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How To Encourage Professional Development in Your Employees

A business owner and employer is essentially the leader of a team — the captain of their workers within that professional arena. All such leaders understand the importance of continuous improvement and development when it comes to the business itself, but there is less widespread acknowledgement of the responsibility to encourage the same in one’s employees.

It might seem reasonable to excuse this by suggesting that employees have to take charge of their own careers and push themselves forward to excel in their position. However, it is simply not acceptable to disengage from your workers to this degree. Employees – your human resources – are almost always among the most vital and powerful assets that you control as a business owner, and you should invest the same care in them and see to their development as you would any other asset.

When you invest in your workforce, you not only raise your potential for future growth and prosperity, but you are showing your employees that they are the foundation and focus of your business and that you care about providing them a path to grow. This is proven to improve your team’s level of engagement in their work and meaningfully lower turnover – already a significant financial boost for most companies.

With that in mind, here are some of the most successful techniques for helping your employees grow into greater success:

Personal growth is also professional growth

One of the reasons quoted as to why many employers are wary of directly investing in worker’s growth is that it will distract them from actually doing their job, or that it will lead them to jump ship in pursuit of better things. There is also the pernicious idea that an employee who is successful and busy outside of work must be sacrificing some of their potential at the office. In reality, these fears and the policies they inspire have been shown to directly affect workforce morale, leading to the same loss of morale and motivation that they were meant to combat. It is most important that your employees feel their work provides room to grow, a clear direction for their efforts, and direct, personal support for them in those pursuits.

Lay out employee roadmaps with IDPs

One significant technique which has achieved success in this area is to set up Individual Development Plans (IDPs) with each of your workers. These detailed plans, which should be composed with input from both the employee and their managers, looks at the short-to-medium term goals for the employee as an individual. Typical questions include:

  • What goals do you wish to achieve at work this year?
  • How will the fulfillment of those goals benefit you and the organisation?
  • What skills, knowledge or abilities will you develop by pursuing them?
  • What resources will you require to facilitate that pursuit?

By the time the plan is set the employee and employer should have a clear idea not only of what value the employee is set to bring to the business, but a clear outline of how that can be realistically achieved. That feeling of real, achievable success is the most potent motivator.

Invest financially in employee growth

A less involved tactic for promoting personal growth is to simply incentivise and advertise opportunities outside the business. Offering funds to help interested workers attend industry conventions, conferences, enrol in training courses or purchase references can empower them to develop their skills through those avenues even when they hadn’t considered it before – the lure of a “free lunch” is a potent one. Sending even one employee on such a mission of professional development can have an impact across an entire team – they will often share their new skills with colleagues, or become advertisements encouraging other workers to seek out their own opportunities. For those employers with little in the way of middle management to delegate employee development to, this can be an effective quick fix.

Offer substantial recognition for hard work

Praise alone will not sustain involvement, but there are very few workers indeed who do not work a little harder when that effort is recognised. Employees like to take pride in their work, and employers also benefit directly from that, so it’s worth encouraging it by setting up specific weekly or monthly opportunities for recognition. A simple 15-minute meeting which highlights the significant achievements of employees tackling their IDPs or setting new benchmarks for the company is simple to execute and has far reaching benefits for motivation.

This is by no means an “easy out” solution – although some employers might see this as a low cost and low effort alternative to providing bonuses or the like, insincere praise can incense employees and have a tremendous negative effect on their motivation. It is essential that praise is not thrown around broadly and haphazardly. Instead, these shout-outs should be targeted at individuals or small teams, specifically single out a recent achievement or piece of good work, and make clear the direct, measurable contribution they made to a larger business goal. “A huge pat on the back for Deborah and her team in accounts, who have managed to bring back two of our larger clients who had threatened to leave us this fortnight. Because of you, we were able to set a new record for monthly income – well done.”

Treat your employees as individuals – offer individualised rewards

If one is not sufficiently aware of employee needs even offering them a simple gift or bonus can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement; it is vital that when you decide to make such a gesture you make one which actually benefits your workforce and shows that you understand their needs. Fortunately, there are usually simple ways to help large portions of your employee base at a time and show that you care: bringing in catered lunch for the time-poor, subsidising child care services for a workforce with young families, or even popping corks on a few bottles come Friday afternoon can all make your employees feel loved – which helps them work harder.

Make your employees the foundation of your company’s growth

It is more and more apparent in the modern business world that maintaining a happy, motivated workforce is the single most important thing to position your business for growth and success. Top employers now trumpet their nominations as “most exciting place to work” as their most proud achievements. Employee development shouldn’t just mean hurling around money on things your staff might need, but as with all business you see the best return when you’re willing to be forward with your investment. Try these strategies out – your employees and your bottom line will thank you.


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