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What Is Employee Development? Tips and a Template To Grow Your Team

What Is Employee Development? Tips and a Template To Grow Your Team

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💡 What is employee development?

Employee development refers to the process of expanding employees' skills, knowledge, and abilities. It gives people opportunities to learn and grow in their roles—and develop areas of expertise that can enhance their impact and advance their careers.

When you’re juggling exec feedback, new hire questions, and the growing collection of cups on your desk, creating learning and development opportunities can unintentionally fall through the cracks.

But keeping your team happy and challenged (in a good way!) is more important than ever.

LinkedIn Learning’s Workplace Learning Report found that nearly 93% of surveyed organizations are worried about employee retention. What’s the number one way they plan to get out in front of it? By providing learning opportunities.

At the same time and on the flip side—only one in 10 surveyed employees said that their organization challenged them to learn a new skill. 

What does this mean? Now is a great time to double down on employee development opportunities to build on your team’s strengths, help people grow professionally, and give everyone every reason to stick around.

We’ll go over the importance of employee development programs, steps you can take to create one, and some examples to try with your team.

Why is employee development important?

Employee development is important because it increases capacity and potential. 

Ultimately this benefits both the individual and the organization overall—by improving job performance, increasing productivity, and creating a more skilled and engaged workforce. See more specific benefits below!

💡 Tango tip

Encourage employees to take ownership of their development by setting clear goals and identifying areas for improvement.

Supports business growth and agility

Employee development training can help your team become more resilient and adaptable as the business’s needs change and grow over time.

For example, you may lead a team that’s well known for in-person team-building programs. But as more teams shift to remote work and hire employees from all over, it’ll be helpful for your team to learn how to replicate (or even enhance) the experience for virtual teams.

Prepares your team for the unexpected

Proactively preparing your team for different responsibilities can make a big difference when the unexpected happens.

Imagine a cybersecurity breach happened in the middle of the day. If your IT team already had the knowledge they needed to get the problem solved quickly with minimal disruptions, they’d be able to help your security team without any last minute training.

Strategically leveling up your team based on potential risks, business objectives, and your teammates’ individual goals can be beneficial across the board.

There are three main ways to look at skill growth: 

  • Upskilling is when a team member learns complementary skills to grow in their current role.
  • Cross-skilling is when a team member learns new skills to help them support other areas while still doing their current role.
  • Reskilling is when a team member learns new skills for a completely different role.

Your team can get the most out of employee development by communicating their own interests and goals—and connecting them to business needs and impact areas. 

Improves employee retention and career growth

A great employee development program can help team members align their career paths more closely with their own goals. It can prepare them for a management role they’ve been eyeing or pave the way to a new department that’s a better fit.

Thoughtful training can also give your team the right tools and skills to do their best work—along with more time to do what they love. 

Enhances employee engagement and happiness

Needless to say, giving your team more interesting and meaningful work can help them enjoy their day-to-day work lives more. Creating a formal employee training program may be just the catalyst they need to volunteer for something new or challenging.

This is also a chance to connect them with employee development opportunities that excite them. Some people may want to try a job rotation, while others might prefer to connect with a mentor.

Employee development is also a natural way to get different teams to work together. For example, your IT and security teams may work a lot around each other, but imagine how many more problems they could solve (and prevent!) if they collaborated more closely. Creating a cross-skilling program for these two teams could help them streamline workflows and turn a mountain of tickets into a much more manageable hill.

Attracts top talent

Employee development programs can also grab job seekers’ attention while they’re looking to jump ship at their current company.

A survey of 90,000 job seekers from Boston Consulting Group and The Network found that:

  • 41% of job seekers say their ideal career path is joining a good company and growing into a leadership position.
  • 26% of job seekers actively looking for a job are looking because they don’t have opportunities to further their career in their current role.
list of steps and tips for creating an employee development program

How to create an employee development program

Employee development programming will look different for each company, department, and team, but there are still some universal best practices. 

Below, we’ll go over the broad steps (in recommended order) you can take to start creating your team’s employee development program. 

1. Spell out metrics and goals

Start by determining the goal of your program and the KPIs and metrics you’ll use to measure your team’s progress. Getting these ducks in a row will help you communicate your goals—and make a case for when and why more resources may be needed.

For example, if your goal is to have more copywriters who can manage freelance writers, you could set up a KPI like this:

  • Train at least 50% of copywriting staff in project management and content management by the end of Q4.

You can also look at other metrics to help highlight benefits to key decision makers.

Example metrics related to business goals include:

  • Training completion rate
  • Time spent to complete training (also called “time to proficiency”)
  • Post-training survey scores
  • Performance review scores
  • Management feedback
  • ROI comparing training costs to employee outcomes
  • Change in time spent on tasks after training
  • Number of positions created and eliminated
  • Number and types of projects team members can take on
  • Customer service ratings
  • Number of learners who can train others on new skills (also called “transfer of training”)

However, your goals should also consider your team’s needs and overall happiness. Metrics like these might need separate surveys and more qualitative ways to collect information. They may also overlap with existing business metrics, if you’re already keeping a pulse on similar stats. 

Example metrics related to employee happiness and satisfaction include:

  • Employee happiness survey scores
  • Employee feedback scores on training
  • Employee retention rate
  • Employee engagement rate

It also helps to think long term. To return to our previous example—will upskilling the copywriting staff help solve any bigger issues?

The answer might be “yes” if your editorial team wants to shift its budget toward more senior content managers to eventually phase out and replace in-house writers. This could be part of a larger strategic shift you’d like to make to your team’s client offerings. 

2. Get support from key decision makers

The next step is to make the business case for prioritizing employee development to key decision makers who manage your team's schedule, budget, and billable work.

Tip: Align your program’s goals, KPIs, and metrics with your company’s goals. 

Here’s some other information you can include when making your business case:

  • Benefits for your team and the business
  • Scalability of the employee development program
  • Current challenges and knowledge gaps that this training can fix
  • Recent feedback from the ground up
  • Recommended budget shifts and requests
  • Line-by-line breakdown of costs, including tools and software

Knowing what you have to work with now can set you on the right course when you start planning. After all, getting help from an outside coach is a much different route than DIYing a training curriculum by yourself.

3. Gain insight from your team

It’s a good idea to crowdsource input before you get started on creating any programming. In an ideal world, your entire team would be excited and on board for training. In reality, some people on your team may have valid concerns or feedback about your employee development program ideas.

Here are some questions you can ask to get helpful feedback from your team:

  • What are your current career goals?
  • What skills or knowledge do you feel you need to develop to achieve those goals?
  • What type of training or learning opportunities do you feel would be most helpful for you?
  • How do you currently learn and develop new skills?
  • What type of support or resources would you need to take advantage of employee development programs?
  • How do you see your role evolving in the future, and what skills or knowledge will you need to succeed in that role?
  • How do you think employee development programs could benefit the team or the organization as a whole?
  • What challenges do you anticipate in implementing an employee development program?
  • What types of incentives or rewards would motivate you to participate in employee development programs?
  • How would you like to be involved in the design and implementation of employee development programs?

It may also be helpful to keep the door open to any other training-related feedback. This can spark new ideas for training, or highlight big skill gaps that need your support. 

💡 Tango tip

Tap your top performers and senior team members for ideas! With any luck, they’ll have great documentation and recommendations that can help shape your program.

4. Look for opportunities for growth and improvement

Even the most high performing team members have growth opportunities. To surface what will be most impactful, look to your most valuable players AND the people who need more coaching. 

Your top talent may already be asking for opportunities or actively demonstrating  their potential. You can use the planning process to see if your new potential program might meet their needs.

If the development program you have in mind isn’t a match, work together to find one that would be. You may be able to leverage an existing program, or you may spot an opportunity for an entirely new, more immediately meaningful program.

For example, if your most talented writer wants to stay in a writing-focused role, consider creating an upskilling opportunity so they can eventually support the product team by creating technical documentation.

But what about team members who need extra support? They’re a valuable source of insights and observations, too. 

Circling back to our copywriter example, you may learn that some people on your team don’t feel confident managing freelance writers and struggle with common project management challenges.

Learning more about those two topics may help them feel more equipped to take on those new responsibilities in time. 

💡 Tango tip

As feedback rolls in, take a minute to update your documentation—and help people help themselves.

5. Design your employee development program

You’ve got your goals, your budget, your outline, and your feedback—now you can get to work on designing the program itself. 

Here are some best practices for creating an effective program:

  • Choose the type of programming that best matches your team’s needs.
  • Assign responsibilities for roles like managing each team member’s progress, addressing feedback, day-to-day troubleshooting, and evaluating the program itself.
  • Find opportunities for external resources like workshops or certification programs.
  • Consolidate existing training documents and programs to streamline efforts. 
  • Create process documentation to describe how trainers and learners will move through the program.
  • Outline the program’s expectations, milestones, and timelines for both trainers and learners.
  • Draft recommended shifts to team schedules and work so you can still meet team goals.
  • Revisit your budget to match any changes needed from your initial estimate.
  • Set up follow-up touchpoints throughout and after the program to check on retention and collect feedback.
  • Ask for feedback from trainers and learners to get ahead of issues down the line.

Along the way, you can also look for a great documentation tool to keep track of all of the processes you’ll teach your team. 

6. Begin the development program

The moment we’ve all been waiting for: the actual employee development program!

If all is set up accordingly, trainers can lean on your training SOPs as a guide, while learners can jump right in and start learning.

Tip: Make sure everyone can access all necessary documentation and resources.

7. Collect ongoing feedback and make improvements

Here’s a hard truth for all the detail-oriented knowledge managers out there—your employee development program might not ever be perfect.

Your program might not be the best fit for each person. You may discover a better way to teach a new skill. Your materials may become less relevant as company priorities change over time. (This is especially likely if you’re part of a growing company!)

That said—keeping scalability in mind and taking the steps to continuously improve your processes can help employee development training evolve with your team. Consistently encouraging feedback can also help you and your team stay on top of any needed changes.

Here are some tips to collect and implement feedback and improvements:

  • Make it easy and clear for your team to send feedback, with a feedback survey for your team to complete at the end of the program.
  • Follow up with your team to show how you’ve applied their feedback.
  • Proactively make changes based on emerging technologies and upcoming shifts in your company, industry, and overall market.

Speaking of new tools, you may wind up coming across a documentation tool that reflects updates in real time. And eliminates the need to find and archive old versions. 👀 

💃 Let's Tango: Share new knowledge, in seconds
Classes, workshops, and mentorships—oh my! Although there are lots of ways to train your team, clear documentation is the key to making knowledge accessible and actionable.

The only problem? The time it takes to collect, format, and reformat essential information.

With Tango, you can capture any process in seconds. Just go through each step the way you normally would, and let Tango do the rest. Once you’re done, you’ll have a step-by-step guide that’s easy to share and even easier to use.

Check it out:

Employee development plan and template

An employee development plan is a tool you and your teammates can use to talk about individual career goals and align them with company goals and resources.

A person aiming for a leadership position will have a much different plan than someone looking into an individual contributor role. However, many employee development plans share these common elements:

  • Individual goals (short, mid, and long term)
  • List of current strengths
  • Desired skills (and how to acquire them) 
  • Available resources 
  • Alignment with team needs
  • Business impact 
  • Timeline

Some teams prefer more granular plans with steps, while others prefer something more high-level to keep the big picture in mind. 

These plans can also help you prioritize training topics for your team. If you have a lot of aspiring managers, it’s probably time to give your mentorship program more thought or open up more job shadowing opportunities.

Employee Development Plan Template
mockup of an employee development plan template

Challenges managers can expect

We get it—it’s tough to carve out training time when everyone is carrying a full load. It’s also tricky if your budget is nearly nonexistent. 😅

Keep an eye out for common employee development challenges you may need to tackle:

  • Lack of funding or resources to deliver a quality program
  • Unclear expectations for learners and trainers
  • Limited training materials and tools as a result of a small budget
  • Stale documentation and varying best practices between teams
  • Outdated technology that makes it difficult to deliver development programming
  • Legal issues if expectations aren’t set on what training is required and what training time is compensated
  • Upfront effort needed to make the business case, especially if decision makers need lots of convincing
  • Changing priorities that can quickly outdate training goals and materials
  • Absence of in-house subject matter expertise

You may need to take a phased approach to get your program off the ground. There’s nothing wrong with piloting a job shadowing program with one team to get early feedback, and going from there.

Examples of employee development opportunities

There are many employee training methods you can try with your team. We can separate employee development opportunities into three broad categories: structured learning, hands-on opportunities, and one-on-one opportunities. We’ll go over each one below.

lists of employee development opportunities categorized by structured learning opportunities, hands-on opportunities, and one-on-one opportunities

Structured learning opportunities

Structured learning—or formal learning—can make you feel like you’re back in the classroom. You can expect lectures, resources to read, and even homework assignments. 🎒

This route may be best if you need to teach your team foundational skills in a group setting. The downside to this approach is it can really dip into working time. You may need to convince managers that training goals are business goals.

Here are some examples of structured learning opportunities:

  • Conferences
  • Classes
  • Training programs
  • Books
  • Process documentation
  • Certifications
  • Lunch and learns
  • Workshops

Hands-on opportunities

Hands-on opportunities are a great way to give your team exposure to real projects from more experienced team members. You can also create visibility into day-to-day challenges so people can work better together. This is also a chance to put some of your team’s institutional knowledge out in the wild (and hopefully in some documentation in the near future 🤔).

What should you watch for, when it comes to learning on the job? Overwhelming people by giving them too many new responsibilities too fast.

Here are some examples of hands-on learning opportunities:

  • Job rotation
  • Cross-functional training
  • Stretch assignments
  • Special projects
  • Microlearning
  • More variety of responsibilities (also called “job enrichment”)

One-on-one opportunities

Pairing team members directly can be the start of great mentorship and friendship. Mentorships and job shadowing can give team members an easier way to ask questions, get training opportunities, and have someone to lean on for professional advice.

This can be great for team members who work better with one-on-one attention and prefer private feedback. This can also be a chance for team members to learn more deeply about different career paths.

One inconvenient truth: it can be tough to find experienced team members who are willing and able to help guide someone else on the team. Note you can look to external coaches or a wider network, but you may have less control and insight into how they support your team.

Here are some examples of one-on-one opportunities:

  • Mentorship
  • Shadowing
  • Coaching
  • Networking

The bottom line

Employee development programs are a process. It can take multiple iterations and countless cups of coffee to create one that serves individual interests AND supports organizational goals. However, shipping an initial version and refining from there  can accelerate your team’s long-term growth and—more importantly—help everyone learn, teach, and do their best work. 

The success of your program may come down to your documentation. After all, the skills you’re teaching and best practices you’re sharing need somewhere to live!

Before you let out a heavy sigh, hear us out. Getting the busiest people on your team on board may not be as complicated as you think. All you need is a simple tool that helps people document way more, in way less time. 💃


What are common employee development areas?

Common employee development areas cover both hard and soft skills.

Examples of hard skills include:

  • Budgeting
  • Scheduling
  • Goal setting
  • Project management
  • Writing
  • Public speaking
  • Customer service

Examples of soft skills include:

  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Leadership
  • Stress management
  • Conflict resolution
How can managers support their team's development?

Managers can support their team’s career development by learning what team members want and putting the resources in place to support those requests. This can mean assigning them projects that align with their career goals or pairing them with a mentor on a similar path.

Managers can also pay attention to cues in their team’s work and what they casually mention. One team member may really enjoy project management, while others may enjoy talking to clients. Noticing these little things can help you refine your throwing-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach and instead set up opportunities that actually excite them (did someone say pasta night?).

How can managers create effective employee development plans?

Managers can create effective plans by prioritizing their team members’ and their team’s overall goals, advocating for resources to key decision makers, and holding their team accountable for goals and milestones.

Putting these key points on paper can help you and your team members get on the same page and clearly lay out their career roadmap.

How far into the future should plans look toward?

Employee development plans can look as far as a few years or as soon as a couple quarters ahead. The right answer depends on your team members’ goals and how long it would realistically take to get there.

What are current employee development trends?

Microlearning, continuous learning, and blended learning opportunities are a few employee development trends making a buzz.

Microlearning focuses on jam-packing the most important details into a quick video or blurb (think: TikTok).

Continuous learning focuses on ways to include learning opportunities throughout your workflow, rather than rearranging work schedules to accommodate training.

Blended learning looks to combine different types of training, like courses and job coaching, to create more effective learning experiences. This can include techniques like gamification or using AI, augmented reality, and other emerging technologies in the learning and development world.

Should you hop on every new trend? Not necessarily, but it can be an opportunity to experiment with fresh ideas.

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