Company Culture
Employee engagement

7 Easy Ways to Support Professional Development Goals

George Dickson
October 19, 2016
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Modern employees aren't just looking for a paycheck; they're looking for a mutually-beneficial partnership, one that enriches and elevates both parties.

It's easier than you might think to develop an organizational culture that not only upholds their end of that partnership but also inspires employees at every level to do the same. 

Let's take a look at some steps you can take toward that goal.

Creating purpose

Employees and the organizations they partner with want to know that the work they're doing is meaningful and that it's leading them somewhere further along than where they started.

This professional development journey is not always limited to developing specific skills or gaining certifications. Instead, developing a sense of purpose is one of the most crucial employee development goals. As Adam Smiley Poswolski explains in a Fast Company piece,

Young people aren’t waiting for retirement. They’re asking what their purpose is now, and they’re determined to find the opportunities, organizations, and companies that share their purpose.
-Adam Smiley Poswolski

Cultivating a growth mindset


Supporting a growth mindset can be the cornerstone of your employee development plan's success.

Why is that?

As Carol Dweck discusses in this Harvard Business Review article, people who maintain a "growth" mindset believe that "through hard work, good strategies, and input from others," talents can be developed. Those with a "fixed" mindset are more inclined to believe talent, skills, or intelligence are innate qualities that can't be earned.

Though it's a surprisingly common framework people adopt in the business world, a fixed mindset can be problematic for professional development for employees. If you believe you've either already got the talent in a certain area or you never will, you're unlikely to respond well to training and development.

In her seminal TED talk on the topic, Dweck explains "the power of yet."

Those three letters can have so much positive impact. So how do you inspire your team to embrace the "yet" and work to improve their skills every day?

Provide as many learning and growth opportunities as possible, but perhaps more importantly, welcome the unexpected, and re-frame "failures" as learning experiences.

Offering learning opportunities


Make it easy to access the tools your team needs to expand their knowledge. There are a number of great learning resources available that make that easier than it ever has been. 

Although learning is perhaps one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your team, you don't have to fund post-secondary education in order to provide it.

The work you're already doing provides an infinite number of learning opportunities, as long as you're willing to recognize them for what they are.

Smart Recruiters Founder and CEO Jerome Ternynck explains it this way in his Inc. article "7 High Impact Approaches for Employee Development":

Many companies provide access to e-learning on topics including project management, software training and technical skills... While these are important and can be effective in some aspects of development, I often remind leaders that on-the-job development accounts for up to 75% of effective learning.
-Jerome Ternynck

Many of those learning opportunities also come in the form of mistakes; however, most of us hate admitting when we make mistakes at work, and that behavior can hinder any beneficial lessons that might come from those mistakes. 

This fear of admitting mistakes is a real and very common psychological phenomenon, but that conditioned response is something we can work to fix.

Officevibe's Erika Khanna wrote a great article on how mistakes make us human and shared some ways to help yourself and your team recover.

A mistake isn't a bad thing if it's a step in an employee's development.

Facilitating career pathing and advancement


If top performers find they're hitting the ceiling in your organization early on, they're not going to stick around for long—and they shouldn't.

That doesn't mean everyone should be put on the fast track to a senior leadership position, regardless of their interest (or competency) in leading others.

Employee development goals should be tailored to the goals of the organization and the individual. A one-size-fits-all, linear approach isn't going to produce the best results. For example, your HR manager might find plenty of value through human resources certifications, while your CFO's time might be better spent at networking events.

Many people thrive as individual contributors. Professional development goals for them could focus on expanding their competencies and helping them to become the most effective individual contributors they can be.

Not every brilliant engineer will be a brilliant manager, and that's okay.

So how are you working to build competencies and elevate employees from within? There are a surprising number of opportunities that present themselves naturally.

Facilitating cross-functionality


One of the easiest ways to help employees develop new skills is to put them on a cross-functional project where they'll get an opportunity to work outside their area of expertise with experts on that subject.

It's not just the hard skills and competencies they'll gain from these collaborative projects. Each of these projects is an opportunity to improve communication, collaboration skills, and emotional intelligence.

Valuing autonomy

Autonomy is a valuable mechanism for growth and development.

Think about it this way: Do you remember the first time you were able to ride a bicycle by yourself or drive a car without a family member riding tensely beside you? Yes, you might have fallen off your bike and skinned your knee once or twice, but your feelings of growth, accomplishment, and agency are undeniable.

It's the same at work. An employee with the agency to make mistakes might make them occasionally, but they're an integral part of the growth and development process.

Unless those mistakes are repeated over and over again, they're a valuable step toward further development.

The key is giving employees the latitude to make those mistakes in an educational environment, and providing the psychological safety required to step out and be willing to make those mistakes.

Recognizing and rewarding development


Although professional development can provide its own intrinsic motivation, it's important to provide extrinsic motivation as well. Praise and recognition can go a long way toward building both.

But it's important to remember what it is you're recognizing. As Carol Dweck mentioned in her TED talk, it's just as important, and sometimes more important that you're praising the process.

If someone resolves a challenging bug that nobody else on the team could, it's important to recognize the process that led to the resolution. 

Why is recognizing the process so important?

The process is where learning and development happen, and those learnings are priceless assets for the entire team. They're an opportunity to transform one employee's development into the development of many others.

Final thoughts

Cultivating a company culture that values employee development provides myriad benefits. There are countless strategies you can use to help your team reach their professional development goals, and in many cases, these strategies have little or no cost to deploy.

If you're ready to start building a stronger company culture, check out this resource: 

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