I came across research commissioned by Middlesex University for Work Based Learningthat found from a sample of 4,300 workers, that 74% felt they weren’t achieving their full potential at work due to lack of development opportunities. While this research included workers form a variety of industries, my own conversations with customers and industry leaders indicate a similar failing where project-focused businesses are concerned. Development really should be at the very center of any human capital management strategy – instead we see investment in recruiting without an equal investment in the initiatives that will keep those key leaders and star project players at the top of their game and driving successful outcomes.
Think about it. By acting on a development plan you can impact everything from productivity to the billing rates of your employees. For example, if one of your growth plays includes diversifying your revenue streams by pursuing different types of projects, your development plans should be preparing your employees to meet the new and unique needs of those different contracts.
Want to have a serious impact on your organization? Development plans, when leveraged consistently, can help you to:
- Facilitate alignment between your business goals and employee performance and growth
- Prevent stagnation in your workforce, which results in increased employee engagement AND improved client satisfaction
- Identify the key strengths (and weaknesses) of your employees and course-correct to utilize those strengths or address the gaps
- Gain the competitive edge that you need to win the next contract or project by keeping your workforce on the cutting edge of your industry
- Attract even more great talent by cultivating a development culture that helps establish your employer brand in the talent marketplace
Let’s assume for a second that you’re convinced, how and when do you start creating and implementing development plans? In short, the day your employees walk through the door for their first interview. After all, you learn key information that can help inform the earliest version of a new hire development plan during the interview process, so why wait?
It’s not as difficult as you might think to get started and the pay-off will be significant. Here are 5 tips to help you kick off the process:
#1 Define (and understand) your business strategy
Whether your business is in a growth phase or is staying relatively stable in size, there are always firm-wide strategies that require employees to stay at the top of their game. Understanding those plays is an important piece of implementing a development planning process for your employees. Aligning strategy with employee development offers a much higher return on your investment and prepares the workforce for the known challenges coming their way.
#2 Get to know your employees
You took the time to define what the business needs from its workforce, now it’s time to talk to your employees. Learn what your employees want from their careers. Take the time to objectively assess (and understand) you employees’ skill level and career aspirations. No assumptions. A star project player may seem like a logical project manager, but maybe they would rather stay an individual contributor. Gaining a basic understanding of who wants what on your team can go a long way toward building development plans that make sense for the employee AND for your business.
#3 Identify potential (and readiness)
Once you understand what types of roles your employees want to move into, it’s time to assess whether they are ready for their next step. Readiness is about more than general skills and experience. Every seasoned manager had to start somewhere, but I think most of us would admit that those first couple of years as a manager were some of the most difficult. A dose of humility and a growth mindset are also important indicators of readiness when it comes to moving an employee into a leadership position for the first time in their career, for example.
#4 Development is about more than certifications
Many of the industries we serve have very credentialed workforces, so tracking and maintaining the certifications, licenses, and even security clearances needed can be a handful. Regardless of tenure, career path, or level within your business, your employees need so much more than certification tracking. Start your development plans during onboarding, and leverage them throughout the employee life cycle to address gaps, and to prepare employees for stretch projects and growth.
#5 Create plan, measure success, adjust and repeat
A development plan is not a static thing. It is absolutely NOT something that you create once and leave on a shelf for the remainder of the employee’s tenure with the company. Development plans should be fluid and reflective of the changing needs of your employees. If you are executing your development plans, than your employees are constantly growing out of them. That is as it should be. As an employee progresses, their aspirations may change and the skills and competencies required for advancement may change, too. Be prepared to keep that dialogue open and continuous; then adjust and repeat the process.
Development plans aren’t just about creating leaders; they are about supporting your employees in their own aspirations and providing a framework that makes them successful. The success of your employees is your success. As your employees mature in their roles and feel your support, they’ll take on those stretch projects and become even more skilled. You’ll end up with a culture of development; a workforce full of people with a growth mindset. You will have cultivated the leaders, the innovators, and the integral contributors your company needs to build a long-lasting legacy of growth.