sure you and your team aren’t in the dark about what’s available at your organization for employee training and development.
So you and your team are no longer in the dark about opportunities offered in your organization – it’s yes or no, not “I don’t know.” What next? Well, that’s the mystery – what can you, as a manager, do to enhance opportunities for professional growth and development? One factor is to evaluate what you’re currently doing in your team with those opportunities. Does your organization even have any? Why or why not? If not, are there ways to implement informal opportunities? If your organization does have those kinds of opportunities, what’s going well? What’s not going well? Either way, talk with your team – don’t do this in a vacuum. We saw in the previous topic that communication is crucial. Ask your team members what specific kinds of professional growth opportunities they would like or be interested in, and then compare those against what’s feasible.
If an organization is relatively flat, then that limits promotion potential, but a way to get around that would be to enhance the kind of interdisciplinary nature of job roles, such as job shadowing, as well as expanding employees’ skillsets to align better with job roles that may become needed in the future through job crafting. Likewise, for smaller organizations, it may not be possible or cost-effective to implement large or intensive professional growth plans. In that case, a potential compromise would be to request that employees receive a yearly “development allowance.” For example, each employee, team, or department could be given an annual allowance to be used specifically for professional growth, such as buying books, attending local seminars, attending webinars, or even pooling money within teams to purchase something that would benefit the entire team.
The main takeaway from this second topic is that you just need to ask. Ask your team about what interests them, or ask your own manager or an HR rep for clarity on what opportunities exist or are feasible. Knowledge is power, and that power can be used to strengthen your team.
From the research, we asked respondents to finish the following two sentences: “Learning and development opportunities should…” and “Learning and development opportunities should not…”
For the first sentence, effective learning and development opportunities should do at least two things, at a bare minimum. First, they should be accessible. Learning and development opportunities should be available in general, as well as be available to everyone. Second, they should encourage. Employees should be encouraged to engage in developmental opportunities at work, and those opportunities themselves should be encouraging.
For the second sentence, learning and development opportunities should not do at least two things, at a bare minimum. First, they shouldn’t be unfair, such as being limited to a specific department or to specific people or positions. Second, they shouldn’t be a waste of time. A huge mishap is when employees perceive favoritism of some sort, or unfairness. That other employees get opportunities that they themselves don’t. Now, this isn’t to say that all employees should get the literal same opportunities, because those will always depend on department, function, position level, etc. But it is important to offer some chance for professional growth to all employees, even if they don’t take you up on that offer. It’s having the option that’s most important. Likewise, those opportunities, whatever they might be, shouldn’t feel like a waste of time. That’s another mishap, of employee going to a training seminar, or sitting through some kind of seeming lecture and really not getting anything out of it.
The main takeaway from this third topic is to ensure that there is a general kind of playing field, a level of fairness so that employees have access to growth opportunities. And that those opportunities, when you’re involved at least, should be encouraging. That you should encourage and empower your team members to want to engage in those kinds of opportunities.
So as a recap, I discussed the mystery of enhancing opportunities for learning and development, as well as mishaps surrounding communication and availability of those opportunities. Don’t remain in the dark, communicate with your team about their interests and what your organization does or doesn’t offer, and as best as possible, be an advocate for ensuring that all of your team members have opportunities to grow professionally.
I hope you are now more interested in clarifying for both yourself and your team what kinds of professional growth opportunities are available at your organization. So my challenge to you is to seek out that information, talk with your team, and support them as best you can.
And that’s it for this episode! Join me next time on Manager Mysteries & Mishaps, where I’ll discuss employee engagement.