5 Ways to Encourage Professional Development

If you’re seeking to improve your company’s learning program and foster employee development, you’re not alone: 84% of executives surveyed for Deloitte’s 2016 Human Capital Trends Report view learning as an important or very important issue. Why? Deloitte’s 2015 report Becoming Irresistibleoutlined several reasons why a culture of learning will help you create a strong employer brand:

  • Organizations with a strong learning culture have 30–50% higher engagement and retention rates.
  • Organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes, 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market with their products and services, and 17% more profitable than their peers.
  • Employees under the age of 25 rate professional development as their number one driver of engagement, and this is the number two priority for workers up to age 35.

If your company’s learning program is unstructured or informal, it may be time to develop a learning mission or vision, or what Deloitte calls a “learning architecture.” Professional development shouldn’t just be left up to individual employees: without knowledge of the options available to them, they might not know what to ask for. A culture of learning assumes that every employee deserves to develop skills and knowledge, and that their individual growth helps the company’s business grow.

[Related: Employers, learn what inspires and engages employees to do better work]

While larger companies often have formalized training programs, and even training departments, there are many ways a smaller company can keep employees learning at little to no cost. The key to a successful learning program is having managers who support employees in their learning endeavors and create objectives around completing a course of learning and implementing lessons learned. Below are five ways that your company can encourage a culture of learning.

  • Online learning. Purchasing individual classes or yearly memberships on online learning sites such as Lynda.com, Udacity, Udemy, Coursera and Skillshare is a cost-effective way to help employees build new skills. To keep employees from feeling like lone wolves in their participation, make sure they have performance objectives tied to course completion, or gather groups to watch courses and complete assignments together.
  • Industry conferences. There’s no substitute for live learning, and conferences are a great way for employees to soak up the latest and greatest thinking about a specific industry and connect with peers from other companies. Consider setting a budget for industry conference attendance, and encourage managers to request a conference recap upon the employee’s return.
  • Mentoring. Match junior and senior employees who are not in a direct managerial relationship for a regularly scheduled meetings. Mentoring is often just as valuable for the mentor as the mentee; it can be gratifying to the senior person feel helpful by sharing what they know — often what they didn’t know they know.
  • Encourage teaching/sharing. For many highly skilled employees, sharing what they know can be a great confidence builder, and a new avenue of development not necessarily related to a promotion. Those who are drawn to share what they know beyond a 1–1 relationship can set goals such as writing an eBook, blogging on a regular basis, becoming an instructor on a site like Lynda.com or Skillshare, adjunct teaching at a college, giving presentations to other divisions, or client training. The presence of highly skilled instructors in business-related topics in your greater community creates goodwill for your employer brand as well as rewards the teacher with a sense of accomplishment.
  • Encourage personal development. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and communication skills (such as writing or public speaking) are general areas that have been shown to promote employee happiness and business success. Google’s investment in emotional intelligence and mindfulness training has become a bedrock of its culture. More self-aware employees who can empathize with each other create an environment with less of the infighting and political battles that can lower employee morale and productivity. And employees that can effectively communicate in writing, meetings, and presentations strengthens both internal and external relationships.

Opportunities for growth are frequently mentioned in Glassdoor reviews. In fact, a focus on people is one of the five key traits we uncovered by from the 2016 Glassdoor Best Places to Work award winners.

This article was originally published on Glassdoor.