Main image of article How To Create a Culture of Development

Three ProfessionalsFast-paced, entrepreneurial operations (like the one I'm part of) face many challenges, but – as you may have read – growth isn’t one of them. Retention can be. The tech and media sectors are growing at a fast clip, and industry-wide some employees don't stay put more than three or four years. Add the increasingly aggressive recruiting and poaching we're seeing, and retention becomes even more of a challenge. So how do we keep key employees feeling valued and fulfilled in their roles, while positioning our business to thrive? How can we be sure to understand and address what drives each employee so we can usher them successfully to the next level of professional development? Building a culture of development is fundamental to making this happen. I'm not saying you should implement a one-off training program. I'm talking about embedding a long-term culture of development at the core of your business. Here's how:

  1. Start with team leaders. Bring managers into the development conversation from the very beginning, so they understand your objectives. If you don't have their buy-in -- if they're not ready to prioritize development for their employees -- you may as well quit now. On the other hand, if they recognize the opportunity for their teams and the support you're able to provide, they'll be your most vocal advocates.
  2. Skip the needs assessment. The formal needs assessment, that is. It's usually a waste of time -- most people don't know what they don't know and haven't had any exposure to the types of training available to them. At the same time, it's even more critical to make sure your HR team has its collective ear to the ground. Know who your employees are, what kind of skills and experience they bring and what their goals are, and you'll find the gaps you need to fill. Finally, raise awareness with each individual employee and manager to help them understand how they can change and grow. Help them draft a plan to make change achievable.
  3. Collect intelligence. Don't just write a check. Consider corporate goals and revenue drivers before spending. Meet with management about long-term objectives. Ask your managers about their teams' needs. Talk to peers in your space about the vendors they use for training programs, and look for vendors who operate in your specific industry and can customize a training module tailored to what you do.
  4. Keep it concrete. Don't try to cover everything at once: Identify one or two skills that need attention, and focus your efforts there. Make the content of your programs tangible -- incorporating real-life scenarios, if possible -- and accessible to employees.
  5. Evaluate, two ways. Conduct a post-mortem of each program. Look at the content, trainers and structure, and ask employees and their managers what they took away from it. And don't stop at the conventional course-evaluation form; also ask the trainers for feedback on your staff.
  6. Try something old. Remember that the only way to change behavior is through practice, practice, practice. So don't do something new every year -- reinforce and follow-up on the behaviors you're trying to change. When you can, bring the same trainers and programs back from year to year. Encourage managers to offer refreshers when possible.

Believing and investing in development can be among the biggest challenges for a growing company, but one that certainly has its rewards. After all, we're only as strong as our weakest link.