Lessons In Leadership: Employee Development Matters

This story was written by Genise Wade, Chief Human Resources Officer at The Wenger Group. 

Employers are currently challenged with “The Great Resignation.”  Millions of employees have taken time during the pandemic to evaluate what is important to them and are making the decision to change jobs and/or careers for a variety of reasons.  According to Phillip Kane’s article, The Great Resignation Is Here, and It’s Real1, “The market is being flooded right now with people looking for something better, people who have had enough of organizations that do not care.”

Kane indicates caring comes in many forms such as good employee communication, transparency to community involvement, taking a stand for things they believe matter, and investing in employee training and development.  Focusing on the latter, the statistics below further support the importance of employee development, particularly in an environment where employers are fighting to retain the talent they have.

  • 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.2
  • 70% of employees would be somewhat likely to leave their current job to work for an organization known for investing in employee development and learning.3
  • 34% of employees who left their previous job were motivated to do so by more career development opportunities.4

Employee development does not have to require costly tools and processes to be successful, nor does it always require expensive training solutions, but it does start with some sort of performance assessment and an understanding of the employee’s aspirations.  Assessing an employee’s performance can be as simple as ensuring they know what is expected of them, having an objective view of their performance against those expectations, and providing clear feedback on whether they are meeting expectations.  Knowing their career aspirations requires only a conversation.  Even if your company does not have a formal performance management process to facilitate these discussions, you can still provide feedback, receive feedback, and create a development plan together.  If budgets are a concern, look to local resources to find free training solutions or be creative with other low-cost methods to provide experiential growth such as on-the-job projects or community involvement.

Development plans should be specific to each individual.  Even if they have similar roles, every person has different needs and desires.  It’s also practical to assess the extent of time, energy, and money you invest in each person.  After all, development is a two-way street.  Employees need to be invested in their own development for it to be successful.  Consider where you would place your employees on the following chart to help you determine what kind of development plans would benefit them most. 


High performers are easy to identify because they are invested in the organization and care about results.  They are helpful team players and model a company’s core values.  They motivate others and improve a company’s culture.  High performers are good at what they do, are reliable, and often go above and beyond what is expected.  Not all high performers are destined for leadership.  Some may prefer to remain a strong individual contributor.  Either way, give them new and interesting projects that will expand their skills along with autonomy to work and think on their own.  Getting them a mentor (other than their boss) may also be helpful to them.
 
High Performer development tip:  Ask what they need to be a long-term employee, what can you do for them? Coach this individual to take on new responsibilities or reach new levels of performance.
 
Medium/Solid performers, also known as “steady Eddie’s,” are a valuable mainstay in any business.  We all need dependable employees who know what they are doing and are comfortable in their current role.  It’s important to give them interesting opportunities to learn.  Keep them involved in change management projects so they don’t stagnate or feel forgotten.
 
Solid Performer development tip:  Describe what they do well that you want them to continue. Identify one single thing they can improve which will have the greatest performance impact. Ask for their ideas or provide recommendations for specific training or mentoring to improve or develop.
 
Low performers can gain their status in variety of ways.  Maybe they are in the wrong role or have a manager who is not a good fit for them.  Perhaps they were hired into or promoted beyond their capabilities and are struggling.  Or maybe they are a disengaged or disgruntled worker due to a bad work experience.  Even a skilled or technically good employee can be a low performer if they demonstrate negative attitude or poor personal behaviors.  Whatever the reason for their low performance, you need to take action with these employees for their sake as well as for the sake of your organization and your higher-performing employees.  That action requires clear documented feedback and expectations, and then appropriate follow up.  One conversation is not likely to fix a low performer.  Prepare to invest some time in their development or create an exit strategy if you can’t come to a mutually beneficial position.
 
Low performer development tip:  Explain the impact of their performance/behavior, while showing and telling them what needs to be done to improve. Clearly state the consequences of continued low performance and schedule a follow-up before ending the conversation.

Remember, understanding your employees’ development needs doesn’t require an arduous performance management process.  It can be actually be done with little to no tools because it’s really about communication.  Check in with employees regularly to let them know what they are doing well or where they need to improve.  During check-ins, ask them, “How can I be a better manager to you?” “What types of training would you benefit from?” “Where do you need more support?” Asking these questions can lead to productive, actionable conversations that drive higher employee satisfaction and performance.  Listen to their needs and provide opportunities for them to grow. 

Investing time in your employees pays dividends for both the organization and employees. Organizations benefit from happier and higher performing employees; and employees feel they are cared for, are able to cultivate their skills, and become more productive. It’s a win-win.
 
1 The Great Resignation Is Here, and It’s Real (msn.com)
2 LinkedIn-Learning-2020-Workplace-Learning-Report.pdf
3 39 Statistics that Prove the Value of Employee Training (lorman.com)
4 5 Employee Development Statistics You Haven’t Heard Of | ClearCompany