Keys to Employee Engagement: 12. Development
With this post, we’re reaching the end of our series on employee engagement.
As an older job-seeker, I frequently was asked how long I planned to continue working. While I think this was a way to side-step around asking me my age, I usually took it at face value. My answer was that I’d continue to work as long I was learning something.
When I look back at my career, the companies where I stayed the longest were the ones where I was learning new things – and, coincidentally, where I felt I had the most fun.
At one company, it was learning how to compete effectively against a giant like Procter & Gamble. At Lawson Mardon, the corporate culture revolved around the study of management, leadership and strategy. When I worked for Plasmatreat, it was an introduction to nanotechnology and learning about a lot of leading-edge manufacturing processes in dynamic industries such as aerospace and medical devices.
Ironically, when Gallup analyzed the effects of the Q12 on four different dimensions – turnover, productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction – they found that giving employees the opportunity to grow and develop did not correlate with reduced turnover. Instead, they suggest growth opportunities are more strongly correlated with increased company profitability.
In our experience, while it’s true that employees switch companies to escape bad bosses or for higher salaries, it can just as easily be true that the employee has accomplished as much as they can hope to do with that employer and the only way to continue professional development is to move to another company.
One recruiter I know, who works in the CPG sector, moved people routinely from one kind of company to another: from Food to Personal Care products or Household Product; from large companies to smaller ones. To some extent, the moves were induced to help the recruiter earn more fees; from the perspective of the employees, it gave them broader exposure – to different industries, competitors, channels – that would render them more highly marketable. The average tenure in CPG marketing was about 2 years – about the time it takes to go through one complete budget cycle and come away with demonstrable results. I was placed by this recruiter multiple times and I can honestly say I benefitted from the exposure to different industries and corporate cultures.
What You Can Do
One thing you can consider doing is expanding the scope of each employee’s job so they experience new challenges.
Cross-training is one way of doing this, and it helps your organization by enabling employees to be more flexible and versatile so, when someone leaves the company or is on vacation, you have people already trained to fit into the vacant jobs.
This is easier to do in a larger company than a smaller one because there are simply more roles available to move someone into. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do in a smaller company. In small companies, one way to create growth opportunities for employees is to promote them so they can take on more responsibility.
We tend to think of employee development in a managerial context, developing the proverbial mail-room clerk so he/she can become CEO. But not all employees are good at managing people and some simply don’t want to take on that kind of responsibility. For employees who have no desire to enter management ranks, consider developing a “professional” track whereby they can take on increasingly more challenging projects or become subject-matter experts without having any direct reports. It’s a way to recognize their contribution to the company while allowing them to develop their professional skills. We had such a system in place at Esso, where you could find engineers who were experts on highly specialized topics such as fluid dynamics or catalysts.
Encourage your employees to acquire more knowledge. Have a program whereby the company provides some degree of financial support when an employee successfully completes a formal outside course.
Encourage your employees to achieve professional certification in their respective areas. This especially applies to employees on the professional career track.
Next week, we’ll wrap up the series with a summary. We’ll be compiling all the posts in this series into a White Paper so you can have the entire series in a single document.