Companies often run into a common challenge when it comes to finding qualified employees to fill their available roles. Whether it’s filling a job vacancy or a newly created position, it can be hard to find and secure the right fit for the role. Shortages in the labor market are at a high with a record 16-month long employment deficit. According to data released by the US Department of Labor, the US economy had 7.4 million job openings in June of 2019, but only 6 million people were looking for work. 

You might work for a company (like many) that desperately wishes for an Olympic size labor pool filled with qualified personnel. If your organization seems to constantly search for new ways to add value, attract talent, and instill loyalty then listen up. One of the most efficient things you can do to begin chipping away at your labor gap is to actively , and intentionally, develop your people internally. 

Whether you have a great team in place or you’re looking to make improvements, your employee development program can be the gift that keeps on giving. Advancement opportunity is the glue that binds employees to your organization long term, and of course, attracts job seekers. Employees often stay longer with a company that offers career growth opportunities even if it doesn’t offer other desirable benefits. Word tends to spread at places where people are growing their skills and advancing into higher positions on the regular. Not only will the workforce recognize your organization as a land of opportunity, but your customers will too. While customer perception isn’t everything, more data is showing that it can influence buying patterns. It’s like a two-point conversion in a competitive marketplace. 

To be intentional about developing from within, you need a solid employee development program in place. With a thorough development program, you can continue to make progress with your employees, even while producing work in a fast pace environment where the customer’s needs come first. Your development program keeps you on track so that in the middle of it all, you’re developing your people to be able to step into the available roles that lay ahead. 

How do you get a development program off the ground in your organization?

As promising as many employee development programs may be, it can be hard to know what you need to do to prepare for this type of undertaking. After assisting clients for many years in this area, we’ve come up with a few critical pieces of advice. 

Find a Leader
Consultant Jenny Scott, with People & Performance Strategies, says “The first thing you’ll need is someone to lead the movement. The program is getting built while the everyday work still has to get done.” Scott explains, “In many cases, this is the thing that derails people and it’s also the reason you need to move the process along.”

The leader’s primary functions are to make sure the execution stays on track and to hold people accountable. This could mean following up with participants at the end of the week or month, asking them, “Have you complete your tasks?” and “What do you need?” The leader regularly refers back to the project plan to make sure the work being done is in lockstep with the plan to meet the timeline goals. 

Scott says, “The reality is there’s always a fire or another derailer and if you don’t have solid leadership, these occurrences will put you back at square one, starting all over again. The leader commits to driving the project forward knowing there will be challenges that get you off track. It’s like a diet. Sure, you might slip up and eat a pint of ice cream but, with discipline, you can get back to your diet and back on track with good choices and you’ll still get there. The leader helps everyone get back to the mission.”

Secure an Expert
Most of the time, the person leading the project is not an “expert” in development. Many times, this person is someone else in the organization, or maybe someone contracted to consult on the project. It’s critical to rely on someone with expertise in building employee development programs to help you put together a program that will have a significant impact and staying power. The expert works closely with the leader to create the project plan and determine who does what just like any other project. 

Alignment in Purpose
Scott says, “Before any real work gets done, you have to get everyone in alignment with the vision. Everyone has to buy-in. There needs to be a cohesive feeling that the goals described are good for the organization and the employees.” 

Involve your team members from all levels in the process by soliciting their feedback on what’s important to them. You should also get clarity on how members of your organization would realistically be able to participate. If you take the steps to involve others, you’ll create a program that really benefits them. People will get excited and the excitement will be contagious. Participants will want to learn more and do more. 

Use your Resources
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Explore the templates that are available, many of which can be highly customized. Using a template will make sure your plan is thorough and save loads of implementation time. Your expert consultant can show you a template complete with proven results.  If you choose a template that is proven, you’re more likely to create a reliable process with repeatable results. 

Make the investment. Lots of data points to higher ROI in companies actively following an employee development plan. Not only do you spend less time and energy on recruiting and onboarding, think about all the other financial gains you could achieve. More engaged employees produce higher quality work. Employees’ strengths can be maximized and weaknesses addressed for higher productivity. 

Most importantly, if you invest in preparing your employees for a future in your organization, you’re equipped to service the marketplace of the future, with all its mixed bag of challenges. Invest now for a better company tomorrow.

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