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Getting Started with Employee-Driven Development

When you think of organizational development, you might imagine a team of high-level managers gathering a few times a year to create and implement a strategy that includes training programs, benchmarks, and reporting systems. While this is certainly a valuable approach, it’s not the only one. Many organizations are discovering that employee development can—and should—be driven not only by leadership, but also by the employees themselves.

Employee-driven development is beneficial to organizations of all sizes. When individuals define their own paths at an organization, they tend to stay longer because they know where they are headed and that their destination is in line with their career aspirations. Employees also stay more engaged when they are active participants in their own development. A recent study showed that almost half of employees in the U.S. are not engaged at work, primarily because they wanted to learn something new. If that need isn’t met in your organization, chances are employees will find it elsewhere.

If you’re not already factoring individual goals into your organizational development plan, it might be time to introduce employee-driven development. Here’s how to get started.

Let Employees Lead the Way

Collaborate with individuals as they set their own goals for career development. When managers set goals for employees, it can lead to missed opportunities because they don’t necessarily know what employees want or what their capabilities are. On the other hand, when employees are given the latitude to define their own paths, the result is a higher level of engagement and more people in the right roles doing what they enjoy.

Of course, the majority of these individual goals must also benefit the organization and support the business objectives. Start by clearly stating the organization’s goals and asking the employees to set their goals to support these.

Provide the Necessary Resources

After defining individual goals, the organization should offer support by providing access to the necessary resources. These might include:

  • Funds for outside training
  • Internal training programs
  • Membership in professional organizations
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Recommended resources
  • Peer discussion groups

Knowing how to provide meaningful feedback and accepting honest evaluations from others are essential skills for employee-driven development. Providing training for these fundamental competencies will give individuals a strong foundation for participating in their own development.

Maintain a Dialogue

Employee development is not a single training event or feedback provided during an annual review. The plan should consist of short- and long-term goals with realistic, achievable milestones. Ongoing communication is also essential for the success of any type of development program. Even when employees are leading the charge by setting their own career goals and being proactive about accessing resources, they need coaching and feedback from their managers about their progress.

It’s important for the organization to have a two-way communication process that allows both employees and managers to voice their desires and concerns. It’s not enough to assume that employees will speak up when they have ideas or criticisms. Open communication has to be built into the company culture and employees must be provided with mechanisms (surveys, 360 evaluations, and so forth) for providing feedback.

Build it into Your Hiring Process

Before an employee is even hired, you have the opportunity to set expectations about learning and development. If self-learning is an important company value, that should be communicated to candidates during the interview process. This approach brings self-starters to the forefront because they will be seeking opportunities for growth. Employee-driven development will help you attract and retain the high-potential individuals who want knowledge and a level of control over the future of their careers.

Of course, employee development is not a one-sided equation. Leadership still needs to guide the overall strategy so that any development programs align with and support business goals. Striking the right balance between what each employee wants and what the organization needs is crucial.

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