Traditionally, employee development efforts have focused on serving those aspects of an employee’s skills, knowledge, and attitudes that directly impact his technical performance required by his role in the organization. Despite, the success of such an approach in improving performance, the success experienced is frequently incremental and unsustainable. In worse cases, organizations frequently lose many employees that have attended costly development programs to competitors.
What sort of employee development approach do organizations need to adopt to achieve significant and sustainable improvement to employee performance? Is there an approach that can provide such a result while simultaneously increasing the loyalty of employees towards the organization? What sort of concepts should be incorporated in the mechanisms required to implement such an approach?
To address the above problem and answer the questions raised, one core view regarding the relationship of an employee to his/her organization needs to exist. This view states that the employee-organization relationship is a partnership in which the employee is in some capacity collaborating through his/her involvement with the organization in achieving a higher mission that he believes is aligned to his individual life mission. As such the individual’s involvement with his/her organization primarily stems from the belief that this involvement compliments all other aspects of his/her life that are working towards the individual’s life mission. To the organization, this assumption should form the core philosophy of how it deals with its employees. To the development mechanisms created by the organization, this assumption is the ultimate target that an employee should eventually understand and experience. If the development mechanisms are able to achieve such a target, our argument is that this will lead to more sustainable performance, increased employee engagement, as well as increased organizational loyalty.
To implement such an approach, organizations first need to adopt a more holistic view when considering the development domains of an individual that can be categorized into three general domains.
The first domain is what we have called the corporate MMC (Model/Mission/Culture) domain. Within this domain the development mechanisms seek to develop the ability of an individual to reflect, believe, and practically align/implement the corporate philosophy and its associated topics that include the corporate mission, corporate culture, the corporate view of clients and partners, and the corporate view of employees. It is important to stress that the development mechanisms not merely communicate the company mission and values superficially (e.g., mentioning in passing during orientation),but to more importantly ensure that employees practically reflect their understanding of such topics within their work activities and also in their other life domains. To give an example, employees when introduced to the company mission need to be able to align it to their own life mission and understand the practical implications that such a mission has on their values, attitudes, and influences on other domains of their life (nuclear family, extended family, friends, and society).
The second domain is what we have called personal development. Within this domain, the development mechanisms support the individual’s challenges and opportunities within realms that include their spiritual beliefs, physical needs, family support, and community engagement. This second domain reinforces the message that their involvement in this organization is not merely a work relationship but a life relationship where the organization is sincerely concerned in ensuring that employees reach their potential in all life domains. Mechanisms within this domain do not necessarily need to exist internally within the organization (creating space for a gym or contract a doctor for a weekly schedule), however it is possible that some of these mechanisms are outsourced to specialized entities and then offer employee privileges to access the services of those entities. Although many firms currently offer such benefits to employees, the difference in the proposed development approach is that employee’s engagement in this domain is proactively pursued and managed. This means that part of the employee’s development plan that is developed within the organization is a commitment to development objectives within these realms that are ultimately linked to his performance management.
As a practical example, if due to certain health reasons an employee has to commit to certain physical exercises, these physical exercises would be part of the employee’s development objectives within the realm of physical development that would be supported by the organization and committed to by the employee. Such a measure should be communicated to the employee as part of the organization’s philosophy that ensures having healthy employees that are able to maintain a sustainable level of work performance.
The third domain is the traditional technical development domain. Within this domain the focus is on developing the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to accomplish the role being played by the employee. Most technical development efforts focus on the knowledge and skills whether through pursuing postgraduate degree and certifications or providing technical training workshops. However the behavioral development aspect of a specific technical role needs to also stem from the organization’s vision, mission, and values. This means translating the corporate culture to a more practical level that is unique to every function. As a practical example if one of the company’s values is teamwork, the part of the behavioral development within the technical domain for the accounting function should address the type of behaviors that accountants are to perform to demonstrate teamwork. Such behaviors can include accessibility and exchange of information, empowering colleagues to perform multiple roles, friendly response to enquiries, and timely reporting. The form of behaviors to implement a specific value within each department will be different and the emphasis on the importance of certain values will also differ by department. In all cases, however, developing the behavioral aspect of a technical role is crucial to increase the employee’s understanding and feeling of alignment towards the corporate mission and culture.
With regards to implementation, there are three critical concepts that should be inherent in the design of the development mechanisms adopted by the organization (examples of such mechanisms are provided in the attached material).
The first concept is self development. This means that the development mechanisms need to, as much as possible, accommodate the unique needs and development abilities of each employee. Each employee is at a different stage of his/her life, and therefore within the three above mentioned domains the level of importance that each employee gives to these domains during his life is continuously changing. To complicate things further, how each employee develops in each of these domains varies and development itself is not necessarily a linear process. This self development aspect of design also ensures that employees are self motivated to develop by addressing their specific development needs and abilities. Therefore the ability of the development mechanisms to accommodate such uniqueness is directly related to its ability to develop the employee effectively.
The second concept is collaboration. It is crucial that the design of the development mechanisms ensure some form of collaboration (i.e. joint development) for the employees. This is important for three reasons. Firstly, collaboration ensures that self motivation is not the only source of development motivation that the employee relies on. Having a development buddy, mentor, or coach offers the opportunity to an employee to lean on for motivation when needed. Secondly, it helps build relationships between various stakeholders, which increases exposure to different ideas as well as proliferates innovative thinking. Thirdly, it significantly improves the process of knowledge transfer within the organization which ultimately leads to increased efficiency and effectiveness. For example if an employee that is undergoing a Masters program is requested to share his/her acquired knowledge with fellow colleagues (as part of the company’s development policy) this would constitute a useful platform for both parties to exchange ideas and thoughts on how such knowledge could be applied to the workplace.
The third important concept is openness. Applying this concept when designing development mechanisms should enable the mechanism to achieve one of four objectives. The first objective is to encourage the employee to be vulnerable and reduce the fear of disclosing his/her development needs. The second objective is to enable the employee to give candid feedback with regards to the development experience. The third objective is to encourage employees to receive candid feedback regarding the manner of their engagement. And finally to encourage employees to listen and if need be embrace different views and schools of thought. Promoting such openness significantly increases the development impact that any development activity has on an individual.
Adopting a holistic approach to employee development essentially requires an organization to view its relationship with its members using a holistic lens. Such a lens will enable it to understand the individual profiles and needs of its members in a more comprehensive manner that will enable the organization to address the developmental and motivational aspects of its members in a more effective manner.There is no doubt that this approach is challenging and complex considering the uniqueness of individuals and organizations, however, it is the abilityof such an approach to embrace such complexity that makes it capable of delivering both profound and sustainable developmental and motivational support to individuals in organizations.
The practical impact is creating an employee development framework for organizations that :
Increase employee loyalty to the organization
Increase the effectiveness of development services offered to employees
Increase employee productivity
Increase the ability of an employee to sustain their performance and hence the ability of the whole organization to sustain its performance
Improve employee relations
Provide a continuous pipeline of loyal and motivated leaders for the organization
Increases organizational efficiency and competitiveness
Foster an environment of innovation and creativity
- Adopt a humanistic corporate philosophy that is concerned with the employee as a whole and not only their professional life
- Adopt a holistic view of employee development
- Create a team that is passionate about individual development and aligned to this development approach
- Design a development framework within the three domains mentioned
- Brainstorm and design a number of mechanisms within each domain
- Use one function as a pilot to the designed system and build on from there