Developing employees: why and how to do it (with tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 September 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Developing employees is one of the most effective ways to improve workplace performance and efficiency, reduce employee turnover through loyalty and build confidence and competence within a team. Learning best practices and the benefits of developing employees can help managers to navigate the process and ultimately leads to better success. In this article, we discuss what employee development is, explain why it is important and share tips for developing employees.

What is developing employees?

Developing employees is the process taken on by a manager, supervisor or the company to better their teams by enabling professional advancement and personal growth. Managers often aim to advance and strengthen team members' skills in line with the duties related to their roles, their professional goals and the goals and aims of the organisation. Employee development is done on a person-to-person basis or by developing the entire team at once through office-wide training and off-site workshops.

The following are a few examples of employee development:

  • continuing education

  • skill-based training

  • higher-level job assignments

  • mentor programmes

  • research-related activities

  • conflict resolution training

  • effective communication workshops

Why employee development is important

There are benefits to employee development for all parties involved. The team members are likely to gain improved abilities, confidence and a sense of belonging and importance to the company. The organisation can see improved performance and efficiency of the overall workplace, a shift to a goal-oriented mindset among team members and less pressure on the manager as they may delegate more tasks to others.

The organisation also benefits due to a rise in employee loyalty. This leads to lower turnover costs. Recruiting new staff also becomes easier as the workplace can become more attractive to potential recruits.

Related: How to boost employee morale in 6 steps

What to consider when developing employees

Employee development is a long-term process that requires commitment from both the employee and the employer. It takes significant time, capital and other resources to advance a team's skills. It is therefore important to use these resources effectively and not set unrealistic targets for the organisation or the individual.

Team members are more likely to participate in development programmes that happen on company time, so you may wish to find a way to accommodate this. If development activities are to take place outside of the workplace and during office hours, it is important to be respectful of the employees' personal commitments and free time when encouraging the team to participate.

There are potential drawbacks to employee development, mainly associated with committing money and time to such activities. There is always the risk that you can invest in developing an employee who shortly after leaves the company to work for a competitor. But most companies usually agree that the benefits are worth the costs and risks. Typically, these drawbacks are most evident at the start of this process. As the process goes on and results begin to show, these potential drawbacks often lessen.

Tips for developing a team

You may want to contact your supervisors to ask for training, or, if you're a team leader, you may be interested in learning how to help your team develop their skills. The following steps are considered best practices when it comes to encouraging your team to develop if you're in a managerial or supervisory role:

1. Start with you

Before guiding others, you may first develop yourself. Mentors who have been through the work themselves are usually more effective. Starting with you allows you to lead by example and ensures sincerity. This also develops a level of trust and respect amongst team members.

2. Encourage personal development

Personal development aids professional development. A well-rounded and balanced person often functions better in the workplace. Employee personal development includes areas such as physical and mental health, intellectual stimulation and growth, healthy personal relationships and involvement with the local community.

3. Create individual development plans

Individuals typically have different strengths, weaknesses, goals and interests. In addition to working with the team, work with each individual to develop a customised development plan. These plans highlight the team members' goals, how to achieve them, and the challenges they may face along the way. To help navigate the individual through their development plan, set a timeframe for achieving the goal and for completing the different steps involved in getting there.

4. Provide the team with resources

It's important that the team have the resources they need to succeed. Provide critical information related to their job tasks and invest in training to develop soft and hard skills. This often leads to improved work abilities and confident team members that feel valued.

5. Set performance metrics and appraisals

Set measurable performance metrics by establishing specific targets and performance objectives. This gives team members a goal to achieve. Use performance appraisals to monitor improvement and provide feedback to the team. These appraisals help identify areas where further training is required and areas where the team members are developing well.

6. Create learning opportunities

Incorporate employee development into the company's regular operations as much as possible. This emphasises its importance and allows for additional development conversations and opportunities. All business scenarios and interactions are opportunities for employee development. Being aware of this is usually the key.

7. Use simulation activities

Simulating real-life situations or role-playing is an effective way to develop team members. Simulation prepares team members to handle challenging workplace situations by offering them a pressure-free way to explore these situations. This typically teaches them best practices in the workplace and develops confidence in handling difficult scenarios. Examples are pitching a sale to a co-worker or resolving a customer complaint with you as the manager playing the customer.

8. Give regular feedback

Develop team members by offering constructive feedback at regular intervals. Feedback relates to conduct, performance, attitude and technical abilities. Praise the team for a job well done and encourage them to improve on areas of difficulty by setting out specific steps for improvement.

9. Get to know the team by asking questions

To understand what type of development suits someone, it is essential to get to know them. You may ask individuals about their strengths, weaknesses, skills, goals and interests. Asking questions to aid a team member through a specific task is useful as well. This is a method of coaching that uses leading questions to aid team members to find the right answers and next steps themselves. Team members usually respond better to this method than simply being told what to do by an authoritative figure.

10. Delegate duties

Allow team members to perform higher-level duties. This is an opportunity for team members to learn new skills and prepare for future promotions and leadership opportunities. This also aids in taking tasks off of your to-do list, freeing up even more time to work one-on-one with the members of your team. It also encourages trust and mutual respect between manager and team and makes everyone feel valued and competent in their workplace.

Related: How to create an actionable personal development plan

11. Engage in cross-training

Temporarily shifting team members to a new department gives them a chance to explore a different and potentially challenging business area. Exposure to other departments allows awareness of the functions of various departments, which aids in decision-making in their own departmental role. This also prepares team members for potential promotions or career moves within the company. Another benefit of cross-training is that it creates a culture of teamwork and inclusiveness.

12. Take career progression seriously

It may be beneficial to develop employees to prepare them to advance in their careers. People often feel encouraged to participate in development programmes if they know it can lead to a promotion. In other words, employees that feel their organisation takes career progression seriously and offers a fair amount of opportunity to move up often take themselves and their work more seriously. Additionally, being stuck in one position for too long usually leaves people uninspired and demotivated, leading to stagnation and decreased performance.

13. Link to professional networks

Expand the team's professional reach by allowing them the opportunity to network with others in the industry. This makes employees feel important and capable. It also allows employees to learn more about the industry and best practices. Networking leads to broadened perceptions and new ways of thinking, which is beneficial in solving problems in the workplace. This is also an effective way to create and present company ambassadors throughout your sector.

Related: What are hard skills and how do they differ from soft skills?

14. Eliminate barriers

Identify and eliminate barriers to employee growth and development. Rigidity in structures and processes may bar advancement. Eliminating barriers may allow cross-functional collaboration and inspire creativity and change. This is usually essential to learning, sharing and developing.


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