Why Employee Development Is The Key To Driving People And Businesses Forward

September 21, 2021
June 26, 2023

Stand still, and you’ll probably get left behind! Whether we’re talking about a single person or a global business, that old adage always rings true – just spare a thought for every 90s kid that had to wave goodbye to Nokia, Blockbuster and Kodak in their heyday form.

Fear not, there’s a tool that can stop your people and organisation from becoming the metaphorical VHS, roll of film or phone with a week-long battery life – it’s employee development!

In a world where work is changing at breakneck speed, the fastest learner wins, and those agile companies who innovate are the ones who come out on top. Developing employees can arm them with the skills needed to drive you all forward, and there are plenty of other benefits en route.

The better questions are what is it? How can I do it? And what’ll happen if I don’t… Let’s answer those now!

What is employee development?

Let’s flip the definition on its head and start with the ultimate outcome of employee development, which is helping the business reach its goals and objectives. In order to get there, you build the required skills – either building on people’s existing talents or upskilling somebody by teaching them a completely new talent.

It isn’t packing people off for a training course once per year! Technically, yes, you are helping that person develop in a sense, but employee growth is far more helpful if it happens over time, continuously and where people already work. Why? Because people can respond to business-specific scenarios, gaining the required knowledge where they can implement it – which also happens to be when they’re most motivated to learn!

The key benefits of employee development and why it matters

So far, we’ve been a little preoccupied with the business and how much they’ll benefit, but employee development is a great way of putting smiles on your people’s faces and encouraging them to stick around.

Get your strategy right, and everyone should be strolling around the office with big beaming grins on their faces, safe in the knowledge that people are growing and your business is going from strength to strength.

Retain top talent by offering a path to progress

According to ClearCompany, 68% of employees believe that training and development is a company’s most important policy. The same research was even more eye-opening when it revealed that 76% of people are openly looking for career development opportunities.

Give the people what they want! 59% of people even stated that they’d had no workplace training or that their skills were self-taught, so think about how happy your people will be and what it’ll do for your employer brand if you’re offering opportunities to progress.

TINYpulse’s research found that “employees who feel they’re progressing in their careers are 20% more likely to still be working at their companies in one year’s time.”

Attract future talent through a reputation for prioritising people’s development

People talk! Maybe it’s bigging up your employer on LinkedIn or letting out anonymous anger in a Glassdoor takedown after a particularly terrible stint at a company, but prospects do seek out independent views on a potential employer.

Now, when someone punches your name into Google or Glassdoor, wouldn’t you prefer if it was accompanied by something like “amazing employer, really invested in my development and helped me progress to a new level.”

Gallup research shows that 59% of millennials say learning and development opportunities are important for them when applying for a job. Meanwhile, only 29% of employees are “very satisfied” with their career growth opportunities available at their current employer. Hopefully, these two statistics hammer home just how important a reputation for providing growth opportunities can be in attracting top-level talent.

Save money on replacing talent and hiring externally

This is a two-part benefit. The first being that if you’re retaining talent, you’re not counting the cost of replacing it! According to Accounts and Legal, SMEs spend around £12,000 replacing each employee on average. If you’re reading this from the US, Employee Benefit News reported that on average it’s around $15,000 or 33% of an employee’s salary. However much it works out, losing good people is always going to hit you in the pocket.

Secondly, we’ve got the idea of promoting from within as opposed to hiring from without. Obviously, the latter comes with what can be eye-wateringly high hiring costs, but what most people overlook is the time to productivity. When someone new comes into the business, it takes them a while to get their head around the product and culture. But when you promote internal talent or upskill them into a role, they’ve already got a wealth of knowledge about the business and their colleagues.

If you haven’t read our HR trends for 2022, we discussed this in a lot more detail. But the gist is that internal mobility has become a very hot topic, 51% of learning and development pros stated that it’s a greater priority in 2021 than it was pre-COVID. The same LinkedIn report revealed that employees at high internal mobility companies stay for twice as long (5.4 years) as their low mobility counterparts (2.4 years).

Develop your next batch of leaders

Great leaders aren’t born, they’re made! Or something like that, because the truth is you will often see people rising through the ranks at companies to enter leadership positions. The trouble is that doesn’t happen at every company, and even those that do might be overlooking potential within their teams.

A greater focus on employee and leadership development will give the mindset needed to assess people’s skills, understand their potential and have the right conversations to recognise who wants to step into management shoes. The next step would be creating pathways that help people progress into their future role.

Your next step, however, should be reading our guide to why leadership development training is the making of your managers (at all levels) – packed full of practical tips for building leadership pathways.

Better performance and productivity in people’s everyday work

If your company spends an average of $1,500 on employee training each year, you’ll average 24% higher profit margins! That’s according to the American Society for Training and Development, who also found that those offering comprehensive training also enjoy 218% higher income per employee than those who don’t.

If we think back to our development definition, this isn’t just a case of picking a $1,500 course and sending somebody off for three days. It’s about investing budget into building skills that make people better at their role (we’ll get to how you can do this shortly), enabling them to become more productive in their daily workflow.

Given that employees are motivated by ongoing progress and learning opportunities, Gallup’s figure that engaged people are 27% more likely to report excellent performance should come as no surprise. And according to GoRemotely “engaged employees are more productive, resulting in a 21% increase in profits.”

Keep employee skills up to date with industry trends

It’s a harsh truth to hear, but your skills don’t last forever! They don’t last anywhere near that long…

So, if you’re not developing new skills and keeping up with the in-demand traits as your role or industry evolves, you might slip behind the pack.

There’s no one categorial timeframe, but our skills can become outdated within 18 short months! Skills generally tend to have a half-life of five years, while with more technical skills you’re looking at half that period.

That’s why you’ll hear so many variations of terms like lifelong, continuous and ongoing learning when you talk to L&D pros with a passion for upskilling. This leads us nicely to…

Close skill gaps and upskill people towards company goals

We’ve spoken about your current skill levels and those needed to get to your goals, what we haven’t discussed is the bit between – your skill gap! Employee development is arguably the strongest weapon in your arsenal when it comes to closing that chasm.

It’s not as cut and dried as this though, you’ve also got to factor in the industry trends and in-demand traits. If you spot the competition are all recruiting people with a certain skill, and it’s something missing in your team, they’re likely to nip ahead in that area.

Once you understand the skills needed for progress, those required to keep pace with change and any your employee is keen to develop, you can build out personalised development pathways that help people build proficiency efficiently.

Learn fast in a world where the fastest learner wins

Be honest, what’s the plan if your competitor is learning faster than you? Most companies don’t have a plan, even though the consequences can be dire – we’re talking client churn, failure to attract new customers and a sorry looking bottom line.

We often find the challenge is that our landscapes are changing fast but our companies are growing faster, meaning it’s hard to find the time for learning. On average, each employee only slows down to learn for 23 minutes each week. The solution is to stop trying to slow them down and help people learn and apply the skills they need in the shortest time, in the flow of work.

Luckily for you, that’s our specialist subject! Our all-in-one learning platform helps fast-growing companies onboard, upskill and nurture their employees faster, everywhere they already work. And we’ll show how we can do that for your company if you complete this short demo form!

Building your employee development plan: four tips for success

Take stock

Of EVERYTHING that’s relevant! Measure as much as you can before you plan, that’s a secret to success. Audit all the existing skills in your company, where are there glaring weaknesses that you need to tighten up? That might mean comparing talent to industry trends or your competition, but it will almost certainly mean taking another look at your goals.

What current processes and technology do you have in place? Ask honest questions like do people use them, are they effective, in which ways are they effective, and where do people find them difficult or counterproductive?

It’s worth taking a look at people in a more general and soft skill sense too! Those can be equally important when it comes to upskilling, whether that’s finding future leaders or people with the right traits to lead projects or become buddies – this will also become part of your development plan.

Think about the future of your people and company

If your goals are the destination, developing skills is the journey that takes you there! If your company’s goal is to launch five new products over the next five years, you better believe that it’s only possible if you’ve got the right skills. The same applies to people’s personal goals and how they’ll arrive at those while they’re at your company.

The simple solution is to speak with people, about both points! Asking them for input on the direction of the business not only engages them and shows you value their opinion, but it also opens the door to discussions on their role in reaching those goals. Speaking with employees about their personal development shows you’re interested in helping them progress and plants the seed that your organisation is a place where they can reach their goals.

Create custom development pathways

People might have been burnt before, where they’ve had those conversations only for words to speak a lot louder than any actions. A personalised development plan is your way of showing you mean business! People are different, so are their personal goals and how they’ll contribute to the company’s success.

So why would a one-size approach help? It wouldn’t! A great learning pathway has a set of specific and actionable steps, resources and courses that apply to each person, taking them from where they are today to where they need to be tomorrow, in a month or a year from now.

Measure and adjust

Almost every journey takes a little tweaking, no matter how well you’ve planned the route! You might find that a certain person’s pathway requires some course correction, maybe the company goals shift slightly, and learning also needs to, or you might discover that certain tech or types of content just don’t click.

But the honest truth is that you won’t find any of this unless you’re engaging in ongoing measurement. Review what works, understand where progress slows, speak to people about their development and decide which changes you need to make if you’re going to reach collective goals.

Tools and techniques for employee development

What works for some doesn’t work for others, which is why it’s important to have plenty of employee development weapons in your arsenal. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones that might help your people thrive and grow.

Mentoring and coaching

If someone wants to learn a skill or build experience in one area, and someone else has already ticked all those boxes, it makes sense to pair them together, right? Mentoring and peer learning are particularly helpful when colleagues can share relevant on the job experience that directly relates to your business – harness the power of mentoring and coaching and watch your people go!


A little like the above, but it’s more a case of watching others as they complete tasks rather than them simply sharing the wisdom of how they did it! Shadowing someone as they work allows you to understand the methodology better and ask questions in real time, it’ll also enable you to build relationships with influential colleagues.

Practice projects and simulations

Some people crack under pressure, while others thrive. It’s important that you’re catering to both! Deep-end thrivers will love on the job experience, others can really benefit from practice scenarios and simulations that mimic the real thing. If they’re client-facing, set up mock customer calls or pitches within your learning platform – record those and review them together to help people hone their skills.

Social learning and knowledge sharing

Some of our tips have hinted at it but not from a cultural perspective. By fostering an environment where everyone is encouraged to and is openly sharing their knowledge and experiences, you’re breaking their talents out of silos. After all, how is someone going to learn from a colleague if you’re not even sure who’s skilled and knowledgeable in which areas?

At HowNow, we created the Nugget – a way for anyone to share knowledge and resources at any time! Those Nuggets are then stored in one central location at the end of a single search, meaning people can learn from each other independently and in a self-directed sense, outside of your formal plan.

Group learning workshops

Ok, so we’ll need to go back on something we said earlier, and that’s around people not always needing to learn the same things – sometimes they do! Perhaps you recognise the entire sales team need training on a certain methodology, or the customer service gang require a certain soft skill in order to reach a satisfaction goal, this is where group learning can be a huge asset.

If people are working on the same project, they can share experiences, offer feedback and improve their critical thinking. They’ll gain a better understanding of their teammates while building communication skills, all while helping understand and foster a culture for collaboration.

Self-directed learning

Some people like structure, others are free spirits, but no matter what, it’s likely that they’ll follow their own curiosity on their employee development pathway. Let’s face it, you can add some really comprehensive content on a topic but once they’ve read it, their thirst for knowledge might not have been quenched. And so they’ll head to the fountains of knowledge that are search engines, blogs, content libraries and social media.

The biggest benefit you can offer is bringing all of this into one place, so that they can discover third-party content in the same place as all your internal resources. In HowNow, we make all your internal knowledge, content libraries and third-party content available at the end of a single search. We’re driving employee development and cutting down the time spent searching for information, and we’d love to show you how! Just complete this short demo form, it’ll only take a minute (if that).

Check out our other people development resources