Employee growth — also known as professional development — isn’t just about making sure your people have the necessary skills to meet today’s business needs. Growth is, perhaps more importantly, about ensuring that employees have opportunities to learn new skills (particularly skills that interest them) in order to feel more engaged and fulfilled at work. This is an employee engagement strategy that can actually move the needle for today’s workers.
The relationship between employee growth opportunities and engagement isn’t new, but it is on the rise. The 2022 LinkedIn Learning Report showed “opportunities to learn and grow” as the #1 driver of employee engagement, up from #9 in 2019. The increasing importance of employee growth demonstrates that “learning powers culture, and culture powers engagement,” according to the report.
When we think about learning on the job, training often comes to mind first. But formal training is not the only way to invest in employee growth to enable higher levels of employee engagement. Here are more ways to incorporate learning to foster a high-performance culture and create an engaged workforce where employees can learn and grow while feeling supported and satisfied.
Mentoring, whether informal or formal, helps employees identify and share their career goals, so they can (with support) create a plan to achieve those goals. Mentoring provides employees with an outside perspective to identify skill and knowledge gaps that might otherwise go unnoticed — either because we’re too close to ourselves to objectively evaluate our skills or because we lack the experience a more seasoned colleague might have. Employees who are involved in mentoring also have a 50% higher retention rate, compared with those who are not, making mentoring an invaluable strategy for engagement and retention.
Designate Internal Champions
Internal champions are people within your organization who garner high levels of respect and who embody and demonstrate the best parts of your culture. Like mentoring, having internal champions act as advocates for more junior associates, can offer “insider coaching” from an individual who “knows the ropes,” and can help guide an employee trying to grow. This kind of support keeps valuable employees from jumping ship and helps provide the motivation they need to grow and develop professionally within your organization.
Provide Skills Training
No discussion of employee growth should exclude skills training, as aptitude and support are foundational to employee engagement. Rarely, if ever, would an employee feel highly engaged if they struggled to perform their tasks effectively. And even stellar employees still need training, whether it’s a refresher on recent software updates or other modern office equipment, or reskilling in preparation for taking on a new role. Investing in employee training fills the skill gaps created by the high turnover caused by the ongoing “Great Resignation.” Skill-building is also one aspect of the emerging trend in quiet hiring that many organizations are employing to meet business needs amid talent shortages.
Offer Soft Skills Training
Possessing solid soft skills not only helps us determine how best to work with others and solve challenges, but leverages interpersonal skills to communicate, lead and maximize relationships. Today’s leaders need to be critical thinkers and develop this muscle. Ongoing soft skills training helps every employee develop and grow their emotional intelligence, now considered one of the most effective ways to predict future success.
Promote Leadership Grooming
Teach the difference between leadership and management, and identify the desired skills and behaviors for each within your organization. Generally, leadership is about providing a high-level vision and direction toward long-term outcomes, while management is responsible for executing the leader’s vision by focusing on shorter-term goals. Identifying potential future leaders early is key, as is ensuring that those already in positions of management and leadership have the support, resources, and ongoing learning opportunities they need to succeed in their role while meeting the goals of the business.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
ERGs create an open forum for employees who share common characteristics, experiences, and interests, to meet, share ideas and grow in community. Learning about others (and their perspectives) provides growth opportunities that increase employee morale and satisfaction. In organizations where HR teams support ERGs, employees feel a greater sense of belonging, which is linked with higher levels of engagement and better retention rates.
Deliver Cross-functional Team Building
Fostering employees’ sense of purpose also increases engagement. One of the best ways to do that is through cross-functional team-building, which helps individual employees understand how their work fits into the larger mission and goals of the organization. When you have team members with multiple skill sets work together, they can share their skills and expertise so that organizations can reach their goals more efficiently. Growth occurs because such collaboration requires excellent communication, conflict resolution, sound decision-making, and more — all prime examples of personal development and career growth.
Hold Strategic Thinking Boot Camps
A hands-on way to build strategic thinking is to hold Strategic Thinking Boot Camps, especially for managers and team leaders. During a Strategic Thinking Boot Camp, participants tackle relevant, challenging scenarios in a low-stakes environment, to hone their critical and strategic thinking skills. It’s an opportunity for collaborative teams to work on real business problems, where intense teamwork is required to meet tight deadlines.
Employee Growth Leads to Retention
When employees have regular opportunities to learn and grow, when they are empowered to voice their career aspirations and feel supported to make them a reality, they are more likely to feel satisfied — content or even happy — with their job. And higher levels of employee satisfaction are closely tied to high levels of engagement, as well as lower rates of turnover. When employees are making a positive contribution to the organization — and they feel seen and valued for their efforts — they’re more likely to want to stay and grow within that organization. Employee motivation strategies that include employee growth as part of the organizational culture makes that possible.