Why Poor Employee Development Is a Mistake You Can’t Afford

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Like many entrepreneurs, Asher Raphael, CEO of Power Home Remodeling in Chester, Pa., knew he needed to offer professional development to his employees. To get started, he took a look at his workforce and identified who had untapped potential.

Raphael used performance metrics to decide which employees to work with one on one. He then invested time and energy in their development. But it didn’t take long before he saw he’d made a critical error.

“I was focused on grooming the men and women with the best numbers,” Raphael told me in an interview. “I realized, however, that top performance didn’t always equate with strong leadership that would allow our organization to scale and grow.”

Employee development is important in general, of course. But, as Raphael said he realized, missteps in employee development can cause their own problems, because they hurt the company. If missteps occur, resources will be wasted and employees will fail to develop the necessary skills needed.

When done correctly, however, employee development can be one of the biggest drivers of success in an organization. Here are four things to consider when building your employee-development program.

1. Have a structured program.

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make with regard to an employee-development program is thinking they can figure it out along the way. This rarely pans out.

“As a startup, oftentimes people fear structure,” Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO and co-founder, at SquareFoot in New York City, told me. “The notion of structure scares people, especially when there isn’t much around at the early stages of a business.”

Unfortunately, because of this mentality, Wasserstrum made the mistake of putting people with no employee-development experience in charge of the program. Not sure where to begin, they just guessed. The program quickly failed.

“When we roll it out again,” Wasserstrum continued, “we will do more research and have a discussion with other companies around best practices. Employee development isn’t the type of thing that you want to learn on the fly.”

Another option is to use a proven, external learning and development platform. For example, TypeCoach uses personality assessment to match employees with the best-suited training materials. They can then watch coaching videos or receive onsite training.

2. Create individual road maps.

All employees have different strengths and skill sets. They also have unique goals for their career. Assuming a one-size-fits-all program will meet everyone’s needs is a recipe for disaster. Employees won’t get invested in a general training program because they won’t see how it will help their career trajectory.

Christine Dura, chief development officer at OrthoNOW Urgent Care, in Scottsdale, Ariz. advised instead having a conversation with employees about what they want.

“Sit down with the employee and discuss individual interests and career goals,” she said. “Identify the development activities that that individual should be undertaking. Realize that not everyone shares the same goals or has the same perspective about what they want to achieve in their career.”

It also is important to show employees how their progress will be measured. Dura recommends creating measurable goals and realistic time frames. This gives staffers an objective to focus on and a clear way to see how they’re developing.

3. Create a learning environment.

There’s a difference between teaching and allowing employees to learn. The former means having employees sit in a classroom and asking them to absorb information. Learning, on the other hand, happens when they’re given the chance to find answers for themselves.

“Knowledge is power; so is experience,” LaurieAnn Norwood, learning and development manager at Bedgear in Farmingdale, N.Y., said in an interview.

She said she once had a friend and former boss tell her, “The answer is usually in the room”; and those words, she said, changed her perception on employee development.

“Most of the time, employees collectively know the information that you’re sharing with them; they just need help uncovering it and applying it,” Norwood pointed out. “Give the participants the opportunity to come up with the solutions. These ‘a-ha!’ moments are usually the things they remember the most.”

But, how can this type of environment be created?

Norwood advised that managers slow down and listen to their employees. Employee development needs to take place in a welcoming, collaborative environment. Then, through discussion and practicing skills, everyone can learn.

4. Know the laws.

There’s often confusion about whether or not employers are required to pay employees for the hours they spend in development activities. But always compensating them could mean wasting money unnecessarily. And not paying them could land the company in legal trouble.

The important thing to understand is the distinction between job-training and employee development.

“When an employer requires an employee to attend a continuing education event, online classes, or anything of that nature, the employer must pay for the worker’s time,” Scott McLaughlin, a labor and employment lawyer with Jackson Walker in Houston, told me. “Some common examples of this include sales training, sensitivity/anti-harassment training and other types of required training.”

In short, these are all obligatory activities that impact employees’ performances in their current job.

Optional developmental training that prepares employees for the future is another story. The law does not require that employees be paid for that time. Just know, McLaughlin said, that not paying isn’t always the best decision, either. Employee morale could suffer or staffers might be less interested in participating at all.

“Employers run the risk of development offerings being perceived as mandates,” McLaughlin said. “That makes it difficult for an employer to offer an optional course and not pay for the employee’s time. It is possible for an employer not to pay for an employee’s time in such situation. But, it is unwise.”

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