Having an employee development programme should be a top priority for employers. A good programme not only improves employee retention and performance, but also creates a dynamic, positive company culture and increases business growth. For many employers, not knowing where to start is the first challenge. This article will outline how a successful employee development programme can make career advancement more accessible. 

Why Employee Development Matters

Investing in your people’s growth isn’t just the “right” thing to do, it also makes business sense. To top this off, employees who feel valued, will, more often than not, outperform new hires leading to higher retention and better office morale. With a formalised process and the right tools, you can give structure to employees’ personal growth using a mix of job levels, competencies, and growth plans

Job Levelling

Job levelling (also known as job classification) creates a clear hierarchy in a company so employees are able to clearly understand their job roles and career pathway. If you don’t have transparent job levels, promotions can come across as unattainable and the lines of succession seem blurred.

The primary goal of job levelling is to help employees better understand their role and know how they can move further along within the organisation. Both small and large companies should have levels, but the amount varies depending on the company’s size, you may have less levels at smaller companies or more of a hierarchy at bigger ones. Consider the length of time it takes for employees to get promoted as you don’t want to run the risk of losing ambitious top performers who are eager for a promotion on a regular basis. 

Career Tracks 

Build out separate tracks for both those that want an end goal of managing people and for those that don’t. Seniority shouldn’t always be about management —  there are different routes for individual contributors and managers. Think about also having separate tracks for specialists (those highly skilled people that have one particular function) and generalists (those interested in a series of lateral career moves).  

Most importantly, make sure you communicate these levels and paths with your staff so they’re aware of their career paths and options.

Competencies

A job competency is a skill or quality that an employee needs to have to succeed in a role. Used by both managers and interviewers, job competencies are implemented so employees can understand exactly what they are being assessed on during appraisals and have clear knowledge of what is expected from them in their role. They also serve an important purpose during interviews as they help assess candidates’ suitability for a given role.  

It’s important not to overwhelm employees with too many competencies for one role — anything more than six is too much. Use a variety of both company-wide and role-specific competencies, with the former generally applying to everyone at a company and the latter being more focused on the skills needed for a particular role. For example, a company-wide competency could be something around being “customer-focused” or “excellence in task-delivery”. A role-specific competency for a public relations role could be the “ability to build effective relationships with both clients and journalists''.

Remember not to confuse job competencies with job descriptions as they are not responsibilities, but are instead skills or qualities. Ensure your competencies are observable and objective so managers can easily assess them without bias. For example, having a vague competency like “ambition” is too unclear and difficult to manage, leading to misinterpretation. 

How Competencies Differ From Goals

Competencies help with clarity and direction, but they are not synonymous with goals. Goals are put in over a set period of time, say quarterly or annually, whilst competencies stay fixed for the entire duration of one’s employment. If you are ever confused about something being a goal or competency, consider whether it is time-bound or tied to a specific team or individual. If it is, you’ll find you’re probably not dealing with a competency. 

Competency Matrices

Now comes the fun part. Once you understand what both job levels and competencies are, it’s time to put them into a matrix with competencies as rows and job levels as columns. When the cells intersect, one can see the description of the competency at any given level. Creating this matrix helps employees clearly see what they need to do at each level and what they should be doing to receive a promotion.

Creating and Monitoring Growth Plans

The entire purpose of using job levels, competencies, and matrices is to support employees in job clarity, knowing where they stand, and how they can develop in their careers by identifying growth opportunities. A growth plan should be a team effort whereby the manager helps the employee develop a concrete plan for career development. To ensure these plans aren’t just created and not looked at for a year, wasting everyone’s time, managers should monitor an employee’s progress through regular communication and scheduling one-to-one meetings.

Below we have provided a useful checklist for managers when creating a growth plan: 

  • Get an understanding of your employee’s career goals. 
  • Review the competency matrix with the employee. 
  • Based on current and past performance, assess where the employee is on the matrix. 
  • Use the matrix to identify areas of opportunity. 
  • Work with the employee to find ways to develop competencies (e.g., extra projects, training).  
  • Ask the employee to set a timeline.  
  • Regularly check in on the growth plan during one-to-ones and adjust as needed.

Making an employee’s development a top priority is crucial in creating a successful growth plan. Remember to keep communication lines open and use a competency matrix during your discussions with your employees as they can help guide the discussion and keep things structured.

Tracking Progress

To avoid wasting valuable time, try to make sure both the employee and manager are fully on board as one of the biggest challenges companies face is getting both parties to buy into the employee development initiative. To make tracking progress quick, remember you don’t need to fully rely on one-to-one meetings. You can also lean on technology and existing team processes to help track progress. That is however not to say you must avoid one-to-one meetings entirely as they can be extremely helpful in career conversations. 

Career conversations should be had regularly at companies. Having frequent check-ins and conversations helps avoid the issue nobody wants to have, and that is for career development to fall by the wayside and employees’ growth to be left unprioritised. 

There should be no reason for uncomfortable or awkward conversations if a structured employee development programme is implemented, creating transparency and clarity across the board. By having well-organised job levels, clear competencies and matrices, and thorough growth plans, your next employee development programme should be a breeze.