Best Practices for Employee Development and Training

Nov 30, 2023 | Performance Management, Professional Development

Employee training and development allow employees to build new skill sets and stretch their abilities. In turn, it prepares them to achieve a higher level of excellence in their roles or assume more advanced responsibilities. High-quality training and development brings myriad other benefits as well, as we’ll discuss.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 Workplace Learning & Development Trends report underscored the importance of training and development. The authors found that 86% of HR leaders say training improves retention. And 83% say it’s a great recruitment tool. Meanwhile, 55% of employees say they need more training opportunities to excel in their roles. Thirty-eight percent say training should be more relevant to their position, while 32% want training to incorporate social engagement.

As these findings suggest, training and development pose a challenge in many organizations. Overtaxed HR teams often struggle to identify skill gaps and implement effective development plans. In this post, we’ll explore how to overcome these hurdles by identifying skill gaps, introducing meaningful training initiatives, and crafting effective development plans.

Table of Contents

1. The Importance of Employee Training and Development

2. Guidance for Employee Development

3. Employee Development and Training FAQs

The Importance of Employee Training and Development

An employee attending an employee training for their development
Credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels

Building new skills and competencies in their organization has been HR leaders’ top priority for 2022, according to a Gartner survey. The World Economic Forum predicts that 44% of skills used in the average job will change in the next five years. By 2025, 50% of employees will need to engage in reskilling efforts.

Lack of quality employee training and development brings serious consequences:

  • Missing out on opportunities to grow as a company.
  • Failing to keep up with fast-changing demands for employee skills. 
  • Decreasing engagement and creating a poor employee experience, eroding the employer brand.
  • Increasing turnover because employees won’t see a future for themselves at the company.

Furthermore, a lack of standardized developmental options can seriously undermine inclusivity and employee growth. Each manager may design training and development plans on an ad hoc basis, rather than with clear guidelines. This causes morale to drop.

When organizations fail to implement urgently needed training initiatives, the business may stagnate, losing its competitive advantage. Let’s examine the key roadblocks that such efforts face and the major advantages to overcoming them.

Challenges in Employee Training and Development

Today, 80% of CEOs perceive development as their greatest business imperative, reports Harvard Business Review (HBR). For many, it’s also their biggest challenge. Surmounting it is absolutely crucial to the longevity of a company and its future success.

Budget restrictions often pose a barrier to training and development, as SHRM’s report states. “More than half of HR managers (54 percent) said their leadership does not view [learning and development] as an investment; 52 percent encounter resistance when seeking L&D budget approval,” they explain. Lack of time to plan training and difficulty with maintaining relevant content also pose challenges. Poor alignment between company needs and employee development can result from fast-paced changes in the business world.

Among employees, lack of motivation posed a challenge for 33%, SHRM notes. Retaining what they learned, or lacking time to complete training, proved difficult for 25% of employees. 

Among HR leaders, 47% aren’t sure what skill gaps their workforce has, Gartner asserts. They struggle to understand where to begin.

Managers may also avoid developing their employees due to fear of losing them. They may even fear that a talented employee will outcompete them for a promotion. In reality, developing their direct reports will help managers advance.

Advantages of Strong Training and Development

Let’s examine the importance of identifying skill gaps and providing high-quality training and development tailored to employee needs. These advantages will help you make the business case for strengthening your training and development initiatives:

  • Mitigating skills shortages. By upskilling employees, you can prepare them to fill crucial gaps and respond to changes in strategic needs, as SHRM notes.
  • Creating a pipeline of future leaders. You’ll prepare in-house employees for advancement through the right training.
  • Increasing equity. Offering equivalent training opportunities to all employees of a certain level boosts equity. (SHRM found that companies are more likely to train new employees than to upskill current ones, which can breed resentment.)
  • Enhancing innovation. Companies with strong employee development are four times more likely to innovate well. 
  • Increasing engagement—and profits. “Professional development is a major leverage in employee engagement,” writes Dean Sippel of the Jack Welch Management Institute. “There’s a direct correlation between highly engaged employees and profit.” High engagement can lead profits to rise by 23%, says Gallup.
  • Enhancing the employee experience. “Research now shows that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself),” write Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders in HBR. 
  • Strengthening retention. In the SHRM survey, 76% of employees said continuous training would entice them to stay with a company. And Gallup reports that organizations with a commitment to development are twice as likely to keep their employees.

Now, let’s delve into strategies for providing quality employee development and training.

Guidance for Employee Development

An HR director giving managers guidance for their employee's training
Credit: Kampus Production/ Pexels

HR should enlist the help of all managers in their organization to further employee growth. Aside from an employee’s direct manager, other leaders such as mentors can play an active role in their development. “An employee’s growth and development is the responsibility of the whole organization,” writes Blanchard. “Stakeholders getting involved can provide a big return on investment without being time-consuming.”

HR leaders and team managers should partner in identifying needs and designing employee training. Managers see their direct reports’ work on a daily basis, and HR can provide a higher-level strategic lens. Together, they can use the following tips and best practices to enhance training and development.

Identify Skill Gaps

First, determine what skill gaps your organization has today. Second, consider what new skills you’ll need in the next several years. Conduct a needs analysis to determine which skills align with your mission and emerging technological developments.

Third, look at which employees have “skill adjacencies”—skills that are similar to, but not the same as, the desired skills. They’ll be prime candidates for developing expertise in these areas. Think outside of the box rather than focusing on traditional next-steps for particular roles. In light of fast-changing needs, HR leaders are beginning to structure development around skill sets rather than traditional roles, says Gartner. Then, focus developmental opportunities around these learning goals.

Create a Development Plan

Managers should work with employees to design individualized developmental plans. They can start by having conversations about how the employee’s work fits into the organization’s mission. Then, they can discuss specific skills the employee should develop to enhance this contribution.

Design Peer-Learning Opportunities

Look for cross-training opportunities where peers can teach one another new skills. You can set up ongoing peer mentorships with specific goals and timeframes, as The SAGE Handbook of Learning and Work says. Help employees set short-term learning goals that they can help each other achieve within the quarter. Then, you can pair them off with new peer mentors so they’ll gain a broader range of knowledge.

You could also create peer groups focused on building certain skill sets—schedule group learning and discussion sessions at certain intervals, like every two weeks. Here, members can deliver mini-workshops for one another, or HR staff can present training. Having a small cohort of peers can greatly boost engagement in the learning process, promoting active dialogue that boosts retention of lessons learned.

Foster a Learning Culture

“One of the most important factors in creating a high-performance workplace is instilling a high-development culture: one that values the growth of individuals,” says Gallup. Share engaging content with employees, personalizing recommendations to their needs. Encourage them to share new discoveries, resources, and feedback with one another, too. You can even create a learning channel on the platform you use for workplace communications, where HR and employees can share interesting articles and videos, as Bersin and Zao-Sanders note in HBR.

Design Stretch Assignments

In addition to reinforcing new skills, stretch assignments may cultivate learning agility, say Veronica Schmidt Harvey and Kenneth P. De Meuse in Age of Agility. This means they prepare employees to continue building a broad range of knowledge and abilities. Be aware that stretch assignments can sometimes lead to emotional exhaustion, the authors note. So, give employees a chance to recharge after completing one.

Craft stretch assignments that blend different skill sets whenever possible. For instance, challenge an employee to handle part of a colleague’s role while he is away. Provide frequent feedback on how employees are doing to build their confidence.

Use Software to Promote Continuous Employee Growth

Leverage technology to provide access to learning opportunities. Platforms that leverage short videos or virtual and augmented reality will keep learners engaged. Focus on the most relevant learning modules rather than everything under the sun, as Bersin says. 

Similarly, use performance management software to keep employees laser-focused on their goals. This will allow them to easily benchmark their progress.

Provide Access to Conferences and Workshops

Consider sponsoring employees’ conference or workshop attendance. Listening to different experts in the field can help them gain a range of new insights. If you don’t have a large travel budget, there may be opportunities in your area or virtual conferences they can attend.

Celebrate Managers When Employees Excel

Recognize managers’ accomplishments when their employees gain new skills and prove their abilities. This will encourage managers to continue honing their coaching skills!

Through these strategies, you’ll fill crucial skill gaps and provide excellent employee development opportunities. In turn, employees’ enthusiasm for learning will grow—and you’ll see the results firsthand.

Employee Development and Training FAQs

Here are several common questions on this topic.

What employee skills are currently the most important to develop?

Communication, empathy, and collaborative abilities will always be crucial skills in the workplace. Critical thinking, agility, and problem-solving are vital for adapting to disruption. Analytical and creative thinking skills are also highly in demand, as are resilience, self-awareness, and technological literacy, notes the World Economic Forum. And technical skills like digital marketing, programming, and understanding of AI are growing in importance (among many others!).

What if a manager isn’t providing adequate developmental support?

Specify expectations for the manager. Describe the types of coaching you expect managers to provide. Make sure you’ve provided the necessary training and resources to the manager as well. Follow up with employees to gauge their level of satisfaction with the manager’s efforts. Conducting 360 reviews for managers will provide valuable insights into how they can improve.

With strong employee training and development, you’ll ensure your workforce has the skills to remain competitive. And as people grow adept at building new skills, they’ll become more agile learners, benefitting their future development. Moreover, you’ll retain your talented employees, enhancing organizational success!

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