3 ways managers can improve development opportunities

Rogier van der Werf

From our employee surveys, we regularly see that a lack of development opportunities and a misguided approach towards employee development negatively impacts employee engagement. How can managers help employees develop?

3 ways managers can improve development opportunities

I want to discuss the topic of employee development, the common mistakes that many organisations make and how organisations can improve their approach to employee development.

Common mistakes in employee development

In many organisations, managers, and even HR, tailor development specifically towards promotion, and do so with the belief that that’s the sole thing that employees want. Within traditional organisations, employee development is commonly equated to a move up the career ladder and I’ve seen first-hand how some managers simply don’t listen; they make assumptions about employee development.

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At the other end of the scale, measuring employee’s training hours in the hope that it offers insights into employee development is also fairly futile. Measuring time is not a useful indicator of either behavioural change or the development and learning of new skills. Some organisations fall down in other areas, as they start initiatives with the very best intentions, but fail because despite going about things in the right way, the focus was wrong.

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A shift in focus

It’s essential that HR and managers realise that employee development should not always be aimed at a promotion. Employees that want to develop themselves don’t just see a promotion; they see the development of skills, new possibilities and the chance to improve. Employees do not always see development as a progression upwards, and the best employers are those that recognise this and value their specialists.

Further to shifting their focus away from promotion-based development, HR and managers also need to shift towards a more individualised approach. It’s important to have a one on one conversation about the matter and to create a common understanding of what development means. Such conversations will inevitably differ from person to person, but employees need to know in detail what development opportunities are available to them.

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A refreshing approach

One of the most refreshing ways I’ve seen an organisation approach employee development is from one of our partners. In their own words:

“It’s often difficult for people to come up with the things that they would like to develop. For this reason, at our organisation we organise an inspiration afternoon. During this afternoon, inspiring speakers from all backgrounds (e.g. volunteers, entrepreneurs, top athletes) are invited to come along and explain why they are so driven to do what they do”

Following the inspiration afternoon, the organisation then offers employees development opportunities in their preferred area. The result is tailored development opportunities, which is both engaging and of huge benefit for employees.

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3 ways to improve employee development

Although the above approach is perhaps not practical for everyone, there are 3 concrete ways that all organisations, HR and managers can implement to improve employee development. They are:

1. Take time on a regular basis to discuss employee’s development needs and available options 

During these discussions it’s important that expectations are clear on both sides and when agreements are made, it’s vital that the specific expectations from the employee and organisation are stated. 

2. Offer employees’ feedback or coaching

Employees don’t always have the self-awareness about which areas they can develop and aren’t always the best at knowing which areas they could benefit from developing. The best results come from when organisations work with their employees on development.

3. Focus on deepening and/or broadening employees’ existing jobs

Addressing what you and your organisation can specifically do really helps. When you consider what’s rewarding to employees, it’s important to realise that not all employees want authority and decision making powers; they also want other aspects such as involvement, recognition, training and autonomy.