Strategic Partner, Diane Janovsky, brings a very compelling conclusion to our series on the continuous development of employees in your organization. She points out that there are many ways to provide growth and learning opportunities that not only benefit the employee in their professional growth, but also the organization through applying new skills and collaborations that bring immediate results to the bottom line. Enjoy this final Power Idea on Employee Development.

To attract and retain the best talent, businesses must have a strategy for employee development. In addition to classroom or on-line training, employee development planning should consist of a multi-pronged approach that provides a breadth of experience and learning, especially for those who have their eye on leadership. The best methods not only provide additional subject matter expertise, but also build soft skills such as interpersonal communication, problem-solving and decision-making. Whether you are a department manager or a CEO, here are three of our favorite non-classroom options that will benefit your business and engage your employees.

1. Special Projects

Most companies have special projects from time to time that require effort outside of day to day job duties. The scope of these projects may be within a department or across functions, and they can vary widely in focus and duration, from planning a team social event, to selecting a new type of software, to improving a cross-functional process. Working on these types of projects is an opportunity for employees to learn new skills, meet and work with new people and gain visibility with management.

One of the best opportunities I had in my career was to be assigned to a team chartered with revising the exempt compensation system for a division of a large corporation. As a materials manager, it was not my area of expertise, but the leadership in Human Resources wanted representatives from across the organization who would bring a non-HR perspective to the table. It was a win-win because the project leaders benefited from the diversity of inputs and ideas, and I gained a foundational knowledge of compensation strategy that has served me well in my corporate roles and more recently in my consulting work.

First line managers must be supportive of this approach to employee development. They are usually the ones who decide who will participate on a project, whether it is within their own area, or on a larger, cross-functional level. Employees must also be open-minded and recognize the value of putting in the extra effort outside of their normal duties.

2. Job Rotations

Within a smaller company, wearing many hats is part of the landscape. In the early days of a business, there are typically few employees so everyone must pitch in and contribute where they can. However, as an organization grows and roles become more specialized, silos can develop. People who are “multi-functional” or cross-trained in several areas are more valuable because they provide greater flexibility and reduce risk for their company. For those employees who wish to move into management roles, having a breadth of knowledge provides a more strategic outlook and supports informed decision-making.

An effective way to develop this wider experience and perspective is to create a program of job rotations. Again, this can be done within a department or function, or company-wide. For example, within supply management, buyers can be rotated through various desks such as raw materials, components, services or capital equipment. Or a business may elect to create a more formal program where professional employees progress through a series of assignments in several functions such as an engineer spending 3 months each in human resources, strategic planning, operations and marketing.

3. Mentoring

Even in this age of technology and self-help, receiving good old-fashioned advice from another human being is still invaluable. Mentors have always played an important role in developing talent, and with the unprecedented mix of generations in the workforce, it’s not just the Baby Boomers who are sharing their wisdom with Millennials. Millennials can also teach the Boomers a thing or two about technology and new approaches to problem-solving.

Mentoring can be approached in many ways. It may start out informally, with an employee who seeks out help from someone they respect and trust; or with a manager who sees potential in someone and offers their assistance. Or it may be a more formal program where high potential people are identified by leadership and matched with mentors.

No matter how it is executed, mentoring is a tried and true way to share knowledge, build relationships and improve the effectiveness of people and organizations.

Employee Development is Not Optional

Nine years after the downturn of 2008, employment levels are robust and it is a job seeker’s market. Demonstrating a sincere commitment to employees as part of a company’s culture and employer brand will help attract the best talent; and as Millennials become a larger and larger proportion of the workforce, employee development will be a critical factor in retaining that talent.

At HPISolutions, we are experts in helping you find and develop the people who make your organization successful.