There is no doubt that in order to attract and retain a highly talented employee pool, organizations need to think seriously about branding themselves as development cultures. At the very least, organizations need to structure themselves as a place in which employees can learn new skills and have opportunities to continuously grow careers. The problem with this perspective is that it assumes that the organization needs to provide all of these opportunities.
When we think of organizations that have strong development cultures, we primarily think about two things. First is that there must be good and extensive training programs. Second, we think of challenging work assignments and the ability for people to move frequently between assignments, projects, and teams. But development is not all about what the organization provides an employee.
I believe the employee should take some responsibility for personal and professional development. Here's how.
Instead of providing all of an employee's development needs, an organization can present more opportunities for employees to develop themselves.
Personal Book and Seminar Budget
Tuition assistance programs are fine, but they are too limited for most employees. For a lot less money, you can offer more employees the opportunity to pursue skills outside of work. For example, why not give each employee an annual budget of $75 to buy any books they want? Who cares if some employees buy Harry Potter or Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Some will buy the Multipliers and Understanding Michael Porter. Take it one step further and give employees an annual budget that they can use to attend any seminar, conference or other non-degree class they can find. Look, if you have already budgeted $5,250 for tuition assistance programs, take some of that money to allow employees to attend a conference. And don't get involved in what they can and cannot attend. Empowerment means letting someone else decide for themselves.
Allow Employee Brand Building
Another way to encourage employee development is to empower employees to build a reputation in your organization. If employees can share what they know or are otherwise working on, it could motivate many to go out and more quickly become an expert in something and share what they have learned with others. Their ideas might help other teams and projects perform better. Why not set up employee blogs and encourage anyone to write blog posts? One reason people do this in their personal lives is so that they can build a brand and demonstrate their expertise. It is easy to get started and anyone can do it. Imagine how much people could learn from each other by reading about ideas, project statuses, and open questions posed by bloggers? You would think organizations would want to provide such an inexpensive and easy method of personal and professional development to demonstrate to employees that development is a valuable part of the culture.
Why Can't All Employees Design and Deliver Training?
Taking it one step further, how about enabling more employees to design and deliver training. Do you encourage your employees to teach what they know or is that a task reserved only for an elite group of trainers? With a tool like Mindflash, it is possible to give more employees the ability to create training that can be shared with anyone in the organization. We learn by teaching, so look at it this way: what if you provided an environment and tools that allowed employees to demonstrate and show off their expertise. Do you think that would encourage development?
A Two Way Street
A development culture is not all about the organization providing learning opportunities. Employees have some skin in the game, and they expect to develop themselves. They also expect that the organization provide as much opportunity for development as possible.