Tie employee development to potential challenges

Employee development

One of the big problems with conventional employee development is that it’s pretty one-size-fits-all and cookie-cutter. Why is this a problem? Well, if you’re training 15 people in a room, they’re going to be different. Some ways?

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Origin
  • Job in company
  • Years of experience
  • Family composition
  • Connection/passion for specific industry
  • Etc.

And yet, oftentimes, this is what we do: put 15 people in a room, despite those differences, and train ’em up the same way.

Why do we do this? Because it’s easier and more cost-effective, and that’s ultimately what the company cares about. The notion of “employee development” is a thing we say matters, but how much it actually matters varies greatly by company.

This doesn’t leave us in a good place.

What do you mean?

Check out these stats:

In a 2014 survey, 55% of executives said a major constraint to investing in training was that they did not know how to measure success. Almost half (49%) said that it was difficult to ensure a return on investment (ROI). And in another survey, 87% said they cannot calculate quantifiable returns on their learning investments.

Just think about that: 87% of people can’t determine ROI on something, even though “determining ROI” is literally all that matters to decision-makers evaluating spend. You see now why most learning and development departments are considered a joke by the bigwigs?

If you approached an exec and said “There’s a 87 percent chance we won’t know whether this works,” well, I hope your LinkedIn is up to date. Job search time! But yet, this is exactly what’s happening.

Why is it happening?

Two main reasons:

  1. L&D often resides in HR. It’s not revenue-facing. The people with clout do not care as much as they normally would.
  2. Work is about execution. That’s how you scale, that’s how you get promoted, etc. Things like “learning” and “thinking” have no true role.

OK, so how do we make it better?

Let’s start by thinking about this in terms of data.

Maybe you have some data around 1 or more of the following topics:

  • Turnover
  • Hiring/recruiting costs
  • Project completion/successful projects
  • Revenue generated per employee

What you want to do is start mapping “These are skills people need” (employee development) and “This is why people leave” (turnover).

Now what you want to do is set up a training whereby the necessary skills are tied to the potential challenges.

An employee development example

Let’s say you know the No. 1 cause of turnover is relationship with manager. (This is common.) You go deeper and find that the No. 1 issue in managerial relationships is communication. (This is also common.) So now you know that employee development — at both the managerial and execution level — needs to have some focus on communication.

But you don’t want to cookie-cutter it, so go talk to people and figure out what needs to be involved in the training experience. For example:

  • Specific challenges in the past 30 days
  • Role plays
  • Modeling
  • What to do when ________ (multiple situations)

Normally in these situations you’d get managers bellowing “I need executors who listen and do what I say!” and employees saying “I just want to be treated like a decent human being,” but … that kind of feedback can still inform what the employee development experience can look like.

… and that’s the bottom line!

If you truly believe that we live and work in the Knowledge Economy, well, hate to break this to you but … uh … er … you need to actually develop knowledge in your workers. I know it’s often easy to dismiss as a “HR thing” — you have products to roll out and leads to nurture, of course — but it actually has huge revenue ties if you do this right and don’t just half-ass it. Makes sense, right? Smarter, more connected, more engaged employees probably (a) work harder and (b) treat customers better. People who have no path to development or growth or knowledge ultimately don’t give a shit. As they look for a new job — which can take upwards of a year — they’re phoning it in for you. Isn’t that, uh, a bad thing?

Anything else you’d add on employee development?

Ted Bauer


  1. Some really good points highlighted here, and I love that you highlighted the importance of speaking to the people in order to design training that is relevant.

    And while the outcomes to be measured appears to be rather slanted towards HR, I don’t think your intention is to limit it as such. It may be good to also highlight that training outcomes can be skills-based leading to other outcomes such as Call-Drop Rates, Customer Satisfaction, Net Promotion Score, Sales, etc. And somethings we need to devise new ways (which ideally requires little effort) to measure these outcomes.

    The other piece that seems to be missing from most training approaches is the involvement of the manager, and the work environment. There are many times people do not put their training into practice because the manager does not expect it, or think it is unimportant. Managers also have a key role in coaching their team to utilise any new knowledge that they have. That ensures learning transfer to the actual work environment and ensures that any learner address both the aspect of “I Can” and “I Will”.

    • The core problem is that many managers don’t want to be managers. They just became managers because it was the only path to higher compensation. That’s where the training part falls apart.

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