three coworkers looking at laptop
Committing to your employees and making their development fun and worthwhile will promote engagement and create positivity. — Getty Images/Jay Yuno

Employee development has always been important for growing companies, but it's especially so at a time when many teams are working remotely. Employees perform best when they know they're valued and see a future at the company, so they need to know you're still invested in their success — even if you're not working together in person.

"Employee development programs to support continuous learning are one of the top five most important things job seekers look for when weighing their next opportunity," said Karen Oakey, director of human resources for Fracture. "Since more companies are working remotely than ever before, virtual learning opportunities are necessary to support the growth of the team."

"Given the political unrest in the U.S. and the global health crisis, employees are at their most vulnerable right now," added Mazen Aloul, CEO of WebQuest. "Companies should provide sufficient support to assure their work and productivity won't be affected."

Whether your business is investing in staff development for the first time or wants to revamp an existing strategy, here are some tips to help you create your employee development plan.

[Read: Does Your Company Have an Employee Development Plan?]

Know your business goals

When you start to create an employee development plan you need to look at your business and assess what you’re trying to achieve and how it can be accomplished through training.

"If your employee development structure does not lend itself to business strategy or help improve your customer experience, then what are you doing?" said E.J. Kritz, director of training and insights at ath Power Consulting.

Consider each employee's career trajectory and give them a voice in their development plan

While your employee development plan will benefit your entire company, know that every employee is different and has their individual goals. When learning and growth development opportunities align with career mapping for employees, it can result in regular promotion and job satisfaction, said Oakey.

"Select a curriculum that supports the roles, industry and soft skills relevant to your team," she explained. "Allow your staff to experiment with learning opportunities that align with their interests — internal lateral moves are a win for both employee and employer alike."

Kritz agreed that employees should have an active role in planning their own development goals and metrics. He recommends having a two-way conversation where the employee has the opportunity to discover their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Then, you can work with that employee to build an action plan around that so they can be held accountable in a meaningful way.

"There's self-discovery in setting a goal — there's accountability," said Kritz. "You set your own goal: 'What do I think I can do?'"

[Read: A Guide to Continuing Professional Development]

There's self-discovery in setting a goal — there's accountability.

E.J. Kritz, director of training and insights, ath Power Consulting

Communicate your plan and its benefits clearly

To ensure the success of your development program, Aloul says communication is key.

"People are guaranteed to follow guidelines if its purpose is clearly explained and defined, and no one is left in the dark," he added.

It also helps to explain the long-term benefit of professional development.

"I frequently pitch learning and development opportunities to any employee who will listen," Oakey said. "This ongoing education becomes a valuable source of personal pride that employees can add to their professional toolkit."

Make it fun and worth their while

Kritz believes the word "mandatory" can be a turn-off for employees when they hear about development programs. While some training may be necessary to meet industry requirements, it's important your team knows that what they're doing will be engaging and useful to them.

"If your employee knows training is going be fun and engaging – not [led by] some boring facilitator with death by PowerPoint – you're automatically going to improve engagement," Kritz said.

Zoriy Birenboym, CEO of eAutoLease.com, suggests going one step further and rewarding employees for completing development programs with tangible incentives.

"Keep employees happy with bonuses [for development]," he said. "You have to keep the employee's mindset positive … so they don't have to think about leaving you. Give different perks – maybe offer them a [monetary] bonus or a vacation at the end of the year."

Commit to coaching your employees

It’s one thing for an employee to learn a new skill. It’s another to guide them in the application of that skill in their role and larger career.

"Training with coaching is the real recipe for success," Kritz told CO—. "Your job as manager is just to ask great questions. Ask open-ended questions to help the employee understand what's going well and what's not. Then shut up and listen."

[Read: 4 Effective Ways to Retrain Your Sales Force]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 13, 2020