Build A People Development Strategy That ACTUALLY Develops People

Your people are your greatest asset… a lot of those cheesy workplace sayings are pretty hollow, but this one is full of truth! Motivation influences someone’s investment in the company, their skill levels impact their productivity, and how invested you are in their development affects both!

But building a people development team and strategy is rarely easy! There’s no one-size approach you can use. Instead, we’ll talk you through the frameworks, benefits and processes needed to build great strategies that have an even greater impact on your people.

Defining people development: what is it and why it matters?

What is people development?

The ultimate win-win, that’s what it is! We’ll spare you the dictionary definition because people development is too exciting for some formulaic explanation. It’s a way for you to build the skills needed to achieve your company’s goals and help people develop all at once – ensuring that everyone is pulling and progressing in the right direction.

Now, you might be wondering if it’s simply a rebrand of employee development – the answer is no. People development is a fairly new term, and its rise to popularity actually helps us understand how it’s different.

Searches for people development surged around the middle of 2020 when it became abundantly clear that we needed to support people personally as well as professionally. They were no longer just employees and their development couldn’t simply be an offshoot of HR – it needed a dedicated approach with dedicated people.

The truth is that a lot of companies had stopped viewing them that way a long time ago, but it either woke the dinosaurs who were lagging behind or brought the personal aspects into sharper focus.

Employee development had been about tick-box training, one-size approaches and what management felt mattered for too long. People development allows us to think more in terms of personalised and ongoing development, building skills and creating long-term cogs in the long-term goals of our machine.

Are people and talent development different?

Reading about people and talent development normally means a quick game of spot the difference. It really won’t last long! There’s only one key variance between the two. Talent development conversations often include talk of attracting the best talent for your roles, while that step is normally left off the people development responsibility list.

After the point of identifying the right people and getting them through the company’s doors, the process is largely the same. Once they’re an employee, the goal is to make them productive, happy and engaged so that they stick around and help you smash your targets.

In an era of people-centric cultures, take a people-centred development approach

But maybe people-centered development was simply the next logical step? Culturally, people have become the focus for plenty of organisations over the past few years. However, the jury remained out on which people stood to benefit.

In 2018, the Cranfield School of Management published a study titled ‘Culture by design’. This analysed “the role of culture in customer centricity”, which essentially focused on how a change of culture can translate to better customer experiences in a digital age where end users expect more. The narrative centred on “how culture can be designed to enable a system that creates superior value for customers” and the role of connecting people to purpose for that means.

But when the purpose pendulum swings too far towards customers, the people at the other end are unlikely to feel valued. That’s why people development plays such an important role in culture! It balances out ‘we need to do X, Y and Z to build better customer experiences’ by ensuring personal development feels like it’s on fairly equal footing.

When the values and mission are reflected in people’s development goals and the skills they need to support them, they not only understand the next set of objectives but know what their role is in achieving them. Here are a few statistics that support this idea:

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The importance of developing people’s capabilities and skills

For too long, training was all about ticking boxes! It seemed like the goal was for leaders to be able to say yes whenever they were asked if they’d invested in employee development. People were sent off to yearly in-person training sessions or signed up to online courses without a second thought to their goals or purpose in the company mission.

It’s a shame because that’s no good for learners, leaders or those in charge of the finances! That model is really based around the concept of learning being disconnected from where we work, something people go away and do once per year at an often considerable cost.

But people will thrive if they’re learning things that make them better at their job, their managers will perform better if those activities are connected to the company goals, and everyone wins if they reach them.

People are craving opportunities to learn

According to LinkedIn, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn. While 68% say that training and development is the company’s most important policy!

These stats tell us that the quality of development opportunities matters, and it’s not simply enough to offer ‘annual training budgets’ or ‘comprehensive learning opportunities’.

The sense that you’ve learnt something really comes from applying it in practice, but traditional training is rarely built around where attendees will apply that knowledge. And if people are only learning once each year, who knows how long it would take for the opportunity to arise?

Enter your ongoing people development strategy, providing people with small doses of learning that they can apply in their daily workflow (more on all of this later).

Companies need to build skills that make their goals achievable

Nothing lasts forever, especially our skills, and especially not at the speed with which the world of work changes! Skills typically have a ‘half-life’ of about five years, which is halved for more technical skills – meaning that if we don’t keep up, we’ll get left behind by the competition!

Like skills, our goals aren’t fixed either – they grow and evolve over time. But most companies miss a trick by either not connecting their people development with the company goals or not tweaking their strategy as those change. When we establish our organisational objectives, we need to audit our skills and understand where the gaps to achieving them exist. The role of people development should be to give people those talents so everyone can play their part in that success.

We also have to consider that people leaving the business alters both our goals and skills, so people development has a crucial role when it comes to succession planning and business continuity.

Measuring what matters and changing our development mindset

How do you know if you’ve successfully developed someone’s capabilities? This is really the final nail in the tick-box coffin, but that yes or no answer doesn’t help us understand if an employee has progressed.

In HowNow, we empower people to measure skill proficiency through self- and peer-review, meaning we can get a better handle on learning’s impact on progress! Combine that with their performance metrics in the role and you really understand how they’re developing. For example, if a customer success rep improves their crisis management skills through learning and their feedback scores go up, you can chalk that up as meaningful impact from people development.

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Why are talent and people development so crucial? Five key benefits

If you’re not yet convinced that people development is the right approach, perhaps reading about the key benefits and crucial reasons behind it might help!

Acquiring talent in a competitive landscape

If there are two things we know about people, it’s that 68% believe development is a company’s most important policy and that they talk. Add the two together, and your reputation for people development is suddenly the difference between hundreds of applications from top talent and inbox crickets.

When we say people talk, we mean in both the literal sense and the spilling the tea online sense. Glassdoor has become such a pre-application powerhouse that 70% of people look to its reviews before making a career decision, while 84% of job seekers say a company’s reputation matters – so we better hope those Glassdoor reviews are glowing. If people don’t go there, they’ll probably ask someone they know – 32% of people revealed hearing about jobs from friends was their preferred method.

Two final statistics, both from Glassdoor, show us the sort of thing people are looking for when they’re scoping out potential new roles. 34% state that whether they can grow in the company helps them assess long-term potential, while for 33%, it was whether there was a track record of promoting from within.

Build an impressive employer brand, and they won’t necessarily come, but your commitment to personal development certainly means you’ll stand a better chance of catching their eye!

Retaining and developing internal talent and people in the workplace

The good news about people’s openness is that it stops employer brand catfishing, where job descriptions promise you the people development world and you’re lucky to get a book within the first six months. That was the case in a lot of companies for a long time, but when people realised the progression emperor had no clothes, that normally meant they’d head somewhere where the development code was more smart and less casual.

A clear path to progress, however, means people are more likely to stick around! TINYpulse research shows that employees who feel they’re moving forward in their career are 20% more likely to be at their companies in a year.

We already mentioned the value of connecting L&D goals to purpose in achieving company goals, but that’ll also help you retain your best people. Employees who feel they’re working towards a greater purpose are 27% more likely to hang around. If we feel like we’re contributing to the company’s success, that truly offers us a sense of belonging and value! A Gallup study found that people who are “engaged and thriving” at work are 59% less likely to look for a new role at a new company in the next year.

The rewards of a positive people development strategy far exceed the risks caused by people leaving, which include costs of recruiting, loss of productivity, the impact on your reputation and a negative influence on the company culture.

Five benefits of people development

Higher employee performance and productivity

If people are gaining knowledge and learning new skills related to their role, they’re likely to become more proficient and productive at it! Even if we take basic training in its traditional form, “a one percentage point increase in training is associated with about a 0.6% increase in productivity”, according to The Institute For Fiscal Studies.

So you can imagine the influence learning and development has when it’s specific to the employee or company, happens on a more regular basis and is embedded into our personal daily workflows.

Transforming us into more adaptable and agile organisations

The caveat to this is that we have to get it right, of course. If our people development strategy syncs up with the company goals, is driving action on an ongoing basis and we’re personalising it for each employee, we’re able to build the necessary skills in the necessary moments. And having this approach means we’re more able to respond to trends and changes in our industry.

If we take a one-size fits all approach, that’s not going to empower us to change quickly. However, if a skills gap emerges that can be plugged by one person, we can build a tailored learning pathway that takes them to proficiency. If something drastically changes in the way our target audience makes purchase decisions, building resources and courses for the sales teams allows us to respond as that change happens. And it means we can populate it with information that’s specific to our company now, rather than booking in a training course for six months down the line.

Building career paths and opportunities for progression

We won’t regurgitate the numbers again, but people are ambitious and want to feel like they’re going somewhere in your company and their career. The role of their dreams might seem like a distant point far, far away, but offering well-structured development helps them see the route on the career map! It’s ongoing development they’re after, not necessarily a quick fix or loads of training all at once.

People development can also help them build the traits and talents needed to step into more senior or even completely different roles, which is why it’s so often a vital tool in succession planning.

Again, this is a double-edged benefit sword, given that those internal promotions mean people with an in-depth understanding of the business are stepping into crucial roles. Hiring externally comes at not only a financial cost, but a productivity and time cost as that person takes the time needed to get up to speed.

What’s on the people development plate? Roles and responsibilities

A people development manager’s role is really to connect all the progress dots. They’re responsible for understanding the company goals and translating those into skill requirements, but they also need to marry that up with an employee’s personal progress and career plans.

The clue really is in the name, they need to manage people, but they’re also responsible for development on a number of fronts. Which means they require a set of fairly specific skills to do it well.

Which skills does people development require and which talents do talent developers need?


Whether it’s HR tools, learning platforms or the systems their people use every day, a people development manager needs the technology chops to understand how it all works together. What does the right stack for your people look like? Delivering value often means finding the right tools but also getting the most value from them, which means providing seamless experiences through slick solutions.

Great leadership and communication skills

Messaging is everything, or at least it’s the most important thing in most conversations. How well we convey ideas often informs how receptive people are to them!
A people development manager is likely to have more of these clutch conversations because they’re managing in all directions. They need to get strategy buy-in from senior leaders, convince managers on the same level that it’ll offer value and spark development excitement among their future learners.

Proactivity and reactivity

People development managers must often feel like they’re looking into a crystal ball, trying to predict the future of their company. Not only do they need to anticipate future change and best prepare their strategy for that eventuality, they also need to react when complete curveballs come out of left field.

A good people developer is able to build a strategy around what’s likely to happen AND amend their best made plans in the worst possible situations.

Strategic prowess and the ability to plan

Anyone can plan a strategy, right? Open a spreadsheet, pop in some dates – job done. Wrong. Very wrong! Strategic planning is a skill in its own right, it’s about translating a wide vision into smaller and achievable goals over a realistic time period. For people development managers, they also have to juggle plates like product launches, busy periods for individual employees, daily workloads and a whole lot more.

A good understanding of content production

Nobody expects you to be a graphic designer or video editor, but people development managers need to be able to translate key information into engaging and understandable formats. Especially when it comes to creating business-specific internal resources! Or, it’s a skill they’ll need to add to their team at least.

An eye for data detail and an analytical mindset

If you’re going to prove your strategy’s success, you’ll need to delve into the numbers. Reporting on skill development and influence on business performance will help you make a stronger case for return on investment. But that’s not all you’ll need data for, it’ll help you refine your strategy, understand how people are engaging with your content and spot when people might be struggling or soaring.

Budgeting powers

Those aren’t the only numbers they need to be good with, people development leaders need to ensure they’re getting the most out of the budget. From software to resources and training courses, there’s plenty of ways to loosen the purse strings – a good people development manager gets the best value from those.

What makes a good people development manager?

In any management role, you need the right skills, but you’ve also got to have the right personality traits. Who wants a manager who’s great on paper but about as interesting as a sheet of A4?

We’ve already mentioned how many different relationships a people development manager is juggling! So, more than anyone, they’ve got to have the personality, personal touches and gift of the gab to get people on side!

They’re approachable and offer the human touch

When you feel like people are genuinely interested in your progress and wellbeing, you build a better bond – but it has to feel genuine! Brilliant people development managers are open, they listen, they’re flexible when it comes to the approach and they’re honest.

They understand and identify training needs

The process never stops! Good people development managers recognise that when the strategy is in place, their job isn’t done. They spot changes to the way we work and how we need to approach our goals, conducting learning needs analyses on an ongoing basis to provide the right solutions.

They recognise and encourage potential

People value progress, they want to develop in your company! For a people development manager, their part of the puzzle is spotting potential and putting that person on a pathway to progress. Whether it’s the time, monetary or productivity costs, you simply can’t fill every position with external applicants. That’s why we need to spot those capable of stepping into new shoes and making sure they fit it like Cinderella leaving the ball.

What makes a good people development manager

They recognise success and provide feedback when things don’t go to plan

We all love a pat on the back, but most of us recognise that critical feedback is what helps us develop most. The people development manager has to find a balance between the two. If it’s all smiles, then we might not reflect enough to grow, but all frowns means we’re not giving the recognition that motivates people.

They’re open to upward feedback too

According to TINYpulse, “employees that don’t feel comfortable giving upward feedback are 16% less likely to stay at their companies” – highlighting just how important it is for feedback to be a two-way street.

They lead by example

Don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, especially if you’re encouraging people to learn or grow. When it comes to learning, most people cite time as their biggest barrier – but when busy people are finding the minutes and hours to do it, there’s almost that no excuse situation. By engaging in development activities yourself, you’re always pitching in and going through the same process as the people you’re leading.

They involve the rest of the team

It’s a similar point to the one above, but it’s crucial that people feel involved in the decision-making process and that their voice is being heard! If it feels like a team effort, then you’ll shape that bond and collaborative culture that enables people development to flourish.

Good relationships and the ability to manage up and down

Good relationships can make or break any manager, but as we mentioned, people development means managing in all directions. Understanding motivations and pain points can help you pitch development as a potential solution and set strong foundations for fruitful relationships. From the employee to department managers and all the way to the top, effective development managers build all the right bridges.

Talent development in the HR function and as standalone teams

In so many businesses, the responsibility for people development falls within the human resources team. The trouble is that HR professionals are spinning a lot of plates, and their priorities aren’t necessarily aligned with the people development goals we’ve discussed so far.

For example, HR will typically be more interested in short-term training, ensuring compliance or updated forms and offering generic training across the company. People development takes a long-term view of progress, is more concerned with the impact of learning and personalising it for the individual employee.

Besides, HR has to deal with issues like payroll, benefits and employee issues, meaning it simply doesn’t have the time to dedicate to a learning and development strategy. This is why many companies are moving to dedicated L&D or people development departments.

However, the relationship between HR and L&D is still a crucial one for success, meaning there needs to be openness and collaboration.

When it comes to the workplace awards season, it’s pretty easy for HR to make a clean sweep while L&D’s role as best supporting function gets overlooked. In a lot of businesses, the L&D team either sits under the human resources umbrella or it doesn’t even exist, leaving HR to plough ahead alone. In others, HR and L&D are completely separate, they barely communicate despite the fact they’ll often work towards the same goals or projects.

Why does this even matter? Well, L&D and HR often get used and treated as if they’re interchangeable, but they each have their own skills, specialisms and specific goals. And if they’re to work together in harmony, it’s important to understand all of this…

The skillset of an L&D professional

Just because you’re great at tennis, it doesn’t mean you’ll start smashing out home runs if you step onto a baseball field. Sure, there might be a little transfer from the hand-eye coordination and the general gist of hitting a ball, but they’re vastly different disciplines.

And it’s a common trap people fall into when it comes to HR and L&D. Sure, they’re both involved in onboarding and training, but while an HR expert would be skilled in finding and retaining talent, the L&D pro gives them the tools to perform their role more effectively. This involves being able to spot learning or skill gaps, crafting the right courses and content, and executing the strategy that helps close them. It’s not a glove that an HR professional can easily slip on…

That’s not to say someone in L&D’s digits would be any more dainty if they tried to step into managing payroll, employee records or the benefits program. In a long-winded way (filled with hand-heavy analogies apparently), this is your reminder that HR function and L&D team work towards the same goal of people development, but their roles and responsibilities can differ greatly.

What about the small teams where one person does it all?

That’s a fair question! When an employee sits somewhere between L&D and HR, they’ll need to think like both sides of the aisle at different times but they’ll still encounter similar issues. It’s more a case of working out where their time is best spent and the skills they lack.

If they’re from a traditional HR background, they might choose to manage payroll internally but outsource all their learning content to a third party. After a while, they might realise that their overall business goals would be better supported by more personalised learning that’s produced in-house. They need to be pragmatic when it comes to which hat they wear and where they spend more of their time.

What happens when HR exists without L&D?

It’s no wonder that people talk about skills like a currency and valuable commodity because there’s often a supply and demand dilemma. The availability of skills is a concern for a lot of business leaders. HR is great at finding new people to bring in those skills, but they’re not necessarily experts when it comes to helping existing employees develop the required talents.

You’ll notice this in companies that follow the traditional model. Without dedicated L&D staff, HR probably manage the logistics of any course you agree you’ll attend with your manager. Those tried and trusted methods are exactly why learning innovation is key. When new skills are needed it’s L&D’s time to shine! To find learning solutions that offer more than a top-down LMS, to upskill rather than always hiring, to work out how people best learn and help deliver that.

Should they exist as separate departments?

Something that can frustrate L&D teams is when they exist in or are perceived as an HR function. Although they have those shared goals, this can create a situation where HR is the middleman between the L&D team and those leading the business. That makes it more difficult to understand the wider goals, the challenges of reaching them and where L&D plays its part. Otherwise, planning and goal setting is constantly filtered through the HR department.

It’s more about both aspects being perceived as equals, and L&D being seen as a partner rather than an order taker. People development works best when the two work together, to achieve those employee satisfaction, development and ROI goals. But they need the space to set their own goals and objectives, otherwise, it’s much harder to understand the value and impact of either. But with L&D often viewed as the younger sibling, it’s an issue that affects that team more commonly.

Becoming profit centres

It’s not just goals they share, it’s challenges too! Most notably that they’re both often viewed as cost centres, not value or profit centres. That’s one of the key reasons they should have the capability to speak with leaders independently. To understand the wider goals, so they can ask the right questions and understand how they’ll align with those objectives.

If the goal is to become a partner, it’s important that either department presents how they’ll support various projects and goals, but more importantly, to outline how they’ll measure that ahead of time. Clear plans, clear goals and a clear view of L&D and HR’s impact on the bottom line.

Communication and collaboration between HR and L&D

Don’t things just run so much better when we speak often and transparently? Most of us have been in a situation where we end up working on the same thing as someone else without realising or talking to each other. That’s an incredibly unproductive and ineffective situation you want to avoid when it comes to HR and L&D.

If your HR department is carrying out annual or quarterly reviews, those findings are invaluable for L&D teams when it comes to developing a learning and development strategy, courses and content. When the L&D team measures the skill gap or gains insights around employee aspirations through learning, those would be a big help to HR colleagues and the business leaders. There’s countless examples like this, where each department can scratch each other’s back!

It’s a similar situation when it comes to data! Your HR system needs to speak with your learning platform because that’s how you create a more rounded and insightful picture of employees based on data. Imagine there’s a course that has to be completed six months after you join the company, having that juicy HR data around start dates helps you automate all of that in your learning platform.

How can you find the right learning platform that integrates with your HR system and other tech? By checking out this guide to building a HR tech stack!

9 tools for a winning HR tech stack

Understanding HR’s relationship with L&D: Collaboration, differences and skillsets

Aug 11
5 min read

Valuable lessons from effective people leaders

Link promotions to development success: Jo Rapley, People and Culture Manager, BPS World

Have you considered linking your people development and career development programs? That’s the approach BPS World have taken. Their People and Culture Manager, Jo Rapley, revealed this technique in an interview with Find Courses.

“Every employee has a Personal Development Plan (PDP) which links closely to our ‘Stars’ career development programme.  In order to receive a promotion, individuals have to achieve two consecutive sets of quarterly objectives.  This year alone, 42% of our employees have been promoted.”

However, the question here is whether they make exceptions and if they don’t, what impact does that have on morale. If someone misses their second quarter goals by a whisker, does that mean they’d have to wait another six months for a shot at promotion? Connecting the two might be a good idea, but with such rigidity, it might damage your culture…

Become a strategic consultant: Lorna Gamman, Head of L&D for Krispy Kreme UK

For Lorna Gamman, people development and L&D leaders need to think critically and challenge requests that come their way. Krispy Kreme UK’s Head of L&D explained how we need to adopt a consultancy role and get to the root causes of problems in order to offer the best solutions. On the Making Business Matter podcast she explained that:

“…if we can become the strategic consultant within the business, then you can be an amazing service provider. I think the risk that you always have is if you’re perceived as just an internal service provider, you get a department shopping list of training, and you just go off and deliver that.

“Whereas for me, that role of L&D is to really challenge the business in terms of where they’re going, where they want to be, and how L&D can help them get there as opposed to be the order taker. I think there’s a real opportunity to start to ask the why and delve into that to make sure that you’re going off the things that really make a difference.”

Build your own learning network: Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning CIPD

“Having a personal learning network is vital!”, especially given that people development is an industry that’s continuously evolving and growing. Andy Lancaster, CIPD’s Head of Learning, explained why learning from others has been so valuable in an interview with Framework Training.

“I’m now in a position where my responsibilities demand that I embrace diverse aspects of learning — and that simply wouldn’t be possible without being plugged into a wider community of practice.

“For me, inspirational learning peers are the lifeblood of innovative ideas; and being connected with them is key to remaining at the cutting edge of professional practice. I believe that, in our fast-changing world, to stay innovative now is not only a matter of what you know, but who you know.

“For me, a vibrant online learning network is vital. I rely on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to gain insights into latest thinking and to connect with those who are shaping future-focused practice.”

Collect feedback, be transparent: Elena Leon, Head of People and Talent, Klang Games

The people department has a tricky job on its hands when a company is moving from startup to scaleup, something Elena Leon acknowledged as she explained her experience since joining Klang Games. Their Head of People also discussed the importance of openness, transparency and feedback in shaping people processes.

“The focus last year was on creating basic structures, more automated and scalable processes. A few examples are payroll, on- and off-boardings, probationary period feedback, relocation. As the company and the People team continues growing, we are currently working on improving our workplace and the support provided to employees and managers, continuous feedback (360 and engagement surveys).

“We are also looking forward to having more efficient and transparent hiring processes and collecting data on how the new processes and initiatives are improving the Employee Experience.”

Understand the business and its culture: Clare Mullen, Talent and People Professional

What makes people & talent different for startups? That’s the question The Path Forward put to Clare Mullen in a recent interview. She flagged the understanding of the business as a key difference, which is a great reminder of why it’s so crucial that we’re connected to what the company does and where it’s going.

I think in larger organisations, the function is too far removed from the coal face of the business, and the Talent/People team don’t ever get a full understanding of the organisation. So when there’s a problem, it’s much much harder to get to the bottom of it.

“In startups, the Talent or People role has a much wider remit. You have to guide and coach and educate the execs as much as those in the broader team. My role is so much more in their day to day life — and even their personal life.”

Dealing with loneliness: Michelle Winstone, Head of People and Development at Farrow & Ball

Michelle was coming at this with a HR-style perspective, but the point still stands – people development managers often deal with many personal issues they can’t discuss with others, which can lead to loneliness. Finding a way to talk about this without compromising sensitive information is a skill that needs to be developed.

“I suppose one challenge is feeling a little isolated, because of the nature of dealing with so many confidential issues. I’m not able to discuss my work with anybody as you would in any other role. This is particularly hard when you’re aware of how your actions will be affecting people’s lives. Confidentiality is part of the role so absolutely, it must be respected, but sometimes it can feel a little lonely.”

Building an effective people development team

Great teams grow from humble beginnings! So while you might be a one-person people development band right now, you’ll hopefully start building out a team as your company grows. Or maybe you’re already in that process and need a helping hand in the assembly of your very own A-Team!

We spoke with Ross Stevenson, Senior Learning & Talent Development Manager and Founder of Steal These Thoughts, about the makeup of a modern L&D team – and many of the same principles apply here.

The first tip would be to think in terms of the skills you need, rather than the job roles or titles. Ross explained that the modern L&D or people development team needs the following three talents:

  • Content curators: People with an eye for finding great content that’s already out there, saving you time and giving you space to create those highly-specific resources.
  • Learning architects: Those with a fair understanding of all things people development and the ability to create frameworks for others to use. Whether that’s finding and structuring technology or understanding the requirements of your audience.
  • Communications and engagement experts: Teammates with the gift of the gab and ability to translate what you’re doing into clear messaging that conveys value to individuals or groups within your company.

However, when we’re thinking about the big picture of developing employees, there’s a few other traits and talents that’ll come in handy! Starting with…

Data savvy people and great analysts

Great strategies are built on the insights we gain from data or it’s at least one of the key building blocks. We need to understand which development tools people are using and are helping them grow, and numbers are a great indicator of where we’re having an impact. Translating those insights to improvements in our approach requires a critical and analytical mind and skill set.

Consultancy capabilities

When we’re trying to provide solutions, we have to ask the right questions! If people come to you and ask for development opportunities, it’s crucial to diagnose why they’re at your door and what they’d like to achieve – then you can prescribe the appropriate solutions through your strategy.

Learning and content designers

Even if you’re curating the majority of development content, you’ll still need the ability to craft resources for topics not covered by third parties. That’s learning design in one sense, but you’ll also need the ability to build development pathways and journeys that work for your people. The structure and process can play a huge role in whether people stick with and benefit from it.

Motivated stakeholders

There are two ways to think about building your team. One, you have the people who are officially in your department and have some kind of people development title. Two, all the people across the business who you’ll need on board and can make or break your mission.

If department managers don’t buy in, will you be able to help their charges supercharge their development? Will a senior leader leading by example encourage involvement from others? These are the considerations you’ll need to make.

People development strategies and talent development plans

How to approach and structure your winning people development plan

Understand your organisation’s learning maturity

Self-awareness is key to succeeding at almost anything in life! Recognising how much experience and knowledge we have in a particular area gives us all the important context to set ourselves up for triumph.

The learning and development function is no different! Josh Bersin has created a four-level model for L&D maturity, which should help you gain this all important context. Here it is with a brief explanation of what each stage means.

Bersin Maturity Model
  • Level 1 – Incidental training: Typically happens when a new employee joins and someone shows them how to do their job, training them in an informal way that happens throughout the day. It is incredibly useful but is often “inconsistent, expensive, and unproductive”, so growing companies soon realise they need a scalable solution.
  • Level 2 – Training & Development Excellence: You’ve put together a team of L&D professionals who build the programs and infrastructure to deliver training in a formalised way. It might start with formal training and evolve to something more continuous, including tools like on-demand learning and embedded learning tools.
  • Level 3 – Talent and Performance Improvement: There’s a realisation that learning should be aligned to someone’s role, and training becomes part of or built around their career development.
  • Level 4 – Organizational Capability Development: Focus shifts to understanding how the organisation operates as a whole and figuring out the daily habits and needs of employees. L&D act as performance consultants to help improve their output through different learning techniques.

Carry out a skills audit and learning needs analysis

If your people development plan is going to make people better at their jobs and drive the company forward, you need to know which skills are needed and how close you are to having those in your ranks.

This is part of a wider L&D mindset shift to move away from ticking boxes that tell you training’s been completed to building skills and knowledge that have an impact on someone’s performance.

A learning needs analysis will help you build a strategy that does just that, and we’ve created a step-by-step guide that walks you through it!

Learning needs analysis  a step by step guide 1

In a nutshell, the process means identifying which skills will be needed to reach the company’s goals and auditing the current skills to understand the gap between the two. Your people development strategy can make a huge splash by closing that gap through learning, especially if you take that crucial fifth step of measuring and reporting on the performance impact.

Speak to your people and understand their aspirations

We already know that people value ongoing development opportunities, and if they’re engaged in that way, they’re more likely to stick around. A good people development strategy incorporates their career aspirations into the journey of reaching the organisational goals and creating a sense of personal and professional progress.

According to Right Management, “82 per cent of respondents said they would be more engaged in their work if their managers would have regular career conversations with them.” and yet only 16% stated their managers are having regular chats about their progression.

The other part of the puzzle is that learning isn’t a blanket exercise you roll out to everyone, one size does not fit all when it comes to people development! Speaking with people not only helps you understand their personal career goals but how they like to learn. This intel is vital in creating personalised learning pathways that drive impact for all parties.

And really, when it’s your development on the table, we’d all prefer to have a seat at it!

Understand your team’s bandwidth: aim high but keep it realistic

There’s always a temptation to do more! Or a misconception that if we’re going to be seen as having an impact, we need to create visibility by continually giving people new knowledge and training.

The trouble is that people development and L&D teams have limited bandwidth, there’s only a handful of you delivering learning to the entire company. Having that self awareness should hopefully steer you towards doing fewer things that have more impact!

As Bob Mosher explains, we need to move away from this idea of giving people new and more information by moving towards an apply-first mindset. What do people need in their moments of need to improve performance and overcome obstacles at work? This is the mindset that’ll help you drive impact and make the most of your resources.

Build out your development pathways

By this point, you’ll know both your company’s and people’s goals, have a strong understanding of your limitations and organisational maturity and understand the skills gaps that need to be closed. Essentially, you’ve got the foundation to build a company-wide people development strategy and those personalised pathways for individual employees.

The big question is how and where are you going to do all of this? If you’ve got no learning technology in place right now, you’ll need to start the search for a tool that helps you do this! If you’re using a limited learning management system, you should consider switching to a learning platform that gives you the flexibility to do everything we’ve discussed so far.

Why HowNow is the platform you need to super-power people development

If you’re not learning fast enough, you’re getting left behind! Whether that’s by your industry’s evolution or how fast your company’s growing, learning needs to be agile, scalable and personal.

So, you need a tool that helps your people learn and apply the skills they need in the shortest time. It also needs to help you measure skill proficiency, gain insights into the impact of your people development plans and embed learning into the daily workflow.

We’ll help you do all of that and much more in HowNow! Fill in this short form, and one of our friendly experts will reach out to discuss your people development needs.

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How to measure your people development plan's success

Impact is what you define it as, and a mistake people make far too often is not defining what success looks like before they build and roll out their strategy. By following the process we’ve laid out, you’ll be building your strategy in alignment with the company’s goals and it becomes much easier to understand whether you’re having impact.

However, it’s still crucial that you establish and differentiate what success means for your people development department and at that company level. The other consideration should be your stakeholders and the people you need to prove impact to. What will they consider to be people development success, and how can you report that to them?

Avoid the temptation to think of impact and success solely in terms of your people development department. Company success and the perceptions of your stakeholders play a huge role in whether you’re viewed as impactful and it should be in your thinking from the start.

Approaching stakeholders and encouraging them to buy in

People development strategies work when they’re not just a people development responsibility. For our plans to be successful, we need the learners to buy in, managers to understand the benefits and senior leaders to help us lead by example. If they’re convinced that it will help them achieve their goals, they’ll become advocates for what we’re doing and help us make it a success.

The better question is how and when to involve these people so that they feel like key stakeholders and not after thoughts. The answer is probably early and often! As we’re shaping our strategy, we need to consult with stakeholders and understand their goals and challenges. We can use them as a sounding board as we build it out and use their insights to refine our approach over time.

Ways to drive people and talent development

In case you hadn’t realised by now, people development’s not a one and done, one-size-fits-all approach! Some people might love teaming up with a mentor or coach, but others might prefer to learn on their own terms – spare a thought for all the introverts and non-morning people in your teams.

It’s like that famous saying, “Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods” – there’s more than one way to reach your objectives, and your job is to work out the best approach for each individual.

Here are some of the tools you should have in your people development arsenal.

Personal employee development and self-directed learning

Autonomy is a wonderful thing, in all aspects of life! Taking control of our decisions, having a sense of direction – it provides a sense of purpose and a feeling that we’re the masters of our own destiny. The workplace is no different, as Daniel Wheatley, reader in business and labour economics at the University of Birmingham, recently explained in an article about autonomy in a hybrid-working world.

“If we have control over our lives and what we do during our lives, that gives us a greater sense of wellness, because we can decide what to do when and what works for us,” he says. “It gives us mastery over our environment, and a feeling like we’re not subject to others; we’re the decision-maker.

“People feel like they can achieve more in a working day when they have control over their schedule and how they go about their job.”

In terms of development, that removes the friction and barriers that might normally prevent people from undertaking learning opportunities. It allows them to follow their curiosity down the rabbit hole, which could well give you valuable insights into how people learn. Self-directed learning also empowers people to decide where they learn and in which moments, meaning they can do it when they’re most motivated or able to concentrate.

Give people space but don’t leave them without structure. It’s good that you offer people freedom, but there still needs to be goals around learning and measurable outcomes to be reached. Think of your role as that of a facilitator in these scenarios, someone who helps them identify needs, focus on the goals and measure the outcomes – you’re the one who can keep them on track.
Pick the right platform. People can’t learn at their own pace if they can’t search for knowledge on their own terms, they’ll also struggle if resources are scattered all over the place. Find a learning platform that brings all your knowledge into one place so that everyone can find it whenever they need it.

Building a learning culture

If our environment is somewhere that’s built around the idea of learning, it’s more likely to happen. So, if your company values, culture, ways of working and best practices incorporate the idea that people development is important, you’re increasing the likelihood that people will learn.

Essentially, you’re giving your team superpowers! When learning’s happening more regularly, we become more knowledgeable, efficient and productive. Naturally, we become better at our roles too. If we’re encouraging people to share knowledge, we’re also building a development culture that’s driven by subject matter experts and tapping into internal knowledge.

Leading by example is a great way to instil a learning culture. Normally, employees might find that time’s a barrier to learning or perhaps there might be resistance to change, but when people at the top are finding time and embracing change, they’re likely to be more receptive.

56% of employees struggle to find resources and documents while working remotely.

And when they’re scattered in multiple places, knowledge isn’t being captured and the norm is to shoulder tap or Slack, it’s no wonder.

But by building a central brain and search-first culture, we can connect people to knowledge that makes them better at their job WHEN it can make them better at their job.

Scribe CEO Jennifer Smith joined us live to explain how we can create a culture where people search in moments of need and find resources that drive performance.

Watch the episode

Listen to the episode

Running order

0:00 Intro to Jennifer and Scribe
5:25 Why people don’t search first
9:47 Building a central brain for knowledge
16:49 Scaling knowledge sharing as managers
26:26 Getting buy-in
29:34 On-brand ways to drive knowledge sharing
33:28 Do incentives work?
37:44 Audience question: Using the right language
45:45 Audience question: Correcting bad experiences
48:16 Best practices

Five Lessons On Building A Search-First Culture

Does this sound like a familiar problem?

“I have all of this really valuable knowledge that mostly lives in people’s heads… that knowledge heads out the door at 5 PM, and I’ve got to hope that it comes back.

“And if I try to capture it, I have two options. Tell people to take time away from the work they’re supposed to be doing and write down what you know, or I’ll hire someone to come shadow you.”

This was a familiar theme that Jennifer came across when working with big businesses. And it’s indicative of a wider problem: knowledge isn’t being captured day-to-day, meaning people have less incentive to search because they’re less likely to find what they need.

So, with that in mind, how do we build a better approach to knowledge sharing and build a search-first culture?

Why people don’t search

So many people have bad experiences when they search for knowledge internally, and it creates a negative feedback loop that discourages them from doing it again in the future.

  • 55% of employees named finding and sharing organisational knowledge as a challenge.
  • 57% also flagged locating specific files and people with specific expertise as a difficulty.
  • And it’s estimated that the average knowledge worker spends 20% of their time looking for information they need.

“When you search and don’t find your answer, you say, ah, I’m not doing that again. That place doesn’t have what I need and you probably tell other people too… And then it becomes this tribal understanding that the wiki is terrible, it doesn’t have any of the information we need.” – Jennifer Smith.

And if you’re the person who took the time to create it, you get no feedback on how it’s received or it doesn’t get used, you have less incentive to update it and create more content in the future.

However, you can create positive feedback through the same principles. Celebrate when content is used, explain the impact it’s had, and allow people to share their two cents to expand on it.

How to build a central brain for knowledge

Ask where people search today.

This will help you understand their existing organic behaviour. And if there is some sort of existing search culture, you’ve partly understood the problem.

However, many companies don’t currently have a central place, so they need to start training people to go to that place, and it only takes one good experience to start building that behaviour.

So, where do you start?

“If you have nothing in place or you’re starting from scratch, there are a few phases to think about, and what you’re trying to create is this positive reinforcement that when they search for something, they get this quick and easy answer.

“To start, ask what are my commonly asked problems or processes where there might be some confusion.” – Jennifer Smith.

If you can figure these out, you can create that positive feedback loop, and the behaviour change that people go to that place first. The more people find useful content, the more this grows naturally over time.

“You’re trying to make it really low effort for people and really high ROI. So I get exactly what I need or what I want. Whether that’s recognition from my team and knowing that I helped them, or if I’m the person asking questions, I got a really fast, accurate answer…” – Jennifer Smith.

Managers can encourage and scale knowledge sharing.

“A lot of this ends up being the behaviour that you’re trying to see and encourage. And as a manager or a leader, you can start to plant those seeds. You can start creating some of that yourself and lead by example.

“And make sure you’re doing something that’s really valuable for people. Because then they’re going to see it and say, this was really valuable, I wonder if it will be valuable for my team too?” – Jennifer Smith.

With that buy-in, you can share tutorials and best practices as well as communicating how this will benefit them specifically.

Why repeat questions are the enemy of knowledge sharing

The people who get repeat questions are normally your most knowledgeable and highest-performing employees. And they’re busy, so repeat questions often feel like an interruption or productivity killer.

“The way we do knowledge transfer right now is predominantly one to one, we don’t make it into scalable media. Most of the knowledge sharing in your company is one to one, through shoulder taps, Slack messages, emails – however people communicate, and that knowledge is lost.” – Jennifer Smith.

Incentives for knowledge sharing need to be sustainable

Incentivising is a broad term and often our mind goes to financial rewards – but this can be damaging in the long run.

“That should almost be your last resort. As soon as you’re paying someone to do something, you’re sort of devaluing all the other reasons someone might do something. And I’d argue that they are stronger because most of them tie more intrinsically (with people’s job and goals).” – Jennifer Smith.

Stronger signals are social recognition and positive feedback, solving challenges and helping reach business goals.

Podcast | How To Build A Search-First Learning Culture

Aug 10
5 min read

Personalisation and developing learning around individual needs

How are your people going to hit the development high notes if they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet? They’re not. People development is at its best when it focuses on the individual development needs of each person – which skills do they need to become proficient in, which milestones do they need to reach and who are the best people to help them get there?

As a people development leader, your job is to act as the designer of tailored learning pathways and the facilitator to help all the activities within it happen.

Understand the current knowledge levels of your employees before building learning pathways. Nobody likes being taught to suck eggs, so covering information they already know is unlikely to help them progress. That understanding should form the foundation of your learning pathways and their base for development.
5 ways to drive people development

Social learning, mentoring and coaching

Knowledge is too powerful to find itself trapped in silos. Sadly, this information scenario is all too common in the world of work: one person in the team understands an issue inside and out, but they’re the only one who does, and that knowledge lives solely within their heads.

One day, they choose to head off for pastures new, and while the grass is looking greener on the other side, they take all the wisdom needed to water yours.

Social learning, mentoring and coaching are ways you can break it out of their brains (metaphorically) and plant those seeds in the minds of many others. When wisdom and tacit knowledge are added to a shared platform, everybody can access and learn from them. If someone needs to learn a lot from a single person, pairing them together on a more formal coaching basis could be the answer.

Mentoring, in particular, can be incredibly useful when it comes to succession planning – if a leader is heading out the door and you need someone else to step in their shoes. From tacit knowledge to skills development, it’s vital in getting people up to speed.

Be flexible with your mentoring, there’s no reason for us to always be paired with the same person for a long period. There are people we can learn a little from and those we can learn a lot from, good people development managers put those appropriate frameworks in place.

Five winning employee mentoring approaches and how to find the best type for your team

Read The Full Post

On-the-job and in the flow of work learning

Learning isn’t something we go away and do, it happens in the flow of our daily work – or at least it should. For too long, learning and knowledge have been detached from our day-to-day roles, whether that’s logging in to an external platform or logging off for a few days to head on a course.

This mindset is based around the concept of giving people more information rather than structuring it so that it can be applied in the moment of need – the time when people are most motivated to learn. Instead, we need to create microlearning moments and job aids that empower people to overcome specific challenges by giving the right amount of information in the right context.

Work out where and how people typically work and learn. If you can embed learning into existing behaviours, you’ll be more successful than when you’re asking people to adopt new habits and ways of working.

Inspiration from the real world of people and talent development

How innovative and fast-growing companies do it

Putting theory into practice is always the hardest part isn’t it!? Hands up if you’d read a recipe more than 10 times and then produced a culinary disasterpiece rather than a masterpiece… We’ve all been there. But we’re determined that your people development plans are going to be more Michelin Star than dinner disaster! That’s why we’re taking some real-world inspiration from leading companies.

Squarespace: department-level development and a knowledge sharing culture

Jason O’Neill, Director of Learning & Development at Squarespace, revealed in an interview with The Muse that his team were working on department-level L&D plans: “This is an important step forward in offering greater customisation to org needs and demonstrating direct business impact through L&D solutions.”

He also flagged the role and importance of social learning and the application of learning within their strategy. “The best L&D programs are targeted and purpose-driven… Moving far beyond in-person training led by subject matter experts, programs should seek to leverage the collective talent and expertise within the company.”

“Ideally programs also include an experiential component where employees gain opportunities to apply newly acquired knowledge, whether through real or simulated practical experiences.”

But what are Squarespace offering to their people when it comes to development?

  • Self-paced learning resources and development.
  • Open enrollment professional development sessions.
  • Employee education reimbursement benefits.
  • A culture that drives collaboration and learning togetherness, focused around building better and simpler products.

Finishing up with a final quote linked to that last bullet point

“Kindness and care for others is pervasive throughout the company to a degree I have never experienced. Teams gravitate toward collaboration, inclusion, and support for one another, creating a positive environment that makes coming to work every day an absolute joy.

“I’ve also been inspired by Squarespace’s obsession toward simplifying and building ideal solutions and products for customers. This ethos translates well into how we operate as an L&D organisation, and how we approach the development toward a one-of-a-kind internal growth culture.”

Chick-fil-A: Lessons from a leadership development program

Over a 24 to 36-month period, budding Chick-fil-A leaders will undergo a development program that encourages them to “grow professionally and personally as they confront and solve real-world leadership challenges while traveling on the road.”

One of the biggest takeaways from this American takeaway and fast-food giant is the structured mentorship aspect of the leadership program. Specialist coaches join them for different parts of their journey to ensure they’re getting the guidance they need to solve certain challenges and build the skills necessary for the role.

People Development - Chick-fil-A

Learning the necessary on-the-job skills is another interesting aspect of their leadership program. If someone isn’t promoted from within (and benefitting from that skills succession planning), they probably won’t have the cultural and operational understanding needed to be a great leader, but that’s where Chick-fil-A offers six-month bootcamps.

“No previous Chick-fil-A restaurant experience? No problem! If you’re accepted into the program, you’ll receive hands-on experience in a restaurant during a six-month operational bootcamp. Boot campers focus on basic restaurant operations, like making the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, then move on to more complex business strategy and problem-solving, like finance, staffing and customer relations.”

We can apply a similar mindset to our people development strategies too, by thinking about the knowledge needed before the required skills. If we’re promoting someone internally, they’ll need the skills to do that role, but there are also business experiences and contextual knowledge they’d need to perform it effectively. We can provide them with that through personalised learning pathways.

Chipotle: Using self-directed, online learning to close skills gaps

It’s something we’ve alluded to here but ticking a training box is nowhere near as useful as knowing which skills someone developed in doing so! Training’s great, knowing how it’s made someone better at their job through skill development is even better.

Chipotle seem to have adopted a similar mantra, mentioning the term skills several times in this Comparably interview roundup. They explain that “growing our talent sets us up to continue to grow as an organisation and provide an amazing guest experience”, and building skills is a crucial driver in that mission.

It’s important that “all employees have access to platforms where they can build a variety of skills”, and that includes access to peer learning and mentoring from experienced colleagues.

When COVID-19 hit, they pivoted approach to ensure they lived up to those goals despite the obvious challenges. Every employee was given Udemy access to more than 5,000 courses, covering key topics like leadership management, personal development, technology and wellness.

“It’s our responsibility to cultivate an environment where employees can continue to thrive and pursue their passions with likeminded co-workers, even in a virtual setting.”, Marissa Andrada, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and People Officer, Chipotle.

A key reason for this (and lesson we can learn from Chipotle’s approach) is the ability to build a talent pipeline that drives future growth and gives people the skills needed for the business to thrive tomorrow.

Amazon: honing in on upskilling and the skills needed to thrive

Amazon are poster boys for using data to drive their people development strategy and we can all learn a lesson from them! We’ve tackled their approach in detail here, but the summary is that Amazon analysed their hiring and workforce data to determine their fastest-growing highly-skilled jobs over the past five years.

Once they had that understanding of in-demand skills, they announced their investment of $700 million to upskill 100,000 of their US employees by 2025. Part of this plan involved various programs to drive people towards developing these necessary skills. Amazon Technical Academy would allow people to transition into software engineering, Associate2Tech program upskills IT support technicians and The Machine Learning University allowed tech and coding experts to hone their talents even further.

They understood their own skill trajectory, understood it in the context of the wider industry and set up dedicated programs to ensure they had the skills need to keep ahead of the pace of change.

Bonobos: Launching your first formal people team

Sometimes, you might find yourself doing the roles and offering the rewards of a people team, without a formal structure in place. However, redefining the name, role and purpose can really crystalise a people development approach – as fashion retailer Bonobos found out when they hired Sara Patterson as Chief People Officer.

“Prior to Sara joining, we were all working on separate projects/initiatives that were great, but they weren’t necessarily unified towards a common goal. Sara helped streamline our processes. She also gave the POps team a voice and really helped propel a lot of the initiatives we wanted but didn’t have the bandwidth to execute prior to her arrival.”

In an interview with Greenhouse, Bonobos’ Recruitment & People Relations Manager Kelsey Garske revealed the impact of this change and the initiatives it’s allowed them to launch since.

People Development - Bonobos

Garske explained that their goal is to continue understanding what resonates with employees and tailoring their learning and development opportunities around that – a lesson we can all take in our people development plans. She also explained the need to tap into the culture of working together, being motivated to do so and ensuring development is part of their Bonobos journey from the word go.

“Once someone joins our team we want to make sure as a People Team that we can keep them excited, engaged, and always on an endless path of learning and growth.”

Meet the LXP that supercharges your people development

From bringing all your resources to the end of a single search to empowering subject matter experts to share wisdom with teammates, HowNow is designed to give your people the skills and knowledge they need to perform their role effectively, everywhere they already work!

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