According to HR analyst Josh Bersin, the “Great Resignation” is really a “Great Migration.” While 3% of the US workforce is still quitting every month, these mid-career employees aren’t simply upping sticks and taking to the hills (although, frankly, after the last couple of years, who could blame them?)

Instead, Bersin’s research team found that, in the wake of the pandemic, people are simply fed up with mediocre employers:

“Employees are migrating from ‘crummy jobs’ to ‘better jobs’ and from ‘companies that don’t seem to care’ to ‘companies that really, really care,’” he revealed.

So, how can you establish your business as a company that ‘really cares’? For starters, you’ll need to offer your employees the chance to do their best work. In this regard, employee development is the key to becoming an employer of choice. 

What is employee development? 

Too many companies lump employee development in with other areas of People Management, such as performance management

However, employee development isn’t just a question of dealing with a performance issue or doling out a pay rise. Yes, it can certainly have a dramatic and positive impact on performance, but the two terms are not interchangeable. 

Where performance management refers to the process of feedback, reviews, and recognition, employee development involves building new skills and competencies that will enable employees to progress in their careers within your organisation. Employee development goes beyond workplace training programs too. Employee development leaders can offer their workers ongoing learning opportunities, a clear pathway to professional development, and a work environment that supports personal growth.

Amy Spurling, the founder and CEO of Compt (and 20-year veteran of the HR trenches) defines employee development as an: “ongoing dialogue about what the employee wants out of their career, what their gaps are between their goals and where they are at, and ways to work on them.”

By focusing exclusively on performance management, and failing to address employee development, companies may neglect their workers’ needs and career goals - potentially driving top performers to look elsewhere. 

Why is an employee development plan important? 

Consider the following statistics as highlighted by the training company Lorman: 

  • Nearly two-thirds of US job-seekers specifically seek out companies that offer career development opportunities 
  • Nearly three-quarters would consider quitting their current job to work for an organisation with a reputation for great employee development and learning 

And yet:

  • 74% of surveyed employees say they aren’t reaching their full potential at work because of a lack of development opportunities; and 
  • Just one in ten companies have a formal career development plan  

Employee development is vitally important for building a thriving company culture. Yet far too many businesses are failing to create and communicate an effective development programme.

What’s more, employee development isn’t just about building a winning employer brand. It also has a major impact on: 

Employee retention:
Nearly every employee (94%) surveyed by LinkedIn agreed that they would stay longer with an employer who invested in their development. 

Employee engagement
: Quantum Workplace (the research firm behind the "Best Places to Work" programmes) has found that employee development is a critical ingredient of employee engagement. Partly, this is because employees who receive development training can be more successful at work, thus giving them a sense of achievement. Employees also feel more motivated to work for employers who invest in their success. 

Profitability
: According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), companies that invest in employee development tend to have a 24% higher profit margin than those who don’t. 

How to make employee development part of your company culture

To make employee development a year-round priority, you need to address three key components of your human resources strategy: 

  • Transforming your employee-manager one-to-ones (by broadening their scope to include employee development, career mentoring, and job enrichment) 
  • Building a culture of continuous feedback
  • Rebooting your employee development programme for the ‘new normal’ 

By addressing these three core elements of the employee experience, you can ensure that your company remains an employer of choice for today’s demanding job seekers. You can also give your existing workforce opportunities to thrive and grow. Let’s look at each of the elements above in more detail. 

1. Transform employee-manager one-to-ones.

To create a year-round culture of development - in which employees have on-going opportunities for learning, development and career progression - you’ll need to create a regular cadence of development conversations between managers and employees. To get the most out of your employee-manager one-to-ones, try to: 

Use one-to-ones to foster employee-company alignment.

Employee-manager one-to-ones are an opportunity to engage more deeply with employees, and to align their passions, strengths and values with your company culture.

Compt’s Amy Spurling takes advantage of one-to-ones with her team to check in on the employee experience and how well she’s meeting her employees’ needs as a manager. She told us: 

“I try to meet with everyone on the team once each quarter to discuss how they feel about our company culture, how they feel about their careers, any insights into what about their work they really love, and things that are less exciting to them.” 

Setting up a regular cadence of employee-manager conversations embeds development firmly into your company culture. 

Treat every employee as a unique individual.

Don’t allow your one-to-ones to become a check-box exercise. Heidi Scott, Ph.D., the Chief Learning Officer for HR.com, believes that an employee development culture starts with managers who take the time to get to know their direct reports. She says:  

“To truly create a team who wants to give their all to the work at hand requires us to take the time and get to know each person. If you manage a team, try asking yourself: 

  • Do I know each team member’s strengths? 
  • Do I know areas they desire to grow and improve? 
  • Do I know where they ultimately want to go in their careers? 
  • Have I communicated that I want to help them develop and get there? 

By regularly having these types of conversations with each team member, it helps make employee development a true year-round process and priority. And it decreases any stress around the dreaded annual performance review!”  

Rethink career advancement.

Career progression doesn’t need to be about promotions and titles. In fact, tying development exclusively to promotions can backfire badly. Workers may feel that their only way up is into a middle management role they don’t want. While star employees might get frustrated by long stints on the same rung of the career ladder. 

Instead, try helping employees to grow within their existing roles, with incremental changes to their tasks, projects, and responsibilities that adapt to their unique needs and interests. This process of job enrichment - developing an existing role to make it more challenging and rewarding for the employee as they develop and learn - can be highly engaging for employees. Instead of waiting for the next step up, employees start to see development as a part of their everyday experience at work, with every new project an opportunity for professional growth.

Again, employee-manager one-to-ones are the ideal moment to spot opportunities for job enrichment. As Amy Spurling explains: “It's not a conversation about ‘What title do you want next?’ It goes much deeper into specific details of what they like. That can then be crafted into roles that are much more fulfilling for employees. Because the team knows these conversations are happening, they come prepared to chat about all of this. It's their moment to really focus on themselves.”

Spurling has seen positive results by focusing on job enrichment. “It's helped people advance in the team,” she adds, “and led others to realise that while they love the team, they'd really rather have a different life or explore a new industry. That is also OK! We're here to support a person's growth, whether it is here or elsewhere!" 

2. Build a culture of continuous feedback. 

If you hope to make employee development a part of your business culture, you need to move away from an exclusively formal, performance-based appraisal system to a more informal culture of continuous feedback. Both managers and peers should actively look for opportunities to praise great work, offer guidance and seek feedback. 

Managers, in particular, need to model two-way feedback to their teams. For instance, they can try inviting their teams to give structured feedback on their latest client pitch, their approach to meetings - even their email skills! It’s vital that managers actively listen to their employees, both when giving and receiving feedback, and in more general conversations. 

To encourage peer-to-peer feedback and appreciation, you can set up peer review tools that enable colleagues to share feedback with one another. At Typeform, for instance, employees are given a certain number of micro-bonuses (called “typecoins”) each month. They can then award these to one another in recognition of a job well done. However, if you want to keep things simple, encouraging employees to share a simple ‘good job!’ with co-workers will go a long way! 

Finally, Paige Arnof-Fenn, the Founder & CEO of global branding consultancy Mavens & Moguls, believes that the key to building a strong culture of employee development comes from encouraging a growth mentality. 

“I have been fortunate to work in several world class businesses with growth mindsets,” says Arnof-Fenn, “and l have tried to create that culture in my company too. [Employees should] never stop learning or experimenting - stay[ing] focused on the future to see the opportunities ahead. The key is to make the know-it-alls see the power in becoming ‘learn-it-alls’!”

In other words, move away from a culture in which performance appraisals are an annual chore, to one in which development is a part of the day-to-day. Instead of recognising employees who ‘know it all’, reward those who actively seek opportunities to learn and grow.  

3. Reboot your employee development programme for the new normal.

For many companies, employee development stalled during the pandemic. Worryingly, over 40% of employees believe that they have made no career progress during the pandemic, while nearly 1 in 10 say that their career has actually regressed.

And it’s not just about career advancement. For some businesses, the entire employee development programme has completely vanished due to a combination of employee layoffs, budget cuts and the lack of in-person options. 

However, research published in the European Journal of Training and Development found that some HR departments have risen to the challenges presented by Covid-19. The result is an overhauled, digital-first employee development strategy that helps teams cope with the exigencies of post-pandemic work. 

The research findings suggest that, in order to make employee development a part of your culture in the new normal, you should redesign your development plan to be: 

  • More agile and flexible, using online learning technologies to create and distribute employee training more quickly and help employees respond to the rapid pace of change; 
  • Focused on new competencies, such as digital literacy and online collaboration skills, which have increased in importance over the past two years; 
  • Tied closely to employees’ individual development goals, to support personalised learning pathways and action plans;
  • Optimised for e-learning and built for both remote and in-house use, to support new employees during onboarding and provide consistent learning experiences for existing staff, no matter where and when they work. 

An employee development culture is your best weapon against the Great Resignation. 

To keep your employees engaged and to attract top new hires, you need to ensure that you include both performance management and employee development in your human resources strategy. 

Transform your employee-manager one-to-ones into deeper development conversations. Reinforce a culture of continuous feedback and open channels of communication. Encourage employees to be ‘learn-it-alls’ not ‘know-it-alls’. And, above all, make sure that your employee development programme has been redesigned to suit a post-pandemic reality.