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Article 11 min read

What is employee development, and why is it important?

Attract top talent and empower employees to do their best work by creating an employee development plan for your workforce.

Par Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Dernière mise à jour April 18, 2024

What is employee development?

Employee development involves heightening the knowledge and skills of your organization’s employees. By implementing strategic initiatives, such as workshops and mentoring, businesses can help employees grow in their careers. The result can increase an individual’s productivity and retention within the organization.

Employee development is an investment in your business’s people and, by extension, the organization itself. To keep ahead of the competition, continually developing your team members’ industry knowledge is wise. Through strategic initiatives, businesses can build upon employee strengths and address weaknesses.

Employee development is also a crucial part of the employee experience (EX). According to the Zendesk Employee Experience Trends Report 2024, nearly 50 percent of EX leaders plan on investing in staff training and development in the next 12 months.

We’ll explore additional reasons employee development is essential for your workforce, dive into the concepts of an employee development plan, and show you where to begin. We’ll also provide specific examples to kickstart your employee development process and answer some frequently asked questions.

More in this guide:

Why is employee development important?

Employee development impacts your business internally and externally. Employee growth opportunities within an organization impact efficiency and retention rates and can even improve your overall customer experience (CX). Learn why employee development is important and why you should get started today.

Five icons represent reasons employee development is important, including attracting top industry talent and elevating the customer experience.

Attract top industry talent

The rise of remote work makes attracting top industry talent more challenging due to the wide array of employment opportunities and workplaces available to job seekers. To continue attracting the best talent to your organization, you’ll need to remain competitive, offering new norm workplace perks that applicants will find attractive.

Employee development is an opportunity to increase your business’s allure for prospective team members. If you do not promote employee development within your organization, positions can quickly become labeled as dreaded ‘dead-end jobs’ where employees see no opportunity for career advancement.

Retain your employees

Employee development is an attractive offering in today’s job marketplace, so businesses should ensure they are providing growth opportunities. Not supplying opportunities for team members can make learning opportunities elsewhere appear more enticing.

According to our 2024 EX Trends Report, 90 percent of respondents agreed that offering an excellent employee experience is vital to retaining top talent, highlighting the direct impact of employee experience on retention rates.

Improve overall efficiency

Embrace the future of work with AI-powered solutions that enhance efficiency and foster innovation. In today’s tech-savvy landscape, equipping your employees with the knowledge to navigate and leverage these smart systems is a cornerstone of contemporary employee development strategies. Elevate your team’s performance and professional growth by integrating comprehensive training on cutting-edge tools as a vital component of your development initiatives—empowering them to excel in an increasingly intelligent workplace.

In fact, our EX Trends Report found that 81 percent of EX leaders believe AI can increase efficiency. For example, if you’re a customer service manager, you might show your team how they can leverage generative AI tools to enable them to write help center content faster.

Help employees do their best work

Enhancing employee proficiency isn’t just beneficial—it’s imperative for maintaining exceptional standards of work amidst evolving industries and emerging technologies. With 79 percent of organizations already noting the improvement in work quality due to AI capabilities, neglecting to incorporate AI training into your employee development strategy risks leaving your team in the competitive dust.

Consider the proactive approach of numerous support team leaders: they’re elevating their agents’ capabilities by emphasizing AI literacy, ensuring swift, tailored customer support. Solutions like Zendesk AI are revolutionizing this space by arming agents with intelligent insights and recommendations for responding to customer inquiries, setting a new benchmark for service standards.

Elevate the customer experience

Employee development initiatives can improve your customer experience. From the sales floor to the back office, having well-trained employees can provide a customer experience with less friction. It ensures team members pass accurate product knowledge to the customer.

Most individuals can recall when something an agent or employee said or did was later deemed incorrect. The solution is thorough training and employee development initiatives that keep your team members growing.

What is an employee development plan?

You’ve identified employee professional development as a positive force for your business but may need help knowing where to begin. An employee development plan allows organizations to understand their current state, assess employee values, and establish obtainable goals. Once you draft a plan, it doesn’t end there; the business analyzes feedback and establishes ongoing opportunities to allow for continuous growth.

A definition of an employee development plan is accompanied by an illustration of two people relaxing in a field.

Explore more EX trends

Be prepared for the future of work. Learn the top trends shaping the EX in 2024 and beyond.

How to create an employee development plan

Read on to learn the key steps for creating an employee development plan.

Pro tip: View professional development plans as living outlines instead of making them rigid rules. By understanding the changing values of your workforce and making the required adjustments, you can ensure your employee development plan doesn’t quickly become obsolete.

Eight icons represent the steps for creating an employee development plan, like collecting employee feedback.

1. Assess your company’s goals

Begin by understanding your company’s primary goals. Development plan aside, what changes does the business want to enact? For example, an IT support team might wish to increase the overall number of tickets handled during a set period or reduce costs by implementing AI.

The development plan then becomes the action plan. How can you develop your workforce in a manner to meet your goals? Knowing why your company wants to integrate a development plan is vital—a train can’t leave the station until it knows where it is going.

2. Understand what employees value and need

Once your company establishes its goals for an employee development plan, confirm that you understand what employees value and need.

As a factor that may change over time, check that your understanding is current. Review employee experience data to understand your current values and needs. Another option could be to connect directly with employees via surveys.

If you do not understand your employees’ values, your development strategy may not succeed.

3. Connect with people managers

People managers are responsible for understanding your workforce best. Once you know your employees’ values and needs, reach out to your managers—they are the experts in employee experience management. Based on the front-of-line contact they make with different employees daily, managers may be able to make adjustments or propose changes. Trust your team’s skill sets.

4. Set goals for employee development

Once you have a clear understanding of your company’s goals and a firm grasp of your employees’ needs, you can begin setting goals specifically for your employee development plan. When establishing goals, follow the SMART goal system, ensuring you implement measurable metrics and achievable objectives. You will likely only see the desired results if you can set specific or relevant career goals for your organization.

When determining what your goals should be, it may also be helpful to use WFM and QA tools. For example, if you’re looking to set goals for your customer service team’s development plan, Zendesk QA can help you identify recurring issues and training needs. Your employee development plan can focus on closing those knowledge gaps.

5. Apply training to real-world tasks

As the training process commences, apply your employee training programs to real-world tasks. Like the “use it or lose it” mentality, when your team members don’t implement exercises in the workforce, they may lose the knowledge due to the passage of time. Real-world tasks also assist with practice, helping employees learn the intricacies of a task that learning material may not have reflected in training.

6. Collect feedback from employees

As your team implements the employee development plan, don’t be afraid to collect feedback to understand employee satisfaction. Your business’ first sign that a program is having its intended effect is to capture input. If your goal is to increase employee well-being, but your workforce dreads any development scenarios or workforces, you should reevaluate your methodology.

Collected feedback will also be helpful with new hires, providing a smoother employee onboarding experience. New employees can get started with multiple tested career development plans available for their continued growth.

7. Allow employees to personalize their plan

The Zendesk EX Trends Report 2024 found that 83.54 percent of leaders “agree that the capability for employees to customize their roles is important for their personal development and the success of their organization.” Not everyone on your team will learn the same way; making individual employee adjustments is a key component that businesses implementing development must monitor.

In light of this, why not introduce a system of personalized development discussions, held quarterly between managers and their team members? These tailored dialogues would allow each employee to shape their career trajectory with the support of their manager, forging a developmental roadmap that aligns with their individual ambitions and the broader objectives of the company. By prioritizing such personalization in your development framework, you position your team—and your entire organization—for dynamic growth and sustained success.

8. Make resources on development plans and processes easy to find

Employee development is a challenging prospect, but there is no need to make it any more difficult than it may already appear. Ensure that resources for development plans and processes are easy to find and that your team doesn’t have to run in circles.

Providing access to an internal knowledge base is an excellent way to enable employees and their managers to obtain information without additional assistance. Knowledge bases allow companies to store a vast array of knowledge within a singular location. They can also help increase the accuracy and standardization of information.

Employee development examples

When developing your employee development plan, you might need assistance ideating. Your team can implement different ideas, and your workforce may respond more positively to some solutions than others. Test different offerings within your company culture and make required adjustments based on feedback and goal developments.

Six icons represent six employee development ideas.

Host lunch and learns

Hosting lunch and learns is a great way for your team to level their knowledge. During lunch, a speaker provides a short presentation introducing or reaffirming industry concepts and techniques. Some organizations will have employees bring bagged lunches, while others will pay for lunches to incentivize attendance.

Offer mentorship opportunities

Pairing top-performing employees with team members is a great way to help knowledge disseminate through your workplace. Mentorship development opportunities can help employees with existing competencies or introduce them to new skills. Shadowing is also an excellent way for employees to walk a mile in the shoes of a position they may be interested in being promoted to in the future.

Host training sessions

Training sessions can be another option for effective employee development, similar to lunch and learns, but not scheduled during mealtime. Businesses can host training sessions online or in person, which may be mandatory. When introducing new concepts or procedures, these sessions can be a great way to onboard employees simultaneously.

Provide 1-on-1 coaching

Some employees discover meeting with another team member for one-on-one coaching is beneficial. While this idea may seem similar to mentorship training, the employee does not need to be engaged in a particular development plan. Access to one-on-one coaching is a fantastic way for team members to ask questions, grow, and address skill gaps.

Implement cross-training

Cross-training allows employees to understand various roles within your company better. It may often occur outside the employee’s typical department, enabling growth or a better understanding of areas where they typically don’t work. Cross-training can improve employees’ knowledge and communication skills by providing better transparency of internal processes.

Give stretch assignments

A stretch goal is an ideal that is optional to achieve. With stretch assignments, you provide employees with additional tasks they can complete, but there is no strict requirement for achieving them. Utilizing stretch assignments can help employees take on extra challenges for greater fulfillment. Stretch goals are also a way to introduce team members to concepts they will want to familiarize themself with for new roles.

Frequently asked questions

Put your employees on a path to success

Ensuring employees are on the right track can be challenging, but establishing an employee development plan makes it more attainable. By focusing on employee development, your business can stay ahead of the game, attracting top industry talent, reducing employee turnover, and improving overall workplace efficiency. Development continues to stand tall as a vital pillar of the employee experience.

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