One of the factors that sets successful businesses apart from their competitors is their willingness and ability to develop their most valuable resource – their workforce.
Whether the business is small, medium or large, it can always benefit from creating a work environment where staff can learn, develop their skills and make a real contribution to their organisation.
Several common themes emerge from studying the most successful organisations and analysing the ways that they maximise the potential of their employees.
There will always be a gradation in levels of skill and expertise amongst an organisation’s workforce. A wise employer will be able to make sure of this to institute a system of mentoring. This will enable knowledge and expertise to be disseminated amongst those with a need for it. Everyone can benefit from a properly administered system of mentoring – both the mentor and those to whom they pass on their knowledge.
It is, of course, important that the process is accountable and formalised so that progress and success can be measured and quantified. Without these key elements, any mentoring may become too casual to be of benefit and there will be no way of keeping it on track.
Whatever industry or sector the organisation inhabits, there will be experts. These people can be a valuable resource for any workplace and the insights they bring can serve as inspiration for employees. Employers can make contacts through social media and organise events where industry experts share their experiences and insights with others.
This can develop a wider perspective and encourage employees to acquire new skills as well as suggesting other learning and developmental avenues for them to explore.
Match development goals to work goals
Although employee development is important, it has been shown that situations where that development is aligned with work projects or tasks makes it far more likely to be successful and productive. Matching development and training to real life situations enables employees to contextualise what they are learning. An employer can liaise with the person or organisation that is providing the training and development programmes and ensure that a level of subject synchronisation is planned and achieved.
A perception has developed over the years that the employee gets trained but the employer arranges the training, based on their perception of what is needed. This is now becoming outdated as employee-based programmes take over the paradigm of training.
Employers are now coming to realise that training is a co-operative process, with many of the suggestions and input coming from employees. Members of staff should be encouraged to analyse their job, identify areas where skills sets or competencies are either absent or insufficient and develop a personal training plan, which they can then discuss with their employer. This will help to create a sense of ownership and will in turn increase the likelihood of the training achieving its aims. Including this as part of the employee’s annual review can enable the employer to assess the success – or otherwise – of these training initiatives.
It’s widely acknowledged that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to training needs. Everyone learns in a different way and the best results can be achieved if employees use methods that suit their learning style. Employees should be encouraged to put together, in co-operation with their employer, a development plan that incorporates the methods that work best for them.
These could include self-study, reading training material either in book form or online, shadowing or interviewing experts in their competency, or on-the-job activities. In similar vein, training activities should be differentiated between independent and group activities as these may suit certain employees and not others.
It’s not always the case that an employee starts in a particular job and sticks to that throughout their time with the organisation. It’s highly likely that employees may wish to move between roles or even departments but in order to ensure that they make the right decision, they need information on what the desired role involves. There are several methods for enabling them to find that information but one of the most effective is shadowing. This is the system of working alongside an employee who’s already in the role and observing their daily routine and workload. Not only will this help employees to decide whether the job is right for them, but a more generalised system of shadowing, giving employees the opportunity to work alongside others will enable them to explore, encounter and understand other departments, concerns and priorities. This may lead to a more co-operative work environment.
As has already been mentioned above, social media can be an excellent method of expanding an employee’s network and, as with many other areas of life, it’s as much about who you know as what. A well-developed personal network can identify opportunities for training, information, advice, support and personal inspiration. Employers can help by encouraging employees to form networks both within the organisation and beyond it, and by not taking a disapproving line if an employee carries out networking in work time – provided it is not taken to extremes. After all, an employee who makes successful connections and increases their worth to the company will pay dividends to their employer in the long run.
We have already mentioned development plans but in order for these to be truly effective, they need to take a similar form for all employees. The employer can help by adopting a particular template and ensure that all development plans have what are known as SMART objectives – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
Once a development plan has been agreed, it needs to be monitored so that progress can be logged and evaluated. This will increase employee commitment to the goal of achieving their development aims.
Employers can help to keep their staff motivated by ensuring that there is a recognition scheme in place that rewards and reinforces the improved behaviour or expertise/skillset.
This will encourage staff to take up training opportunities and buy into the personal development schemes that the employer has instituted. The recognition scheme can take varied forms, depending on what the employer knows will work – different methods work for different organisations.
Realistic development goals
There’s nothing worse than a goal that’s unrealistic – it’s not achievable and that failure to achieve will discourage and demoralise employees. Worse than that, it may generate the attitude amongst the workforce that the whole goal-setting and development process is a waste of time, thereby souring the process and experience for other employees.
The employer should ensure that any goals or development targets are realistic; the view of both the employer and employee should contribute towards this assessment.
If in doubt, choose to set maybe one or two goals, rather than a wide range of disparate aims. This will means that the employee can focus all their energies on goals that are achievable and raises the chances of success.
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