Employee Development Areas

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In this article, we will cover 7 key employee development areas and the most effective ways to develop them.

In combination with another article 11 Employee Development Methods, you will learn how to build comprehensive learning programs for your employees.

Why do you need to continuously develop your workforce?

All employees benefit from continued development - regardless of their specific skill set, specialty, or focus, their roles and responsibilities are constantly changing, and thus require the employee to evolve and adapt to these challenges.

This guide will not cover any of the technical skills mainly because technical skills can contain many different sub-skills, and all of these sub-skills are equally important.

Organizations benefit just as much as the employee, if not more, from continued development.

The need to be competitive with similar organizations and remain profitable is what drives companies to invest in their employees; because of the rapidly changing environment and technologies, the only way to achieve that is to constantly develop employees through Continuous Learning.

While some organizations want people with very basic skills and others are looking for people with lots of experience and expertise, both types of employees reap the rewards, thanks to a focus on much broader areas of development for employee growth.

Imagine a creative and flexible team with exceptional work ethic, capable of solving problems, communicative and able to prioritize and multi-task! Everyone wins – the employee AND the organization.

7 Key employee development areas

  1. Flexibility
  2. Communication skills
  3. Bonus: Conflict Resolution, Tactfulness, Work ethic
  4. Leadership Skills
  5. Organizational Skills
  6. Creativity Skills
  7. Bonus: Stress Management

Both employees and employers can focus on them together.

1. Flexibility

Because today’s business environment is so dynamic, employees must develop skills to help them adapt to ever-changing work-related situations.

In a rapidly changing business world, employees that are highly flexible in their responses to changing situations are a prized asset.

Adaptability is the key to an employee’s well-being and ability to thrive within the work environment.

A static employee is one that will quickly become disengaged from excelling and moving forward, or worse, overwhelmed and overstressed, resulting in poor performance or an early evacuation/termination from the organization.

New environments, and learning to acclimatize to them effectively, requires a diverse set of tools from the developmental toolbox.

One of the most crucial being knowledge management within the organization. This crucial component allows a breadth of shared and supportive information by leveraging this holistic process of capturing, distributing, and then effectively using an entire organization’s collective knowledge.

The employee (and employer) can thus rely on these resources to truly grow and develop.

The sub-skills of being Highly Flexible

Let's take a closer look at the building blocks of reaching the big-picture goal of being highly flexible, and then the steps to achieve it.

  1. Ability to learn new skills:
    Without innovation and growth, an organization will be left behind while the competition moves forward. Employees must have the ability to be trained and embrace the process of continuous learning. Make this endemic to the daily structure; allow and encourage education.
  2. Adaptability:
    New skills, knowledge, and understanding are great but moreover is the ability to take those learned skills and adapt them to the task at hand. Again, rely upon knowledge management to pull from that collective information. Maybe a single employee doesn’t have the insight to apply what he or she knows to find a solution, but a multidisciplinary approach of bringing in more voices to the equation will often result in solutions.
  3. Improvising:
    Despite the best-laid plans, sometimes it takes good old fashioned improv to get the job done. Have a new technology, marketing idea, or design that the company hasn't tried before? Don't be afraid to encourage employees to "wing it" by applying what they know in a best-guess fashion at an improvised solution.
  4. Ability to respond to new problems or issues:
    This is where most companies will use their Flexibility power in day to day operations. New problems will always arise, but instead of letting the gears come to a screeching halt, flexible employees will find a solution – quickly and efficiently without missing a beat.

Ways to train a Highly Flexible workforce

Here are a few real-world ways to refine some areas of development for employee flexibility:

  • Cross-training: By providing employees with cross-team training, everyone in the organization will learn to appreciate the challenges that other teams face when performing their roles. As an employee, this ability, to understand and deal with a variety of challenges in the workplace, breeds flexibility.
  • Change role/department/project/new responsibilities for a short period of time. Giving new responsibilities can help with understanding the bigger picture and of course develop new skills. For example, a team lead position can help an employee understand the workflow and management side of a project - what has to come together from all the participating team members to make it successful. Of course, employees need to agree to such actions.
  • Business trips to other offices, branches or shops. This can open up a whole new way of doing things that may have not been considered. Additionally, trips to the customer’s side of the table are often the best way to get a grasp on their problems/needs and processes that can be improved.
  • Involve employees in making decisions. When people get to participate in decision making, they feel more committed to achieving the goals and they are also more motivated to reach the new goals. It also helps people to understand different perspectives and the reasons behind impactful decisions.
  • Explaining and understanding the big picture: Instead of focusing on task-specific imperatives, managers, supervisors, and employees can work together to focus on what the greater impact of those individual tasks are on the bigger goal. This helps promote greater flexibility amongst management and work teams.
  • Supervisors and managers can encourage workers to try something different that will take them out of their comfort zone.
  • If employees are eager to work on new tasks, assigning stretch goals is yet another way to help them add new skills to their current inventory of talents.
  • Support networks: Often, the root cause of inflexibility in the workplace comes from a sense of feeling overwhelmed in a role. If employees start networking with peers and other colleagues, and employers offer support (e.g. Designating “go-to” individuals or Mentors), the workplace can be a very flexible and adaptable place.
  • Offering feedback, and accepting it positively, is often tough, but it can lead to positive skills and development outcomes. Delivering criticism in a positive – often private – way allows such critique to be construed less as “reprimand” and more as advice. Accepting criticism without fear that “management is out to get you!” can turn critique into a learning point. Again, present it as “feedback” and not criticism. Also, encourage the two-way street of both asking for and giving feedback.
  • Formal studying: Courses, Certificates, Web course, Books, magazines, Seminars. Support studying outside of work hours, e.g it can be reimbursement for paid courses, or fully paid courses by the organization if they fit the development plan.
  • Learning from peers and knowledge sharing. This can even take the form of tutoring, social learning, and sharing sessions.
  • A common goal: In the same spirit of support networks, the company should encourage teams to work together to reach the common goal as opposed to encouraging teams to compete with each other to reach their specific objectives.
  • Keep things light while reinforcing that team mentality with fun team building games.

Additional resources to read:

2. Communication skills

An organization is nothing without clear and concise communication.

In its absence, employees are working and reworking problems, in a buddle, with NO shared knowledge, insights, or diversity.

TIP: The key is creating an open format, encouraged dialogue of all team members.

Here are the skills that we’ll group under Communication, and the various ways to develop each.

  1. Teamwork
    Promote group efforts and shared project responsibilities, encourage group outings, team building activities and shared goals. Always think and speak in terms of how “we” can accomplish things instead of how “I” can contribute x,y,z to a particular project.
  2. Collaboration
    We all have different ideas, skills, and knowledge. Rely on this and facilitate it happening by encouraging a completely multidisciplinary approach.
  3. Interpersonal skills
    This encompasses a broad range of being a “good listener” and communicator. From taking responsibility to being a dependable leader, generally, focus on what it takes to be motivating to other team members and hearing what they have to say and can contribute.
  4. Empathy
    Don't be too quick to criticize without putting yourself in your co-worker's shoes. Consider the "why" someone may share a different opinion or is struggling before providing input.
  5. Listening skills
    Actually LISTEN. What is he/she actually trying to communicate? Be interested, and be engaged; don’t simply wait for your turn to speak.
  6. Public speaking
    Delivering what you have to say is much harder in front of an audience; mastering this and then moving to small groups or one-on-one will make you that much better at communicating.
  7. Making presentations
    Like public speaking, it is a good way to elevate your communication talents.
  8. Relationship building
    Have you ever met a coworker or leader that you just jive with? Consider what makes this work, and see if you can pull key interactions or personality traits from this interaction into all your relationships. If not, don’t give up; some working relationships take time to build that rapport.

Ways to help in developing communication skills:

  • Frequent meetings:
    Managers should meet frequently with their chain-of-command employees. Additionally, as employees, it helps to hold regular touch-points with peers and colleagues to keep information, thoughts and an exchange of ideas flowing freely across the organization.
  • Formal training:
    Some soft skills, such as listening and picking up visual cues and interpreting body language, need to be developed through formal training. Organizations must invest in helping employees to communicate across company hierarchy – with peers, supervisors, senior management and executives. Also, make sure you don’t forget various types of communication skills – written, oral, in-person and remote, including digital and traditional.
  • Assigning group projects:
    Working on group projects can also help bring out the best amongst individuals and teams. Volunteering to work on cross-team projects helps communication, promotes team spirit and offers a change to hone interpersonal skills.
  • Team-building games.
  • Mentoring.
  • Self-reflection and observing others.
    See how you act in different social situations. What situations make you feel uncomfortable or unable to act? What could you do to improve your communication etc? Also, be cognizant of how other people act in different situations, maybe you can find out good tips on how to act (or what not to do) in certain situations.
  • Cross-functional workshops.
    Engage in different discussions and situations. Talk with people from other cultures, people with different personalities, people with different backgrounds, people in different positions in the company, etc. Learn from them and try to understand their point of view.
  • Feedback sessions.

3. Bonus: Conflict Resolution, Tactfulness, Work ethic

When working in a team, one needs to be diplomatic and tactful, to not "ruffle any feathers".

At the same time, doing what's morally right, and taking on ethical positions in the workplace can generate conflict. It takes skill to navigate these three – sometimes conflicting – domains.

Here’s how employers and employees can work together on developing these skills for the good of individuals and the organization as a whole:

  • Training:
    Employers can nominate employees, especially those who are being groomed for leadership roles, for conflict management and arbitration training. Veteran employees can also coach less-senior staff on how to de-escalate potentially volatile situations. Practicing listening skills, learning how to communicate during stressful situations, and mastering the art of being polite but assertive can also help diplomatically resolve workplace conflicts.
  • Self-assessment:
    When faced with potential conflict in the workplace, doing a quiet self-assessment of the situation can often produce tactful solutions to dealing with it. Instead of confronting head-on the source of the irritation, teaching employees to choose one-on-one discussions or 3rd-party mediation between colleagues is also great employee development areas examples.
  • Professionalism:
    Punctuality, self-discipline, fairness, understanding, tolerance, and empathy are all hallmarks of good work ethics. They are also the traits of a good professional. While these traits are inherent to one's character, many of them can be developed through formal training. Volunteering to help colleagues that are struggling with work challenges, or taking time to train newcomers to the organization are great ways to build all these skills. Employees must practice them every chance they get – even when no one else is around to "police" them. Employers can aid good work ethics by creating a safe, fair and healthy working environment for all employees.

Although at first blush, these may seem like disparate employee development areas examples, they are in fact highly correlated.

At the end of the day, if employers and employees work jointly to develop these skills, everyone will learn to “get along better” for the greater good of the self and the organization.

Additionally, as technology is improving, the manual, routine stuff will become more and more automated.

As a result, people will have to deal with more complex stuff that requires teamwork, social skills and communication, making these skills even more valuable in all business sectors.

4. Leadership Skills

Leadership styles are diverse but to lead effectively there a few key skills that are common amongst good leaders.

Leadership skills are highly valued by employers; effective leaders can motivate and help others succeed within an organization.

A positive leader can lift a company above the competition, while a negative leader can make the work environment a dreadful, unmotivated and withering atmosphere.

Here are a few universal traits that you can likely recognize in the successful leaders within your organization.

  1. Management skills
    This goes beyond ordering people around. Strong management entails understanding those you are managing, motivating them to perform their best and sound logistics to make things run as smoothly as possible.
  2. Self-confidence
    You cannot inspire confidence in others if you do not exude confidence in yourself. It shows – be confident without being cocky.
  3. Delegation
    One of the initial stumbling blocks of inexperienced leaders is trying to do everything themselves. Realize that great leaders delegate without coming off as bossy or superior.
  4. Motivation
    This is one of those skills that are hard to teach, but easy to recognize. Some people have a way of inspiring – take note of what they’re saying and how they’re delivering it.
  5. Decision making
    Don’t be the indecisive squirrel in the road; it rarely turns out well. Make sound and confident decisions based on the best information you have available.
  6. Team management
    Whether the team is four or twenty-four strong, it is imperative that a leader is there to ensure constant forward motion amongst all team members. This takes balancing time, personalities, responsibilities, and objectives.
  7. Team leadership
    Think of team leadership as a one-up on team management. People work for a manager but follow a leader.
  8. Identifying problems
    Hopefully, this occurs before actual problems arise. Experienced leaders can preemptively squash difficulties before they arise, and moreover, can differentiate between a problem and a typical bump in the road.
  9. Developing strategies
    Otherwise, it’s a guessing game. Strong strategies drive workflow in the most efficient manner.
  10. Developmental planning
    This takes the strategies and places with their goals and a timeframe. Measurability is an important aspect of developmental planning.
  11. Assessment and evaluation
    This is a broad skill that can be applied to all areas of leadership, from processes to personnel.
  12. Problem-solving
    After identifying, rectify problems promptly. Leaders can not only rely on what has worked in the past but also have the innovation to handle problems that haven’t been seen before.
  13. Strategic thinking
    Thinking several moves in advance and playing out the “what if’s” in a game plan can lay the groundwork for a team’s success. 

One can classify all these soft skills under a single banner: The art of good leadership!

Ideas on how to develop leadership skills:

  • Mentoring:
    To grow as a leader, it’s best to be led by another one.
  • Formal training:
    Employers can invest in leadership, people management, critical thinking and public speaking courses for their employees.
  • Volunteering:
    Employees can volunteer their expertise – for instance taking company trainees under their wings, or speaking to a batch of novice workers at a convention, to hone some of these skills.
  • Task forces:
    Forming task forces, to deal with unique organizational challenges, is a great practice run for future leaders. It can also help employees hone their decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Participation in working groups and committees:
    Willing participation in working groups and committees is also a good way to polish leadership skills. It also helps employees build self-confidence in their abilities as individual contributors to such workgroups.
  • Change the way the responsibility is taken:
    e.g. give a pilot project, with permission to fail, so they won’t be afraid and will act. Often, the fear of failure is the most limiting factor in innovation and creativity. There may be a fearful genius waiting in the wings that just needs a safe atmosphere to let their talents shine – give them that chance.

Additional resources to read:

5. Organizational Skills

Balancing a multitude of tasks effectively and efficiently requires a specific set of skills:

  1. Prioritization
    The answer isn’t always what’s most important now, but more so, what needs to be completed first to allow for all the other big-picture pieces to fall into place.
  2. Time management
    this is part prioritization and part efficiency. By developing good habits and dialing in the daily workflow one can capitalize on all the available hours in a day.
  3. Multi-tasking
    if you’ve seen a master multi-tasker it’s incredible! They’re a blur of activity, accomplishing several things at once. Just make sure to find a balance; often there’s a negative return on investment when we try to do too many things at once.
  4. Managing appointments
    no one wins when meetings are missed or appointments are routinely bumped. Allot enough time for each appointment and add a little buffer time if you’re continually running late.
  5. Productivity
    this isn’t just working, it’s getting things done. If it’s taking you twice as long to do something as a colleague, reevaluate and get input on what’s making them so much more efficient.
  6. Scheduling
    the key here is details. Stick to a repeatable format that answers all the questions: who, when, where and what. Be particularly mindful of travel time and conflicts.
  7. Meeting Deadlines
    lose the notion that a deadline is just a suggestion. Drive hard to meet all deadlines; if a deadline is missed, evaluate why. Was the timeframe unrealistic? Not enough manpower? Poor planning?

These all share ONE goal - making the best use of your time!

All these employee development areas fall under the realm of work management.

Ways how employers and employees can work together to work smart:

  • Unambiguous direction:
    Often, employees waste a lot of time because they don’t receive provided clear direction on what needs to be done. If managers take time to work closely with their team, setting out clear expectations of outcomes, employees can better prioritize and manage tasks.
  • Delegation:
    As employees, there’s only so much we can do during the work-day. However, one way to multi-task and get more done in the day is to learn to delegate. Learning how to pass on co-responsibility to another colleague – perhaps someone better skilled at doing the task at hand – is a great way to jointly accomplish more than you can on your own.
  • Collaboration:
    Encouraging employees to work on joint projects and collaborate on common objectives is another great way to hone their multi-tasking skills. If the task to be accomplished is a multi-disciplined one, members of a small team will need to build their skills to take on more than one task simultaneously to complete the project successfully.
  • Tracking and analyzing time:
    As employees, a great strategy to manage where time is spent is to track it – using logs or time-tracking apps – and then analyzing that data. Once you get a sense of where you spend most of your time, and what “value” you are creating for that time, it’ll be easier for you to re-prioritize your day and better manage your work schedule.
  • Training:
    Employers can also support their teams to develop these skills by sponsoring them for formal time management and work prioritization courses.
  • Technology:
    Employers should support employee time-management efforts by equipping them with reasonable technology to help them work smart – not hard! For instance, encouraging the use of work-management and project planning tools, or giving them access to remote communication software so they save time on commuting from/to work engagements.

6. Creativity Skills

Innovation is often the result of inspiring greater creativity.

By developing a culture in which employees are encouraged to share ideas, a creative and innovative workplace can be fostered.

Consider implementing these practices to build on creativity:

  • Ensure employees value the importance of creativity, much like any other skill, by setting time aside to formulate ideas.
  • Try suggestion boxes, group sharing and team outings focused on new ideas.
  • Task/job rotations (covered below) are a great way for employees to consider how one solution can be applied differently in their own field. Gaining new perspectives can be the perfect starting block for new processes.
  • Be supportive of all ideas, even if they're not initially "winners", being enthusiastic grows the process for better ides in the future. Likewise, accept that new ideas come with a certain amount of risk, so don't punish the ideas that fail; do, however, reward ideas that are impactful.

Use these techniques with the goal of developing the following skillset. In doing so, a creative work environment can thrive and produce truly impressive results:

  • Creative thinking:
    All solutions are not on Google. Stepping outside of what’s already on paper is the best way to explore innovation.
  • Brainstorming:
    If it takes a dozen ideas to land on one good one, that’s fine!
  • Conceptualization:
    Pull observations, experiences, and data to form a working understanding of hard to explain ideas.
  • Critical thinking:
    To excel at critical thinking requires complete objectivity. Evaluate an issue based on data in order to form a judgment.
  • Curiosity:
    When we’re curious we investigate, usually with passion and personal interest involved. Asking “why” often leads to a deeper understanding of an issue.
  • Foresight:
    Predicting what’s down the road has its obvious benefits. Foresight can be gained by both experience in a specific field or looking at the trajectory of similar projects.
  • Identifying patterns:
    By keying in on the repetitiveness of processes or outcomes one can gain the foresight mentioned above.
  • Imaginative:
    Most inventiveness is a product of imagination. Try exercising your imaginative side by thinking with the objective of being completely original, purposefully putting aside past research and ideas on a topic.
  • Innovative:
    Use what’s pre-established to develop new methods or advancements, e.g. what else can this technology be used for?

7. Bonus: Stress Management

A critical skill that companies can foster is stress management.

The benefits of creating a less stressful work environment are universally beneficial to both the employer and employee. Here are a few ways to lower stress in the workplace:

  • Set clearer goals. Team members are much more comfortable with well-defined goals, knowing exactly what they need to focus on, why, and when it's due.
  • Encourage movement and plan it into the workday; even consider on-premises fitness rooms. Whether it’s exercise at the desk or a walk after lunch, support employees getting up and moving around. Breaks are okay during the day!
  • Teach at-desk/in-cubicle stress-relieving exercises – like relaxation techniques, stretching, “standing Yoga” to help make the workday less stressful.
  • Support employee efforts at stress management by providing access to stress counseling. As employees use these services, they’ll develop the skills to better manage stressful situations on an ongoing basis.
  • Emphasize and train for time management. Have employees take a moment at the beginning of each day to plan and prioritize.
  • Offer a more flexible work environment. One of the greatest stressors most employees face is the balancing of family and home life with work. If the work is being completed successfully and on time, don’t place such an emphasis on the traditional nine to five work schedule. Things come up, allow the employee to handle them without adding additional stress.

Additional resources to read:

Use learning data to accelerate change

The Data of Learning Workbook is here! Become familiar with learning data and obtain a practical tool to use when planning how you will leverage learning data in your organization.