Employee development is an infamous problem in the entrepreneurial world, and this issue is particularly prevalent within startups and franchises. Why is employee development such a chronic problem? It largely comes down to three common hurdles:
- We tend to focus on our everyday tasks. So many businesses are in a constant cycle of fielding calls from clients, working on residential and commercial projects, and generally keeping the ship afloat that it’s challenging to pull back from day-to-day operations to focus on longer-term benefits that can come from employee development.
- Leadership has good intentions, but poor follow-through. Employee training and development are straightforward yet separate processes. However, there’s a whole industry around selling trainings, services and analyses to the leadership of startups and franchises. These exercises, even if the company leadership has invested time in pursuing them, can be so confusing and time-consuming that they fail to meet leadership’s goals.
- There simply are not enough hours in the day. This is a lame excuse but it’s nearly an inevitable one. If leadership believes that development planning is a valuable function, it’s important to make it a priority and find the hours for it.
As a counter-argument as to why employee development is important, here are some reasons why development planning makes good business sense:
- Employees care that you have an authentic interest in them. The emphasis here is on “authentic.” Employee development planning should be something that company leadership takes a real and personal interest in—and not simply a mandate from human resources.
- Development helps build loyalty and increase productivity. Taking a real and honest interest in an employee builds loyalty. By extension, loyal employees are more engaged, and engaged employees are more productive in the long run.
- Talented people want to advance, and appreciate meaningful support during their journey. Capable, ambitious employees want training, mentoring and coaching. They want to gain skills, become more versatile, and demonstrate their value to an organization. Thoughtful support that helps advance one’s career is a valuable and meaningful benefit. The flip side of that argument is that if one organization doesn’t provide it, ambitious employees will go elsewhere for it.
Understanding the Difference Between Training and Development
Employee training is the process of giving employees the skills, experience and knowledge to do their jobs effectively, and may be performed at the start of a job, and augmented on a regular basis. Employee training is the responsibility of the organization.
There may also be a legal difference between training and development. When an employer requires an employee to attend a continuing education class, online classes or other base knowledge delivery methods, the employer must pay for their employees’ time. Some common examples of these types of training may include sales training, customer service, or anti-harassment training.
Employee development, on the other hand, is a shared responsibility of company leadership or management, and the individual employee. The responsibility of management is twofold: first, to provide the right resources for an employee to further develop their skills and experience; and secondly, to foster an environment that supports the growth and development needs of the individual worker.
Employers are not required to pay for optional development training; however, paying employees for their time in their own development may boost morale as well as create higher percentages of participation across the company culture.
Now that you know why employee development is important to your company’s bottom line, let’s take a closer look at how to go about building a powerful yet straightforward employee development program.
Five Steps to Creating Practical Employee Development Plans
Before you begin planning for your employees’ development, it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about what you want out of the process, and how much time and money you want to invest. Good development planning doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly. At its core, employee development planning is simply a matter of leadership talking to employees to understand them better, recognizing their needs and potentially untapped skills, and offering guidance to fill in the gaps. Done well, employee development can offer substantial benefits in terms of earning long-term loyalty.
Step 1: Consider Your Business Goals
Before you set objectives for your employees, it’s good to align their development goals with your company’s needs. If your goal is to improve customer service and increase sales of solar window film, for example, sending employees to sales training or a product demo might make sense. However, investing in an employee becoming a qualified notary or a finance class might make less sense.
Start by considering what your dealership’s long- and short-term business objectives are. Then you can identify the necessary skills, knowledge and proficiencies that support your objectives. Developing a plan to bridge the gaps between current employee skill sets and needed skill sets can be of tremendous value in helping you grow your dealership, sales, and network.
Developing internal candidates can also save time and money on recruiting, hiring, training, on-boarding and training outsiders. Demonstrating that employees of your dealership have a career path and offering promotion opportunities can also help you retain your top talent.
Step 2: Offer Individual Development Plans to Employees
This step really starts by talking with your employees about their skill level and career goals. This is also an opportunity to talk about any challenges they may be having with their current function in your dealership. This process may identify gaps between perceptions, skill sets or other hurdles that could benefit from additional training and mentoring.
Keep in mind that some younger employees may also have a desire for further employee development, but may not know how to get started or what they should ask. By talking to them, you can better understand how their work at your dealership fits into their overall plans as well as what opportunities you may be able to offer.
Once you have a better understanding of the goals and opportunities, you can create individual “road maps” for each employee. These paths to development should be geared toward the individual employee’s skill set and goals.
It’s also important to show employees how their progress will be measured. By creating measurable goals and realistic and achievable time frames, you will give your employees an objective to focus on, as well as the recognition that development is happening.
Step 3: Create a Learning Culture
There’s a big difference between teaching employees, and allowing employees to learn. Sure, you can sit your employees down in a classroom and ask them to absorb information. But learning only really happens when individuals are given the chance to find answers for themselves. In other words, employees may already know the information that you’re trying to relay, but the “a-ha!” moment doesn’t click until they are able to uncover and apply that knowledge for themselves.
The best way to create a learning culture is simply for leadership to slow down and listen to employees rather than trying to force knowledge upon them. Once you’ve created a warm, welcoming, and collaborative environment, everyone can learn on their own agreed upon schedule.
Step 4: Create an Action Plan—But Don’t Forget to Switch It Up Now and Then
Now that you know what your objectives and the goals of your employees are, it’s time to figure out how your workers will go about achieving them.
Developmental programs for employees are, by definition, wildly diverse in nature. They can include a combination of activities like formal training, reading, online classes, working directly with subject experts, peer visits to other companies, one-on-one mentoring, and many other development activities. Here’s a sample list to get you started:
- Conferences and Forums
- Critical Incident Reports
- Field Trips
- Job Aids
- Job Expansions
- Job Rotation
- Job Shadowing
- Media Learning Opportunities
- Peer-Assisted Learning
- “Stretch” Assignments
- Special Projects
- Courses, Seminars and Workshops
- Professional Associations
Once you and your employees have arrived at a course of action, create a plan. First, you need to consider what it will take to put your employee’s development plan into action. Is there any prep work that needs to happen? Is anyone else involved? Is there a cost associated with the development activity? Will employees need to take time off from work, and if so, who covers for them?
Once you have the details sorted, take the time to create even a basic schedule or time table so that employees continue to make progress and recognize the value of their development activity.
Step 5: Apply the New Skills in the Workplace
You’re investing your own expertise, time and potentially significant amounts of money on helping your employees develop their skills. But you also need to recognize and receive a return on investment. In other words, your employees need to be able to apply their newly earned skills in your dealership. That may mean improvements in sales techniques, application mechanics or customer service, but you should be able to see a change in how your dealership operates because of your investment.
To accomplish this final step, take the time to set up some opportunities where your employees can quickly apply the new skills to the job and get feedback, either from leadership or their peers. This will not only help them reinforce and refine these skills, but also keep their new knowledge fresh.
Creating an employee development program not only helps make your workplace more efficient and knowledgeable, but it’s also a way for you to improve employee satisfaction, morale, and loyalty. When employees are happy, they’re far less likely to go looking for work elsewhere. Your dealership will surely benefit from this valuable investment in a happier, healthier workplace.