The Complete Guide To Employee Development

Ever hear the phrase “if you’re not growing, you’re dying?”

When it comes to our careers, this simple maxim is truer than ever. If we’re not moving forward in our roles as leaders, managers, and individual contributors, it’s impossible to get excited or motivated.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own career advancement, but as a manager, you have to be invested in the career development of employees who report to you. What are their hopes and dreams? What do they hope to accomplish? What skills do they hope to gain before moving up within the company, or before moving on to a new role somewhere else?

It can be difficult to talk candidly about an employee’s career goals, especially if those goals are not achievable within your organization. Even so, you should strive to take employees as far as they can go. It’s up to you to foster the development of your employees.

In this post, we’ll share everything there is to know about employee development, so you can make sure you’re doing your job as a leader and manager:

Why Develop Employees?

As a manager, you need to work to develop employees, otherwise you’re not doing your job, putting your career at risk.

“The number one reason employees quit their jobs is because of a poor quality relationship with their direct manager,” said Monique Valcour in the Harvard Business Review. “No one wants to work for a boss who doesn’t take an interest in their development, doesn’t help them deepen their skills and learn new ones, and doesn’t validate their contributions.”

Valcour goes on to say that leaders should reward managers that make strides in employee development, and fire those that don’t. Employee development not only results in individual improvement in quality and efficiency,  but it also leads to greater retention and more motivated employees.

“Work groups in which employees report that their supervisor (or someone else at work) cares about them as a person, talks to them about their career progress, encourages their development, and provides opportunities to learn and grow have lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, and better customer loyalty than work groups in which employees report that these developmental elements are scarce,” said Valcour.

Leaders are taking notice of the managers who prioritize employee development. It’s sink or swim– you don’t want to be left behind.

Get on Their Side

If you want to develop your employees, you have to understand them.

How to do this? Ask, and then listen.

We praise listening all the time, but most of us don’t actually do it. Listening is a rare quality, but when it’s done right, it can lead to fantastic results.

As a manager, you need to ask employees for feedback, and deliberately listen to their answers. Ask specific questions about certain projects to learn how they feel:

  • How did you feel the collaboration went on our most recent project?
  • Is there anything I could’ve done differently to make the process smoother?
  • If we do this again, what would you recommend we do differently?
  • What aspects of your job do you enjoy most? Are there any areas where you’d like to improve?

When employees answer with suggestions for how a process could be done better, or frustrations with how something is going, you need to listen carefully. If an employee feels as though they’ve been heard, they’ll know that you’re on their side.

Remember that your job is to help employees help themselves. Micro-management is a real problem, and you need to be carefully to listen carefully, and grant autonomy so that your employees feel that they’re in control of their own destinies.

Work Together to Help Determine Career Goals

In order to excel at developing an employee, you need to work with them to determine their goals, then work towards them.

The Human Resources department at University of California at Berkeley recommends working with your direct report to write an Individual Development Plan, usually known as an IDP. In this model, the manager is responsible for encouraging, supporting, removing obstacles, and providing resources so that the individual can make strides in their professional development.

Here is what the HR department at Berkeley suggests for a plan of action:

  • Meet with your direct report to discuss their plan and goals
  • Provide feedback on their goals
  • Provide suggestions for activities that can help them reach their goals
  • Help them set realistic timelines for goal achievement
  • Help them troubleshoot potential obstacles
  • Schedule meetings to check in and see how they’re doing
  • Remain flexible and revise plan as needed

Whether you use this strategy or not, you should find a way to support employee development in your organization.

Help Find Strategies and Tools to Reach Goals

Once you and your employee have created an IDP, you need to help them reach the goals they set forward.

Although employees have the best intentions, they often struggle to reach their goals because they are unclear on expectations, lack organizational skills, and have difficulty creating realistic time frames. Software, productivity strategies, and personality assessments can help employees work more efficiently, helping them reach their goals.


Software tools aren’t a catch-all solution, but they can certainly provide help and direction for employees, improving efficiency by making it easy to schedule and collaborate. Here are some tools to consider:

  • Project management tools like Trello and Basecamp make it easy to plan out projects and coordinate with team members.
  • Job-specific software like HubSpot for content marketers and QuickBooks for accountants can increase productivity, especially for small teams.


Productivity Strategies

There are tons of articles on productivity, but you need to find strategies that work well for your employees. Here are some common tactics that can help employees develop and reach their goals:

  • Deadlines may seem like an old school tactic, but they work! Dan Ariely, best-selling author, swears by deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed.
  • Daily and weekly routines help ground employees. What tasks need to be done every day? Maybe an employee can spend the last hour of their day or shift doing a certain task, ensuring it gets done in a productive fashion.
  • Check-ins and meetings help remind an employee that you’re on their side and have their best interests in mind. Make sure to check in on how an employee is doing when it comes to goals and productivity on a weekly basis.


Professional Assessments

Professional assessments may seem hokey, but they’re helpful tools that can help employees better understand themselves. These assessments will also help you understand their motivations so you can better support them. Here are some of my favorite professional assessment tests:

  • Myers-Briggs categorizes everyone into 1 of 16 personality types, then gives results to help test takers understand strengths and weaknesses in their personal and professional lives. You and your employees can take the tests for free at
  • DiSC personal assessment profiles helps people understand how they interact with others in the workplace so they can improve their communication style to build more productive teams. Learn more at
  • Other personality tests


Connect Employees to The Company

One of the ways that employees develop and grow is if they feel connected to the company’s initiatives. If they feel that their work is helping the bottomline, driving success, and is valued in the organization, then they’ll be more motivated. Here’s how to foster that spirit:

  • Promote internal social networks so that employees feel connected to co-workers, even if they’re in different departments.
  • Loop employees in on company-wide initiatives so they always feel connected and never feel like they’re out of the inner circle. Your openness will encourage them to be more open.
  • Find opportunities for cross-collaboration so that employees get exposed to how different aspects of the business work.


Granting Autonomy to Help Employees Develop

Think acting like a helicopter boss will help employees? Think again.

Empowering workers and giving them autonomy reduces employee turnover, according to a study conducted at Cornell University.

The researchers studied 320 companies and found that roughly half granted employees a lot of autonomy and freedom. It turns out that these businesses grew 4x more than those with rigid rules and traditional hierarchical structures.

As a manager, you need to find ways to make your employees feel as though they’re in control. They should be creating their goals, not you. They should have some say over which tools they use and which strategies they employ to get their jobs done.

It pays to give autonomy, so don’t micro-manage.

Employee Development for a Better Organization

Investing in employee development will reduce turnover, increase motivation, and ultimately make your organization more productive and efficient. If you follow the tips in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to developing employees that go on to have fabulous career.

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