Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Looking to boost morale while improving business results? Discover 19 ways to encourage employees to engage in impactful professional development.
Employee development isn’t just about basic job skills. It’s about strengthening your team, increasing employee morale, and building an even stronger business. Discover a number of simple ways to encourage your employees to grow and become more engaged and effective through active participation in professional development.
1. Propose Regular One-on-One Meetings
To help foster a culture of two-way communication and feedback, propose or require managers to hold regular 1:1 discussions with their direct reports. These conversations can provide a way for managers and employees to exchange information and reflect on how things are going, while also identifying and discussing training needs. Supervisors can get a sense of whether employees’ needs are being met and better understand what kind of employee development opportunities might be the most beneficial.
2. Involve Employees in Goal Setting
Rather than having management set development goals for employees, take a collaborative approach to goal setting. Managers can share overall departmental goals, then guide employees to reflect on their own work. Are they being challenged? Are they ready to take on a new or different kind of project? In what areas do they think they need to improve? And how can you help them do so?
3. Prioritize Skill Development
Taking the time to provide training on specific skills that could use some work can help team members become more proficient at their jobs — which can ultimately help them see how further development can benefit them. Managers can start by working with individual employees to help identify gaps between actual and desired skill levels, which are the areas where training is needed the most. Maybe some sales reps need better prospecting or cold calling skills, while others need to take a business writing class. The key is to help employees build the skills they need to succeed in their roles.
4. Foster Upward Mobility
Employees want to work for organizations where they feel they have opportunities to advance and grow. By offering development opportunities and promoting from within whenever possible, you can position your company as one where upward mobility is possible. Try offering learning and development tracks that allow employees to deepen their skills for the roles they’re in, as well as tracks to cross-train for lateral opportunities or develop skills that would be needed to advance.
5. Fast-track Leadership Development
Do you know where your organization’s next generation of leaders will come from? An internal leadership development program can help you build bench strength so you’ll be able to promote from within more often. I have a Leadership Academy with about 100 different courses that we can customize to fit your goals for your leadership team. Since being a great employee doesn’t necessarily mean someone is prepared to take on a leadership role, consider helping them get ready. By implementing a fast-track leadership development program, you can prepare high-potential team members to step into leadership positions as they become available.
An internal leadership development program can help you build bench strength so you’ll be able to promote from within more often. I also have an Emerging Leaders Academy that helps in preparing your next wave of leaders.
6. Establish a Regular Training Schedule
Make it easy for employees to set aside time in their schedules for professional development by establishing a regular time for training sessions. For example, make “Training Tuesdays” a regular thing, with different types of training happening each week of the month. Skill training could be slated for the first week, leadership development could happen in the second week, with other types of development activities scheduled for the other weeks. This way, employees can easily plan ahead for development opportunities.
7. Source Training Topics from Employees
Try asking employees to suggest learning and development topics that they feel would be beneficial. Team members are much more likely to participate in development opportunities if they’re invested and have some input around what is offered. Plus, you’ll likely get some creative ideas that you might not have thought of on your own. Your development program is only posed to grow stronger when employees are invited to share their suggestions.
8. Support Knowledge Sharing
All of this learning and growing should be shared! If employees share the information they’ve learned and the activities they’re engaging in, others will be more likely to follow suit. If your workplace culture is defined by open communication like this, it’ll help foster an environment conducive to growth. Provide opportunities for employees to volunteer and share what they’ve learned with other team members — this can be done via profiles or interviews in the employee newsletter or company-wide updates.
To encourage even deeper involvement, invite employees who have specialized expertise to teach workshops or lead other types of development opportunities. By encouraging knowledge sharing in this way, you’ll help create a culture of peer-to-peer learning while meaningfully recognizing employees who are willing to share their expertise with others. These extra development efforts made outside of employees’ specific role requirements can also be taken into consideration when the time for performance reviews comes around.
9. Develop Train-the-Trainer Sessions
Some employees may want to share their expertise, but may not really know how to design, develop, or deliver instruction. Remove that barrier to employee participation by offering a ‘train-the-trainer’ course a few times each year. This type of training can provide employees with these development goals a convenient solution for building the skills they need to succeed. Talk to me about this—I regularly do Train The Trainer sessions.
10. Consider a Peer Mentoring Program
A peer mentoring program can do a lot for your business and your team, from providing a powerful employee training resources for newbies, to building employee loyalty and fostering a culture of belonging. A mentoring program can also help build leadership skills for both junior and senior employees, so tap into your resources! Employees helping their peers strengthen their skills is a concept that’s tough to pass up.
11. Implement Cross-Departmental Training
Allow space in your company for employees to learn from different departments via cross-departmental training. They’ll come to better understand the inner workings of your company and develop firsthand knowledge of how their work impacts other departments. Plus, fresh eyes might just notice something about that specific department that could be improved.
12. Provide Employee Development Resources
Make sure your employees know where to find resources around your company’s development offerings. Whether you have an online database of professional organizations they can join or classes they can attend, or if you host monthly “lunch and learns,” your employees should have easy access to the tools and information they need to move forward.
13. Offer Tuition Reimbursement
If it makes sense for your business to encourage employees to seek higher education, look at offering tuition reimbursement (or partial tuition reimbursement) for their continued education. It’s a valuable benefit that will not only attract the best and the brightest talent, but will also allow your employees to grow and learn while earning additional credentials.
14. Advocate for External Training
Not all employee development needs to be on-site corporate training. Employees can — and should — work on themselves outside of the workplace. Set aside a budget for outside development activities and invite employees to attend classes or conferences focusing on essential skills that are linked to your industry or their area of specialty. Afterwards, provide opportunities for employees to share what they learned with their peers. Remember, I have short-burst training options that employees can do for very little investment and can do conveniently on their own time.
15. Suggest Professional Organizations
Employee development isn’t limited to just courses and classes. Joining professional organizations specific to your company’s industry or employees’ occupations can be a great way for employees to grow and develop as professionals. Not only will they have an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with like-minded professionals, but they’ll also learn new skills while staying on top of new developments in their field. This can serve as a clever way for your employees to network and help your company’s outreach efforts.
16. Endorse Business Networking
Building a strong business network beyond professional organizations can also promote employee development. Think about joining the Chamber of Commerce or other business-focused organizations in your area, and urge employees to participate in the group’s networking events and business activities. While engaged in business networking, employees will meet other professionals in the local area, which can help them bond with potential customers, possible suppliers, or prospective employees while growing as professionals.
17. Recognize Training Accomplishments
As employees complete training, be sure to give kudos for their achievements. This can be as simple as awarding certificates of attendance for training sessions or programs. If you offer multiple courses, combine related topics into programs and celebrate when students “graduate” from topic-specific programs or levels of achievement. Take it a step further by hosting an awards banquet quarterly or semi-annually to recognize team members who reach development milestones.
18. Link Job Titles & Development Activities
Look at awarding job title changes after completion of certain types of training (along with any other key indicators as needed). For example, Customer Service Representatives who complete a certain amount of training and have customer satisfaction scores above a certain level could be eligible for a Senior Customer Service Representative position. Try linking privileges to this type of title change, such as priority scheduling, uniforms in a color reserved for senior employees, or even a special name badge.
19. Be a Role Model via Active Participation
If you're engaging in professional development yourself, your employees will be more likely to do so as well. Be a role model for your team by actively participating in learning opportunities yourself — this could allow employee development to become the norm at your company. By modeling this behavior, you’ll positively impact the perception of your company as a learning organization in which professional development is valued at all levels.