The Importance of Employee Development (+Methods)

The Importance of Employee Development (+Methods)

High-performing employees drive organizational success, growth, and innovation. In fact, the top 5% of star, high-performing team members drive 26% of all output. 

Emphasizing employee development as a core company value enables L&D teams to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement that enables employees with the necessary soft skills, technical skills, and product knowledge to become high performers.

Emphasizing development from within also has trickle-down effects on employee satisfaction and engagement, creating employees who are more likely to be more satisfied with their work, more engaged, and less likely to turnover. Investing in employee development is a key aspect of promoting a positive, growth-oriented community culture and boosting employee retention and engagement. 

In this article, we’ll discuss employee development, its core benefits, how to overcome common development challenges, and how to design employee development programs with a variety of training methods.

What Is Employee Development?

Employee development is an L&D process of empowering employees to grow and improve as overall professionals and in their roles, improving their existing hard and soft skill sets, and learning new ones. The skills development process is a collaboration between employees, team leaders, L&D leaders, and the overall organization, in which all parties invest effort, money, and time to grow employees into high performers and leaders that drive future company growth. 

Also called professional development, employee development includes traditional training activities like job shadowing, mentoring, or upskilling. These activities keep employees at the top of their game, excelling in their job duties and equipping them to grow into new opportunities. It also includes continued education and soft skills development on often overlooked areas, like managerial skills, conflict resolution, or project management – and can be delivered via instructor-led training, online courses, certification programs, and more.

Benefits of Employee Development

While effective employee development will have contextual benefits depending on your industry, company, business unit, etc., there are also common benefits that come as a result of investing in continuous L&D for your employees, including:

1. Improved skills and competencies

Professional development and workplace training initiatives empower employees with the opportunities to grow the skills and competencies they need to succeed in their current role, meet the evolving demands of the workforce based on trends and new technologies, and prepare them to be a future leader.

Employee development programming enables team members to continually expand their skillset, makes them attractive in the open talent market, and prepares them to take on new responsibilities and move into new roles. 

While this improvement directly leads to more efficiency and productive team members, it also protects organizations with future leaders that have detailed company and product knowledge that outside hires will struggle to obtain. It also shields companies from the risks associated with falling behind on current industry trends and cutting-edge technologies, as they will have already prepared their employees with the training to take advantage of these new areas of opportunity.

2. Increased employee satisfaction and engagement

Team members become more satisfied with their work when they feel valued by their employers. By designing employee experiences with relevant and worthwhile development opportunities, L&D teams can demonstrate their commitment to team member success, improving company-wide engagement and showcasing to individual employees that they’re worth investing in.

As employees grow professionally and participate in employee development activities, they become more confident in their abilities and better able to accomplish their goals and succeed in their roles.

3. Enhanced employee retention

A commitment to employee development also contributes to a work environment that encourages employees to further their careers by growing within a company that is committed to their success rather than searching for positions elsewhere. By reducing employee turnover, resources dedicated to employee development go much further to keep organizations competitive by strengthening the workforce across skill sets and business units. 

4. Driving innovation and accelerating problem-solving

By helping employees develop beyond simple proficiency, employees become confident in their ability to adapt to change and are more comfortable taking risks and solving challenges in innovative ways. Employees become more competitive and profitable when organizational leaders foster work environments that fuel innovation. 

5. Talent pipeline and succession planning

Investing in professional development not only helps retain quality employees but attracts new, ambitious ones to apply. A culture of continuous learning is a benefit that workers at all levels seek out, which keeps talent pipelines healthy and employees ready to fill vacancies as they arise. 

HR and hiring teams can use their robust employee development programs to attract new, high-performing talent in a job-hiring market that is the most competitive in history. 

It also protects companies in the event of unexpected change, employee attrition, churn, or turnover – with highly talented, prospective employees awaiting their names to be called. This succession planning acts as an insurance policy so that company leaders can feel confident in the event of untimely employee departure.

10 Examples of Employee Development Methods

There are many different approaches to employee development, with different levels of formality and different objectives. Choosing the right method will depend on organizational needs, the values of employees, and organizational objectives and intended business outcomes. 

Here are a few of the most commonly used training delivery methods and techniques for effectively developing employees:

1. Traditional in-person training and workshops

Formal face-to-face learning and traditional training workshops are the most familiar and traditional methods of team member development. These activities can vary greatly in format and modality but often include a traditional classroom setting with a blended learning approach that includes online learning, in-person lectures, videos, and practical exercises. 

This type of learning generally works well for teaching employees both hard and soft skills. Still, in recent years, we have learned that many employees benefit from alternative methods whether they are supplementing traditional training or replacing it completely, often dependent on the individual learning styles of different team members.

2. Mentoring and coaching

With mentorship or coaching, employees are paired with more senior colleagues or designated coaches to learn the skills they need to be successful in their roles. These relationships can be formal or casual, but in any situation, these relationships require commitment and energy from both parties. 

This method serves not only as a tool for skill acquisition, but a leadership opportunity for employees doing the mentoring. Coaching relationships tend to be shorter-term and can involve hiring professional dedicated coaches to improve performance, while mentorships tend to last years and focus more on overall development rather than immediate performance.

3. On-the-job-learning

On-the-job training is an employee development method that happens during regular work hours, within everyday workspaces. This approach often entails observational learning in combination with hands-on activities under supervision by an experienced team member. 

This method is about learning by doing, speeding up the time to proficiency, and creating an environment where employees can ask questions and develop relationships with their supervisors using their real tasks and processes to learn in the flow of work.

With a digital adoption platform (DAP) like Whatfix, L&D teams can enable their employees with in-app experiences that guide them through complex processes contextual to their role with step-by-step instructions that overlay their applications. With Whatfix Self Help, employees can use a searchable self-help wiki to find all contextual documentation, company information, playbooks, training materials, tutorial videos, and more – related to the task they’re working on. 

Whatfix is the ultimately learn-while-doing, augmented approach to employee development that blends real-time support with contextual experiences that enable employees to maximize their potential through better skill development and digital empowerment.

Make in-app product announcements, drive adoption of new features, create guided user flows, and more with Whatfix's no-code digital adoption platform

With a DAP like Whatfix, creating custom interactive, branded, in-app guidance, support, and tooltips is simple. You create tooltips in the no-code Whatfix Editor that allows you to click-and-drop tooltips in your application – and then use its advanced customization feature to brand the element to your product’s theme. With a DAP, create in-app walkthroughs, product tours, user onboarding checklists, beacons, smart tips, pop-ups, field validations, self-help wikis, and more!

Create personalized learning & training flows for your enterprise apps with Whatfix

4. Cross training

Cross-training is a professional development method where employees learn to perform tasks outside of their usual roles to help them become more well-rounded and versatile, as well as build company and product knowledge. This approach often involves pairing two employees from different areas for an exchange of information, similar to mentoring and job shadowing. 

In cross-training activities, one employee typically visits another to learn about different job functions, sometimes shadowing them and even carrying out different tasks under supervision. 

This method is rather informal, and it benefits both parties by allowing the visiting team member to build on their communication and leadership skills while the learning team member gains a more holistic understanding of different areas of business. This practice also prepares employees to be more versatile and move into new roles and responsibilities more easily.

5. Feedback and performance reviews

Another more traditional professional development method is the use of feedback and performance reviews. In this approach, managers meet with their employees at least once per year to discuss employee progress and performance and determine realistic goals for the future.

These reviews are opportunities for managers and their employees to align their understandings of employee responsibilities and performance, and they allow supervisors to identify ways to help employees grow professionally in the future. Use these opportunities to create personal development goals for employees that can be used to measure growth.

6. Peer learning

Another very effective method of professional development is peer-to-peer learning. In these activities, employees with different skills or areas of expertise gather to exchange knowledge. This can happen in one-on-one situations or by scheduling regular group meetings where a different employee leads the group each week, teaching the others what they know best. 

With this method, teams can build an engaging and collaborative work environment, and give team members opportunities to boost their confidence and demonstrate their strengths, all while helping employees grow and learn.

7. eLearning

eLearning is the obvious approach to developing employees, and it is at the core of all modern L&D strategies. With this approach to employee development, learners engage in learning activities delivered virtually via learning digital experiences, web apps, and software. 

These applications are effective for employee development because many include adaptive learning features that curate lessons and longer learning journeys for employees based on their specific needs in real time. They also provide learners with regular assessments that help managers keep track of progress. 

L&D teams often utilize learning management systems (LMS) to create, distribute, host, manage, and track online learning development and progress – and are the centerpiece for modern employee development strategies.

8. Microlearning

While not typically used as a stand-alone solution to employee development, mobile learning is an employee development method delivered via mobile devices that takes a microlearning approach. This approach gives employees the freedom of mobility as they learn and can engage with learning content at a pace that works for them. 

Mobile learning applications are sometimes included in larger eLearning software and learning management systems. This approach encourages a mindset of continuous learning, serving to improve knowledge retention and keep employees engaged.

9. Instructor-led learning

The most structured and formalized version of traditional training and workshops is instructor-led training. With this method of employee development, a designated instructor delivers training to many employees at once. 

This method works best when the training subject is particularly complex or new to the entire group. This can also make it beneficial for organizations to bring in professional trainers or outside subject matter experts to serve as instructors rather than selecting experienced employees from within the organization.

10. Leadership development programs

Leadership development programs are comprehensive initiatives to grow valuable employees into successful leaders. These initiatives are often long-term endeavors that provide employees with learning experiences, practical experience, and regular evaluation. 

These programs generate future leaders for organizations while helping employees become more productive, self-sufficient, and capable of taking on more advanced opportunities in the workplace. 

Organizations often partner with an online course provider like Udemy, Coursera, or LinkedIn Learning to provide employees with a variety of learning opportunities available anytime, at no cost to team members.

How to Build an Effective Employee Development Program

Whether you are updating your company’s existing professional development plan or building a new one from scratch, you can follow the following best practices and guidelines to create a successful employee development program:

1. Identifying the specific needs and goals of employees

First things first, gather data on current L&D needs from recent assessments and progress reports to identify the specific employee development areas to target with your new and improved L&D programming. This will play a large role in determining which employee development methods would be most applicable and ensuring that development activities are highly relevant and useful. 

2. Aligning development programs with organizational objectives

Next, refer to your organization’s larger objectives to determine which behaviors, skills, and competencies are the most critical for achieving those business goals. By aligning the needs of individual employees and the company itself, L&D teams can design employee development programs that straightforwardly benefit the organization at every level.

3. Selecting appropriate development methods and resources

Choosing the best employee development method for your business is a balancing act between the L&D budget, other available resources, and the previously determined training needs. 

The solution may be to start with a big investment in more formalized training programs, or it could be sufficient to make room for employees to engage in a combination of less formal approaches. It all depends on the needs and resources of your organization.

4. Measuring the success and impact of development initiatives

To ensure maximum efficacy, L&D teams should build data analytics and opportunities for feedback into employee development programs at regular intervals. Using feedback and performance data to continually refine and improve the program makes it possible to keep employee development aligned with individual and organizational needs over time as the company and its workforce evolve. 

How to Develop an Effective Employee Training Program

How to Overcome Challenges of Developing Employees

As L&D teams create space and opportunities for employee development, certain challenges commonly arise: 

1. Balancing individual and organizational needs

It can be difficult to strike a balance between the needs of employee learners with larger organizational goals. Emphasizing training opportunities related to areas where these aspects overlap and still providing additional ones that contribute to more specific needs can be a good place to start. 

By committing to making employee development an ongoing process, L&D teams can use data and feedback related to employee and company-wide performance to adjust this balance as necessary.

2. Ensuring equal access to development opportunities

Part of developing a learning environment that benefits all employees is the expectation that all employees will be able to actively participate. This can be difficult when employees in different roles have different levels of availability or when most of the office works remotely. 

Choose employee development methods that provide the flexibility needed by employees across the organization and provide safe opportunities for employees to speak up if they feel they are missing out.

3. Emerging technologies and the need for reskilling and upskilling

The rapid rate of technical change experienced across different industries makes it essential for employee development programs to be dynamic. Choose a solution that can scale and adapt with the organization, and update training content and materials regularly to keep employees up to date on the latest technological trends. 

4. Adapting to a rapidly changing work environment

In addition to technological advancements, work environments are also changing regularly. Because many organizations allow varying degrees of remote work and working hours, it is even more important for employee development programming to be flexible enough to be accessible to employees where they are now and where they’ll be in the future. 

Enable employee development in the flow of work with in-app guided training and real-time support with Whatfix

A key component of employee development is preparing for the future by upskilling team members on new best practices and technology trends that constantly evolve.

Integrating a digital adoption platform like Whatfix enables employee development efforts related to new software applications and digital processes that drive skill growth, performance, and efficiency – all in the flow of work. By providing in-app guidance and relevant support as needed, Whatfix facilitates contextual learning and empowers L&D teams to maximize the effectiveness of development strategies with moment-of-need support that guides employees through complex processes and tasks.

What Is Whatfix?
Whatfix is a digital adoption platform that provides organizations with a no-code editor to create in-app guidance on any application that looks 100% native. With Whatfix, create interactive walkthroughs, product tours, task lists, smart tips, field validation, self-help wikis, hotspots, and more. Understand how users are engaging with your applications with advanced product analytics.
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