The opportunity for professional growth and development is critical for any company that wants to attract and retain top talent - especially when it comes to the younger workforce. Research by Gallup found that 87% of millennials want jobs to be development opportunities that lead to career growth.

While you may agree with this sentiment, the how is trickier to figure out. You don’t want to fall back to the tired methods of bringing in boring (and expensive) speakers that your employees aren’t engaged with or forcing people to do weekly “brown bag” sessions on topics nobody is interested in. Instead, consider these five alternative ways to promote professional growth and development:

Idea #1: Set Professional Growth and Development Goals

Professional growth requires direction and guidance from leadership, and goals are an effective way to provide these guidelines. That’s why we encourage companies to make setting professional growth and development goals a formalized process - it gives your employees something tangible to work toward, as well as a reason to celebrate once they hit those milestones. Here are tips to get started:

  • Get managers involved. The relationship employees have with their managers is incredibly impactful, which is why managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement levels. Encouraging managers to be involved in and positively contribute to their employees’ professional growth goals can make a huge difference in how supported they feel. Plus, when employees feel seen and valued by their managers, they’re more likely to retain and contribute in a more meaningful way.
  • Set employees up for success. Create mutually-agreed upon professional growth and development goals that are achievable, measurable, and relevant. For instance, if an employee’s professional growth goal is to build leadership skills, don’t suddenly ask them to manage three people - especially if they’re a first-time manager. Instead, give them the time and space to learn by taking courses, attending seminars, or receiving coaching feedback either from their manager, other mentors, or outside coaches (check out ThinkHuman or SoundingBoard).
  • Track progress. Encourage your employees to track their professional growth progress in a way that’s meaningful to them. Whether that’s using a performance management platform like Culture Amp or in a shared spreadsheet, make sure the progress is documented somewhere so they can always look back and see how far they’ve come. This is also a great way for the employee to own their journey and have a shared space where managers can stay updated.

Idea #2: Introduce New Projects

Another way to promote professional growth and development for employees is to allow them to work on projects outside of their usual role. So if your product manager has shown interest in learning more about data science, give her the flexibility to explore and try on new hats!  A few things to keep in mind:  

  • Don’t make assumptions. Before assigning your employee a new task or project, make sure it’s something they want to work on. It’s easy to assume you know what’s best for your employees, but your intuition may not actually be correct. So have a conversation with them before making any executive decisions - otherwise, your well-intentioned actions may backfire.
  • Consider a rotation program. If your employee doesn’t have a strong preference or if you want to build a culture around learning new things, consider starting a rotation program. People can sign up to participate and spend a few months learning on different teams. This would require them to have a decreased workload in their existing role so they have time to accommodate the program. What does this look like? Teams can surface 20% projects (taking best practices from the team at Google), or full-time rotations. Keep in mind this requires a lot of flexibility and coverage from the employee’s current team, so 20% is a great starting point with less day-to-day disruption.
  • Get creative. If a rotation program isn’t viable, keep in mind that allowing your employees to explore other projects doesn’t have to be a laborious transition. There are other small, but meaningful, solutions. If an employee wants to learn more about event management, they don’t have to transfer to the marketing team to make it happen - have them be on the holiday party planning committee! You can use creativity to help your employees achieve their professional growth and development goals without totally disrupting the flow of work. As an HR leader, partner with HRBPs to surface areas for 10 or 20% support from department leads, and begin including these in your ATS as open opportunities for application.

Idea #3: Have a Learning Budget

At Blueboard, one of our company values is to “Set Ourselves Up for Success.” This means putting the right resources, training, and tools in place for our employees to be successful. That’s why we offer a use-it-or-lose-it learning and development budget of $1,000 per employee to promote professional development. It’s a new program, but we’re seeing really positive results in the form of utilization - such as how many employees are participating and the depth of the selections they’re making to support individual goals. Here are some best practices we’ve picked up along the way:

  • Be flexible. Expand the use cases for the budget. Blueboarders have used their budget for everything from conferences to leadership coaching to Toastmasters courses. We’re not limiting them to a short list of options, but we do request that the tools reimbursed are tied to professional growth.
  • Prioritize utilization. It’s a huge waste to set aside a budget for an initiative and have it go unused - that’s why we track utilization with our own learning budget. Similar to what we recommend when it comes to building a successful employee referral program, make your employees aware of these funds by building internal buzz, including the program during onboarding via a Total Rewards sheet, getting leadership involved, and capturing stories from these experiences to be shared during team meetings and other public events.  
  • Encourage sharing. As we mentioned in the last bullet, capturing stories from employees’ learning experiences is a great way to build excitement for the program. That’s why we have our team share what they’ve been using the budget for and how it’s helping them to tackle their current career goals. Our leadership team participates in the sharing too and will give shout outs to cool learning requests during team meetings.

Idea #4: Encourage Professional Growth and Development Experiences

It’s a flawed mindset to assume that professional growth and development only happens inside the office. Diversity in experiences - from starting a side hustle to traveling the world - can help foster an environment for learning & developing employees skill sets that will help them in their jobs too. Here are a few of our favorite ways to encourage more experiences:

  • Host fun team activities. Team activities aren’t just good for bonding, but they’re also a fun way to practice collaboration, communication, and networking skills. At Blueboard, we let each employee take turns planning our monthly team events, and it has led to us sharing cool experiences together, such as fencing, aerial yoga, wine blending, and volunteering at a local farm.
  • Use experiential rewards to recognize good work. Another way to weave in experiences is to use experiential rewards for your employee recognition efforts. Not only is this a meaningful way to reward high-quality work, but it also encourages your employees to get out of the office and do something they love or have always wanted to try.
  • Allow flex time. Of course, your employees can’t make time for fresh experiences if they’re working all day, everyday. So let your team have some flexible working days or days off for learning opportunities, such as attending events or going to workshops.

Idea #5: Provide Mentorship

Mentorship is a great way to encourage professional growth and development. Why? Studies have shown that positive mentorship propels career growth (especially for women), exposes both the mentor and mentee to fresh perspectives, and levels the playing field when it comes to professional opportunities. There are so many ways to execute on this strategy:

  • Establish an internal program. A common way companies provide mentorship is by establishing an internal program where a more junior person is paired up with a more senior person at the organization to be their mentor. Just be sure to take personality, communication preferences, and goals into consideration when matching people together.
  • Sponsor external coaches. An alternative to an internal mentorship program is to support coaching for your employees. If you have the budget, let your employees pick a vetted career coach to have regular sessions with so they have an objective party to discuss work-related problems, goals, and aspirations with.
  • Consider other channels. Keep in mind that mentors don’t have to come from the workplace. There are so many groups out there that offer industry-specific or role-specific mentorship opportunities or connect like-minded people to each other. For example, check out Parlay House, which is a women’s group in San Francisco, NYC, and coming soon to Los Angeles. So share recommendations with your employees and encourage them to get out there and meet potential mentors.

Providing opportunities for professional growth and development is a clear-cut way to be a competitive company. Thankfully, there are many actions you can take today to create those opportunities for your employees.

If you’re curious to learn more about how experiential employee rewards can help fuel the passions, personal goals, and creative needs of your top talent, we’d love to connect. Feel free to request a demo to learn more, or give us a shout in the Live Chat window at the bottom right corner!

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