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Addressing the “Why” and the “How” of Employee Professional Development

The EvoLLLution | Addressing the “Why” and the “How” of Employee Professional Development
Providing a rich variety of ongoing training and education opportunities for employees can help corporations stand out among their peers as a great place to work which, in turn, can help the corporation to grow and succeed.

Read any business publication and the rapid changes occurring in the economy are reflected.  As companies seek to achieve sustainable growth, part of their strategic investment must be focused internally, building into the career development of the workforce. However, when looking at cost alone some may question if the return on investment is justifiable considering these employees may choose to leave for a different job with competitors. But, what if the development doesn’t occur–and they stay?

Companies focused on wisely growing their business already have planning systems around capital investments, systems that allow them to manage the cost and anticipate an expected return on investment. Intentional professional development requires the same type of long-term consideration of organic growth needs over the life cycle of a career aligned with the future strategic plans of the company and the relative markets. Supporting the purpose, mission and strategic plans, tying them closely into the career development process, this life cycle runs the gamut from recruiting, where the correct candidates are selected to meet needs that are current and allow for future growth potential, through the growth of a career and eventually to the voluntary closing of a career through pursuit of something new or in retirement.  The knowledge of the individual is carried throughout their career, both in developing them and asking them in return to share that knowledge with others around them, maximizing the return on investment.

According to a 2015 Deloitte article, the companies employees love to work for—those with high retention rates—seek to provide a combination of techniques to grow the career of the individuals, as well as tie them back to the company in relational retention through mentoring and coaching. Effective managerial/employee relations are shown to increase retention and engagement, both of which are positive contributors to the final profits of the company. These managers are often those who help to connect the employee with a sense of purpose in relation to the company goals. Selecting development opportunities wisely, they can provide the employees with opportunities to be introduced to and develop the next needed skill set. Then, when the company makes that strategic move, the workforce is ready to meet the need–both partnering together.

Pursuit of a learning culture by having a workforce with more advanced skill sets allows for more innovative tactics and more fluidity in moving throughout economic and market changes. The employees gain a sense of achievement, both gaining depth in their knowledge base while also making a true and recognized impact on the company. Making strategic development investments, these companies are more prepared to meet the oncoming market demands and retain their workforce. In return the cost benefit in reduced turnover and growing the margin through new efficiency and innovative benefits can be realized.

High Level Views of Development Strategy

When weighing how to provide skills for future strategic steps, various development opportunities can occur through many forms, such as in-house formalized training programs, utilizing external vendors or even through specific higher education courses. Being able to access a variety of development opportunities lets needed skill sets be matched with planned events, moving them from one-time moments to learning that permeates into the person’s skill sets and utilizes the 70/20/10 rule. The 70/20/10 rule is one which keeps training and development in formalized opportunities to ten percent, making it a sharp focus. Then, the 20 percent builds on that basic knowledge through developmental relationships such as coaching and mentoring. The bulk of the application of what is learned is through the 70 percent, where on-the-job learning occurs, both in experience-based learning and in honing what was learned through the 20/10 portions.

Each type of development activity carries various benefits best utilized for specific needs and should be designed to be carried back into the 70 percent. For example, in-house training allows for an open exchange of internal company knowledge, which when shared, can lead to both the recognition of internal experts, as well as provide opportunities for knowledge sharing to become an inherent building block. An external training provider can be selected, and often times worked with to create specialized content. The company then has an added element of flexibility in selecting someone with specific expertise in a particular area that can provide fresh external perspectives. Pursuit of a degree or specific courses through higher education can allow for a deep-dive of learning to occur in a specific field. The developmental relationships of coaching and mentoring can happen spontaneously or through a prescribed process, providing a sounding board that can both push and encourage an employee forward.

Each of these areas allows for specific types of learning to occur. They should all be considered as to what type of gain will be expected, what return on investment should be shown. For example, internal training can be more efficient, keeping costs lower and being able to speak the “language” of those in the training session. However, it is important to ensure that those developing the material have the appropriate scope to accommodate future strategic plans and are able to train in a beneficial manner. External training can provide a wide range of options, but can also be costly. This is perhaps the most beneficial when the development need is one that taps into the expertise of the developer. This new and fresh set of ideas can provide new perspective, but should be part of a communication plan to explain how, when and why these new skills sets are to be used or may languish as a certificate and not as active knowledge. Degree programs can be quite expensive and require a prolonged period of time to gather the knowledge. The learning which occurs is much more extensive than a short luncheon training; it is essential that these employees have not only a plan for their degree but also a plan for sharing relevant learning internally.

Mentoring and coaching plays a large part in employee development, providing both a new voice and someone who can give direction and guidance. Mentors and coaches need to be willing to take on this role with enthusiasm, supported as part of the development team in the ability to carve away time from busy to-do lists and make this employee a higher priority. If the guidance is done with a blasé attitude, the time spent on both parties will most likely not be productive or profitable. Instead, working closely with the line structure of the company ensures the good fit of the individuals and of the mentoring topics being covered.

Strategic planning, communicated throughout the organization, enables the individual and the company to connect both immediate and long term growth with that of potential future opportunities. Keeping an open discussion about these growth opportunities allows for these conversations to account for the planning and prioritizing of future development. Over time, the complexity of these development goals should be increased and reflect the potential for employees to move into new positions or increase the depth of their current role.

All of the resources, such as training, coaches, mentors and other intentional growth opportunities, provided in relation to the stated growth objectives of the individual and how they tie to the needs of the company, provides foundational learning to practice on the job, where most learning occurs.

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John Bersin, “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement,” Deloitte Review, Volume 16. Deloitte University Press. Web December 1, 2015.

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