5 Research-Backed Ways to Drive Employee Development

By Emily Roner | Updated: 04 Oct, 2019

Investing in employee development is arguably the most effective way to boost company performance. Studies show that 90% of companies that implement employee development initiatives see 10%+ increases in sales and employee engagement and a 3%+ increase in engaged customers.

The key to seeing these kinds of results is giving employees a range of ways to learn new skills and improve existing ones. Here are five employee development methods that will boost your company’s success.


1) Help Your Employees Use Their Strengths

Gallup has found that employees who use their strengths on a daily basis are six times more likely to be engaged. Since engaged employees are more productive, committed, and generally perform better than unengaged employees, helping your team use their strengths is an effective method to holistically improve their performance.

To help your team develop and leverage their strengths, you first need to identify what they’re best at. Employees are often unaware of their most useful strengths so you need to sit down with them and discuss what kinds of tasks they excel at. Focusing on tasks, not projects, is key since they may be extremely talented at one part of a project and struggle to complete a different part.

Once you know your team’s strengths, drive employee development by shifting their responsibilities to focus as much as possible on what they’re best at. Over time, this will boost their performance and enable you to set more ambitious, strengths-based goals with them.

Read More: How to Set Effective Goals with Employees and Boost Performance


2) Give Stretch Projects

Stretch projects are one of the most cost-effective employee development methods. Since they allow employees to learn new skills by doing projects that benefit your organization, you get an almost immediate ROI that lets you test your team’s readiness to permanently take on greater responsibilities.

Here are some examples:

  • Challenge them to reach a higher goal on an existing project
  • Have them complete a new project start to finish with minimal instructions
  • Offload one of your projects to them
  • Have them help a senior member of your team with a project

Periodically check in with your employees while they’re working on stretch projects to offer support and ensure they don’t get overwhelmed if the project is too difficult.

Read More: How to Motivate Employees to Engage in Continuous Learning


3) Encourage Employees to Pursue Side Projects

Research shows that employees who are allowed to pursue side projects are more productive and energized than those who are limited to working on their core responsibilities.

Side projects spur employee development by:

  • Encouraging them to come up with creative solutions to the problems they face.
  • Allowing them to learn new skills.
  • Giving them greater ownership over their responsibilities.

To get side projects started, ask your team if they have any ideas they’re interested in pursuing and give them a set amount of time to work on their side projects.


4) Allow Employees to Temporarily Swap Teams

A study from IBM found that employees who feel like they're not growing in their company are 12x more likely to leave. So, unless top performers absolutely love their jobs, they’re likely to start looking for growth opportunities elsewhere once they’ve plateaued in their current role.

To support your employees’ desires for professional development and incentivize them to stay, allow them to temporarily swap teams to work on interesting projects. Here’s how:

  • Figure out what skills they’re interested in developing.
  • Meet with other managers to see if they need help with any upcoming projects that require the skills your employees are interested in learning.
  • Offer your employees opportunities to temporarily work on projects outside your team.

Though your employees will have limited capacity for a few weeks, they’ll return to your team full-time with new skills and a renewed sense of excitement in their role.


5) Provide On-Going Coaching

Researchers have found that effective workplace coaching has an ROI of 5.7X its’ cost. All coaching requires is management time and yet it’s one of the most effective employee development methods.

Here how to provide coaching that encourages employee development:

  • Provide candid feedback on their performance. In order for employees to improve, they need to know where they’re at. Go into their coaching sessions prepared with specific and objective examples of things that they need to fix. Use a calm tone and let them know that you’ll help them learn the skills they need. Being empathetic instead of accusatory lessens the likelihood that they’ll react defensively.
  • Help your employees solve their own problems. A key part of employee development is equipping your team to work more independently. When employees come to you with problems, ask them a series of questions that guides them toward the solution instead of telling them directly. The conversation will take longer than if you don’t them what you’d do but this employee development method saves time in the long run since your team will come to you with less problems.
  • Encourage dialogue. Sometimes your perception of an employee’s performance is skewed from a lack of information or they repeat mistakes because your previous feedback wasn’t clear. Inviting your team to raise these issues with you builds trust and enables you to address the root causes of their challenges.

To maximize employee development, provide coaching on a regular basis so that your team becomes comfortable receiving constructive feedback and learns how to act on it.

Read More: How to Use Workplace Coaching to Boost Performance

Give Your Employees the Gift of Productivity

One of the most meaningful ways to show your employees you appreciate them is by giving them more time to focus on the work they love. Learn how to give your employees the gift of productivity by checking out our free guide How to Give Your Team Leverage with Virtual Assistants. In it, you'll learn: 

  • What kinds of time-saving tasks your team can offload
  • How we work with you to maximize the ROI of our service
  • Our process for securely leveraging your systems

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About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.