How Can Employers Encourage Professional Development?


How do we teach the people we hire? Generally, businesses look for people who can already do most of the tasks required of them for a job, then teach them the rest as they work. This is often known as the 70:20:10 rule in learning management, where 70% of employee training comes from simply doing their job, 20% from speaking with their coworkers, and 10% from formal training.

But as time goes on, employees often need targeted professional development in order to proceed to the next phase of their careers (and more importantly, fill the manager and executive jobs that are going empty for weeks on end). So how do you encourage employees’ professional development? Here are a few ways.

Allocate the Time

If your employees’ hectic schedules prevent them from finding the time to dedicate the development they’ll need to become more valuable employees, you may need to bite the bullet and insert that time directly into their schedules. Jon Aleckson (@jonaleckson), an educational leader and consultant in association learning technologies, details how he let his employees have time dedicated to learning their fields:

"Here at Web Courseworks, members of our instructional design, production, and art teams are typically allocated a block of time each week to research topics and learn about emerging trends and best practices in their respective fields. Routine questions about professional development posed by managers during staff meetings have become an avenue to discuss creative solutions to current issues and concerns."

Allocating time to something other than regular work will naturally have its crucial and less crucial points. Even Google’s 20% time isn’t as universal as some might think. Employees at the company don’t use as much of it as originally planned, but this is because they’ll only spend small amounts of time on a passion project, until it turns out to be something huge, after which they’ll devote more time to it.

What does this mean for you? It means you allocated time for development outside of work, but you need to be flexible. Give employees time to learn more about their field, but be sure to ease up or increase the amount of time you give depending on business demands. During the new year, when business is generally down, give employees the time. Once workloads pick up, reduce the time and let them focus on doing their jobs.

Invest In Formal Schooling

There are some things employees simply can’t learn by sitting at their desks and researching information. Sometimes you need that 10% of formal learning. If you value your employees and need them to grow into the positions you need filled, or expand the reach of their current ones, it pays to invest in formal schooling. Where having a high school diploma used to be the minimum requirement to have a good job, more and more companies want college grads, whom 56% of hiring managers said provide higher-quality work for their business.

Helping to pay for tuition for classes (or, if it’s for hard skills, paying for most if not all of it) will teach employees valuable skills, but it also works as a retention tool. Starbucks, for example, recently launched a campaign to pay for its employees’ college tuition, and they’ve seen a surge of new applicants. But because employees will need to be with the company multiple years in order to truly take advantage of the program, they’re much more likely to stay on for years at a time. This is a wonderful, mutually beneficial solution in a field plagued by enormous turnover rates — as high as 150%, according to some studies.

If you can afford to help employees with their school, not only will it benefit their career, but they’ll stick around longer, and provide you the benefits of their learning for years.

Offer Your Own Classes

To take another example from a big-budget company, if you can design and create your own programs to teach employees the skills they need to learn, why not? Zappos, one of the biggest online shoe retailers, created its own programs to teach employees the soft skills they needed from their leadership positions. Eventually, the program evolved into ZapposU, which provides a number of classes on a variety of topics, and teaches employees about the various departments of the company. This helps them learn about the business in a holistic sense, teaches them new skills, and helps prepare them for the next step of their career.

Not everyone can afford to spend that much on creating classes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop employees using your own resources! If an employee is planning to expand their workload into other departments, give them formal training sessions with the people who already know how to do those jobs. If someone needs to learn about a new client in order to do business with them, have someone come in and show them more about the company.

Developing your employees isn’t easy. Often, classes and formal learning can be huge investments, especially for mid-sized business with a number of employees and without the money to pay for all of their learning. But it’s worth it to find the time and money to spend on it, because they’re worth paying for.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: