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Employee development is key to your company's success

August 18, 2021 - 25 min read


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What is employee development?

Is employee development important?

Why you should focus on employee development

7 types of employee development methods

Consider these 4 best practices

4 challenges employee development entails

How to start an employee development plan

Employee development tools and resources

Make employee development a priority

Employee development has become the secret sauce at more companies than you can count.

Development opportunities keep your employees happy, engaged, and working at a high-performing level. They also help you nurture your existing team and attract top candidates in the war for talent.

Unfortunately, many employers still underestimate the value of employee development.

According to Accenture, only 29% of organizations say they have a clear learning and development (L&D) plan for employees.

So how can you make sure you’re providing development opportunities to your team? Let’s take a deep dive into what employee development means and why it matters to the success of your company.

What is employee development?

Have you ever participated in job-rotation programs, job shadowing, career planning, or any kind of training workshop? Then you’ve gotten a taste of employee development.

Employee development programs help employees:

It’s a continuous learning process that each employee undergoes with the help of a great leader or manager.



That’s why employee development is never a solitary journey but a partnership.

You’re responsible for offering the learning and upskilling opportunities to grow. At the same time, employees must show initiative and drive to develop and progress on their career path.

Generally, those with a growth mindset are easier to work with because they want to learn and develop. Luckily, a growth mindset can be cultivated in every one of your team members.

Prioritizing employee and on-the-job training and development is a win-win for your organization and employees.

Let’s find out how.

Is employee development important?

Employee development fuels employees’ personal growth and career advancement. It’s also an essential component of an organization’s competitive advantage.

In other words, yes, employee development is very important.

At a human level, our curiosity drives us to continuously learn and develop. It’s in our DNA. When we were children, we approached everything with a beginner’s mindset, curious and eager to constantly learn.

That’s why opportunities to grow and learn are the second most important factor contributing to employee happiness. Investing in each individual’s career development keeps them happy. This leads to increased motivation and success.

Research also shows that high-performing companies have started focusing on internal talent development. It’s six times less expensive to upskill and reskill employees from within rather than hire from the outside.

But building from within isn’t just economical.

It also empowers employees to optimally perform their roles. Empowered employees are the engine to the innovation and growth of your organization.

Leading companies like Deloitte understand the importance of empowering employees.

Deloitte University provides all employees with learning opportunities, leadership, training, and development. CEO Barry Salzberg explains that the learning center shows current and future employees that Deloitte is committed to their continuous growth and career advancement.

Why you should focus on employee development

Employee development is one of the key drivers of employee retention, employee engagement, and performance.

Let’s look at four benefits of employee development.

1. It increases employee retention

Opportunities for development keep your employees from jumping ship.

According to Linkedin, 94% of employees would stay with you longer if you invest in learning and development opportunities.  

This is especially true for millennials, who make up most of the labor force today. In a 2020 Deloitte study, millennial employees said that leadership development opportunities were the third most effective retention initiative.

Employees want to develop in their organizations. They just need their leaders to foster that desire.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, companies that neglect developing employees risk losing them to competitors.

2. It reduces skills gaps

Implementing new technologies like AI and automation are creating new roles in the workplace.

The problem is that the biggest barriers to adopting these new technologies in US companies are skills gaps in the local labor market.


That’s why 64% of L&D professionals admit that reskilling their current employees to fill in these gaps is becoming a priority.

3. It improves mental fitness

BetterUp research suggests that more than half of employees may be languishing at any given time. ‘Languishing’ is a feeling of emptiness, lack of engagement, and apathy.

How can we overcome this feeling? Through development activities that challenge employees in meaningful ways.

Trying new things and exercising your brain improves your mental fitness and overall well-being.

4. It increases employee engagement and productivity

Engagement is one of the biggest problems leaders are facing today. Research by Gallup found that only 36% of employees feel engaged at work.

A lack of engagement has a negative effect on well-being, productivity, turnover, and profitability.

Development activities like career planning or mastering a skill are two proven ways to create a culture of engagement. That’s because these activities make individuals feel valued and invested in their work.

7 types of employee development methods

From coaching to corporate universities, there’s no shortage of employee development tactics out there. Let’s have a look at some of the most common methods.

1. Coaching and mentoring

A mentorship program usually connects you to a more senior-level colleague within the organization. 

Mentors volunteer to help new employees with their personal and professional development. They can give you valuable advice and wisdom, as well as open doors to new and exciting networking opportunities.


A career coach helps you set and achieve goals using specific techniques that drive results. They’re usually paid and are useful at any stage of your career.

2. Workshops

Workshops are ideal for developing soft skills or learning new concepts that can help you grow as an individual. Some examples of popular workshops include:

These events are also a great way to share ideas, network, and collaborate with peers.

3. Stretch assignments

Stretch assignments put employees in a challenging position outside of their comfort zone. These opportunities expand employees’ skill sets and prepare them for leadership roles.

Stretch assignments can be anything from leading a team meeting to implementing new technology at work.

4. Corporate training

Have you ever been part of an onboarding or compliance training program? What about hard and soft skills training? Then you’ve had a taste of corporate training.

This formal training provided by your employer gives you the skills and knowledge you need to optimally perform your role.

5. Career planning

Career planning is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to employee development. Managers can use a personalized employee development plan as a roadmap for each individual’s career path.

During career planning, a manager usually asks what an employee’s career goals are. Together, they figure out what development activities are needed to achieve those goals.

6. Corporate universities

Corporate universities are becoming an increasingly popular investment in employee development.

Recent research found that 88% of executives believe that access to education “is a critical part of their organization’s business strategy.”  In 2021, 80% will continue to invest in corporate education.

7. Job rotation

If you want to keep employees engaged, let them explore different career paths through a job-rotation program.

Moving your team members from job to job within the company exposes them to new roles they may be interested in. They also come out equipped with new skills and a fresh perspective.

Consider these 4 best practices

Here are some development best practices to consider, regardless of the employee development strategies you choose.

1. Create a corporate learning culture

What does it mean to create a company culture of learning?

It means investing in opportunities that develop your team’s abilities to become more:

  • Competitive
  • Innovative
  • Adaptable to new work environments

A culture of learning encourages creativity and education. This ultimately increases your human capital.

2. Have one-on-one conversations  

Leaders that adopt a coaching leadership style recognize the potential in others and nudge them in the right direction. Open one-on-one communication and encouraging others to reach their full potential should become a regular practice in any organization.

3. Personalize training and development  

Learning is a unique experience for every individual. So, personalizing the employee development experience is important.

One way to personalize employee L&D is by leveraging AI. Using AI technology, you’re able to tailor the learning experience to meet the needs of everyone.

4. Get involved

Employees emulate the behavior and mindsets of their leaders. Taking the initiative and becoming a champion of employee training and development will encourage your peers to do the same.

According to LinkedIn, 75% of employees would be willing to take a course that their manager assigned.

4 challenges employee development entails

Implementing effective employee development programs doesn’t come without its challenges.

These common roadblocks can affect big and small organizations alike. It’s important to be aware of them when setting up a development program.

Let’s take a look at four different employee development challenges:

1. Hard to measure

It’s often hard to measure the success of employee development strategies with hard numbers or dollar figures. Instead of quantifiable results, the outcomes of a workshop or job rotation are often less tangible.


For this reason, some don't see the real value of employee development.

2. Lack of support

Deloitte identified a lack of support from managers as one of the biggest barriers to employee development.

Tom Kochan, co-director of MIT’s Institute for Work and Employment Research, explained that “labor is still too often viewed as a cost.” This is why executives don’t find value in investing in the workforce.

3. Limited budget

Smaller companies may not have the budget to invest in an employee development program. This is especially true if they don’t see the value that L&D brings to their human capital.

4. Time constraints

Both leaders and employees can’t always find the time to dedicate to development activities.

Between their busy work schedules and personal commitments, development can feel like a chore rather than a priority.

Finding a healthy work-life balance can free up that time to dedicate to learning and development.

How to start an employee development plan

An employee development plan provides guidance and helps employees reach their career goals. Keep these steps in mind before you start to create a plan.

Step 1: Define your business goals

An employee’s development goals need to be aligned with the short-term and long-term goals of the organization they’re a part of. In other words, employees need to grow with the company — in the same direction.


Define your business needs first. Are you trying to keep up with industry trends? Is your goal to retain your existing talent? Or do you want to reduce a growing skills gap within the company?

Step  2: Consider employee needs and goals

This is the part where you consider each individual’s personal and professional goals. Meet with your team and discuss their career aspirations and learning needs.

You may uncover that some of your team members have certain goals but don’t know what steps to take to achieve them.

Step 3: Offer the right opportunities and resources

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning report, 46% of employees find out about L&D opportunities from their managers or leaders. 

Offer the resources and development opportunities that match each employee’s needs. If someone wants to move into a certain role, a job shadowing opportunity can help them get a taste of what the role entails.

Step 4: Create an action plan

Now that you’ve built a solid foundation and understand the needs and goals of your employees and organization, it’s time to put it into action.

Create a measurable action plan to achieve these goals. Finally, set up milestones along the way to measure and track progress.  

Employee development tools and resources 

Whether your teams are back in the office or working remotely, there are countless tools that can help their development journey. Let’s explore a few of them.

1. LMS

Corporate learning management systems (LMS) are tools that help train and educate employees. They deliver learning in an engaging, user-friendly way, and they’re also easy to track and measure.

For a comprehensive list of some of the best LMS in the business, take a look at eLearning Industry’s roundup.  

2. Web-conference software

Remote working skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s here to stay. A whopping 97% of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at least partially.

That’s why web-conference software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams are important tools to use in developing employees remotely.

3. Content creation tools

Platforms like Canva, YouTube, or G-Suite create interactive online content for employee development. This includes graphics, videos, or worksheets that can be shared online and are easy to use.  

4. Individual development plans

Individual development plans are an essential part of an employee development program. Here are some development plan templates offered by Indeed to help you get started.  

Make employee development a priority

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how fast the world can change, both in our personal and professional lives. That’s why employee development opportunities matter now more than ever.

Helping your talented team reach their full potential keeps them and the business competitive and agile.

At BetterUp, we’re passionate about transformation and growth at the individual and organizational levels. If you’d like to learn more about creating growth opportunities and meeting employee development needs, request a custom demo.

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Published August 18, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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