Why Your People Strategy Should Focus on Employee Development

Most companies have a business strategy, or a “strategic plan,” but far fewer have a people strategy.  That’s kind of ironic because how can an organization have any confidence in their strategic plan if they don’t know whether they will have enough of the right people to execute that plan?

There are three primary goals of an effective people strategy:

  1. Find the Right People (Recruiting). Find people with the essential skills to do the job and who model the company’s values and behavioural competencies.
  2. Help Them Reach Their Potential (Development). Help employees become outstanding at their current job and prepare them to take on greater responsibilities.
  3. Keep Them Engaged (Engagement). Ensure employees remain enthusiastic about their work and committed to the organization.

Given these three primary goals of a people strategy, which goal do you think is most important?  The correct answer surprises most business professions, and even many HR professionals.  It’s employee development.  Here’s why.

Development Reduces the Need for Recruiting

Organizations that are world-class people developers have a far less workforce planning / recruiting to do for three reasons.

  1. Most of their management positions are filled internally.
  2. Their turnover will almost certainly be lower (see higher engagement below).
  3. Most of their recruiting is focused on entry-level positions, which is far easier and consumes fewer resources than recruiting experienced candidates.

Development Leads to Engagement

Similarly, organizations that are world-class people developers naturally have higher employee engagement because:

  1. The principle driver of employee engagement is good managers, not benefits and perks. Cultivating better leaders is one of the essential goals of employee development.
  2. One of the top reasons why employees choose to stay with an organization is the availability of career development opportunities.

You might think of your people strategy as a three-level pyramid which highlights an organization’s three primary people goals with the main emphasis on development.

The bottom line is that organizations that focus their people strategy on employee development are far more likely to achieve the organization’s other two people goals.

The Three Most Common Mistakes Organizations Make in Employee Development

Most executive teams spend ample time thinking strategically about sales and operations, but little to no time thinking strategically about their people. This is surprising since people have been one of the greatest constraints to growth over the last decade and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The rest of the organization takes their cues from the executive team about what is important. If executives aren’t regularly discussing how to help employees grow, its doubtful anyone else will. This is the most important reason employee development fails: it’s a low priority.  Here are two other common mistakes

Many organizations simply add employee development conversations to the last page of the performance evaluation form.  After a manager and employee slog through the torture test know as the “performance review,” neither of them has the time or energy to have a thoughtful discussion about career development.  Consequently, development plans often end up containing unspecific and ineffective development activities, such as  “take a course on effective communication.”

Another mistake organizations make in employee development is leaving development conversations solely up to the manager and employee.  Let’s be honest, a manager is not naturally motivated to spend very much time and energy to prepare a member of their team to advance out of their current role and perhaps out of the department.

How, then, can organizations rise above the sea of mediocrity and become world-class people developers?

How To Become a World-Class People Developer

Becoming a world class people developer is not as difficult as you might think.  It begins with separating performance discussions from development discussions.  They are two distinctly different conversations that deserve their own time to discuss.

Another step on the path to becoming a world-class people developer is to provide employees with trained career coaches to help them create a development plan that is focused on gaining new experiences, not simply taking courses.  Employees who sign up for a career coach are referred to as “career owners” because they, not their employers, are in charge of their career development.  Career coaches meet with career owners about once a quarter to review progress and to help career owners stay accountable to their development plan.

To see how this might work in your organization, check out the video below of how the City of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, went from a typical organization that struggled to provide real development for their employees, to a world-class people developer.


What Does a World-Class People Developer Look Like?

You don’t need to be a high-tech company with bean bag chairs, or a Fortune 500 company with an on-site chef.  No, any executive team that understands that they can’t achieve their goals until their people achieve their own goals is qualified to be a world-class people developer.

The City of Moose Jaw was recently recognized by the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators with the “Award of Excellence for Professional Development” in the 20,001 – 100,000 population category.

You can check out their 2 min award video HERE.

Congratulations to the City of Moose Jaw for their outstanding achievement!  I am proud to be part of their success story.

<– (Al Bromley, Director of Human Resource Services at the City of Moose Jaw, accepting the 2021 CAMA Award of Excellence for Professional Development)

4 Responses

  1. In your section “common mistakes organizations make” I felt one point that could be in included is that managers might not help people develop is because they don’t want to help train someone to take their job as well as leave their department.

    1. That’s a good point John. Surprisingly though, I don’t hear that objection very often in my consulting work. My clients anticipate that objection, but almost never hear it. I think that downsizing was a more popular tactic in the 1980s and 90s and it was more popular back then to fire older managers and replace them with younger, less expensive employees. Most organizations nowadays have figured out that no one will be wiling to train younger employees if they use that cost-cutting tactic, which is why you don’t hear about that happening very often these days.

  2. If you put the People Strategy triangle next to Maslow’s Motivational (or Needs) Model triangle, the resemblance and linkage is striking. Fulfilling growth needs of people is your organization by developing a good and robust people strategy should pay good dividends in this regard.

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