If you are like me, you probably struggle to figure out the best ways to help your team develop the necessary skills to help your business achieve its goals. When are “stretch goals” just too stretching? How do you balance an employee’s need for personal development with the over-riding need for the business to achieve its strategy?

First of all, what exactly is “employee development”? Essentially it is a joint effort between employers (or managers) and employees to ensure there are opportunities for individuals to learn new skills, refine existing skills, and build knowledge and experience. This not only leads to more engaged and productive staff, but also higher loyalty.

This is important because not only does it boost morale and engagement, it also helps retain organizational expertise, and helps align employee and company goals.

The following are five key actions that have helped me steer my staff towards fulfilling their true potential while making sure the business objectives and strategy were also achieved.

Cascade Business Objectives to Personal Goals.

An obvious one, but you would be surprised how often this gets missed. Even when it is done, if the business objectives are not well defined and communicated in the first place they can misinterpreted by managers.

Cascading goals means reinterpreting the business objectives so that they are applicable and relevant for the individual concerned. For example, if a business objective for the year is to improve customer satisfaction by 200%, then perhaps a goal for the individual would be learn a new technical skill and spend an extra 20% of their time directly with customers helping them to achieve more with your solutions using that skill.

Understand Where They Want to Go.

Performance development plans are particularly important for ambitious employees who know the exact next role in the organization for which they are aiming. They need to fully understand exactly what competencies and performance levels are required in order to achieve the promotion and be effective in that role. The performance plan should demonstrate a clear path for them to achieve this goal. Therefore it is important that for ambitious employees, the development plan does not merely focus on skills required for the current role.

This not only increases the employee motivation and loyalty to the company, but it also helps them to better understand their place in the company, and how their contribution helps both them and the company succeed together. Research indicated that providing employees with context gives more meaning to their work and helps improve overall performance throughout an organization.

Use the Annual Appraisal to Identify Competency Gaps

Goals are typically informed by the gaps in competencies or behaviors, so the annual appraisal is the perfect time to identify any competency or skills gaps indicating opportunities for development. Whether you use 360-degree feedback mechanisms or simply joint feedback from both the supervisor and employee, this is an enormous opportunity to discover new areas to help both the employee and business grow together.

An important aspect to using the appraisal meeting as a jumping off point for development is to keep it completely separate from any compensation related discussions. Performance management training and development discussions should be entirely separate from assessment, promotion or pay discussions.

4. Consider employees preferred learning style.

Development plans need to be individualized for employees, and that means a certain level of sophistication is required. You and your employee need to discuss their preferred learning style to discover which type of activities will help them the most. There is no point sending an employee on an academic-intensive course if they are mostly a “hands-on” learner. You are only setting them up for failure which will demotivate both them and you.

Depending on their learning style you can consider a range of options, including:

  • Traditional “in-person” classroom style courses.
  • Online learning courses.
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Access to specific impact projects for “on-the-job” training.

5. Keep the Plan Flexible to Allow for Changing Roles

If you have a fast-growing company, you may need to allow for an additional level of flexibility in your development plans. Holding employees to development goals that are no longer relevant to their changed role is both pointless and demotivating.

Each time a person’s role changes or when there is significant change in their responsibilities you will need to jointly revisit the performance plan to make sure it is still relevant.

One final note of caution: Don’t overdo it. Try to help your employee focus on just two to three key priorities. This gives them the best chance for success with your business and achieving their own full potential.