The Art of Educating Employees

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

In Chapter 23 of The Big Book of HR, my co-author Cornelia Gamlem and I quote organizational consultant and author Warren Bennis, who said: “You need people who can walk their companies into the future rather than back them into the future.”

Bennis’ comment highlights the need for organizations to make a real effort to constantly provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow—otherwise, organizations won’t be positioned for growth.

Not only that, but they will not produce the value required to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

Why is professional development, and employee education, so important?

It’s not only a good policy to keep your employees on the cutting-edge of what’s happening in your industry—but teaching them about new things, and getting them to think in new and original ways, is a great strategy for increasing employee engagement.

It can also do wonders in terms of retaining good employees.

Granted, this isn’t a new idea. It used to be that organizations took responsibility for developing the skills of their employees. The game has changed, however, and with cutbacks and downsizing, employees must now take responsibility for their own development.

One of the most affordable, and effective, approaches is to seek out mentors.

Be sure to consider the following:

  • Any organization that wants to be competitive should foster an atmosphere where support from seasoned staff members is encouraged, and accessible.
  • While employee development programs must take into consideration the needs of the organization, which should be defined by its strategic, workforce plan—it must also account for the needs of its employees.
  • Each organization should be integrated with a comprehensive development program that reinforces the organizational culture.
  • The responsibilities for an effective employee development program should be shared by the organization’s top level of management, HR department, the organizational development function (if applicable), as well as the employee’s manager and the employee.
  • The opportunity must be available within the context of an individual employee’s job.
  • Employees need to recognize that it is essential for them to continue to learn so that they will be effective in their current jobs and able to move into other positions as their skills increase.
  • Employers take note: Career development supports continuous learning. Never make any promises about the outcome or future benefits of this process other than its intrinsic value. For example, never say, “If you take this class, you will be promoted.” All discussions should be around skill-set improvement—not how to get a promotion.

Here’s how to make your employee development program effective:

1. Training: Lack of managerial involvement is the most common reason that employee development initiatives fail to produce improved performance. Training can’t work miracles and rarely alone does it improve performance.

2. Mentoring: Managers need to follow up after training to ensure learning is reinforced. Developing people is one of the greatest joys of managing others. It is a wonderful experience to help move a good employee to another level of performance. Being known as a manager who develops people will greatly enhance your reputation and will encourage others to want to work in your department.

3. On-the-job training: Managers can provide direction and create learning opportunities, but it must be remembered that it is still up to the employee to learn and grow. Managers also help to set goals and can assist employees in recognizing areas where their skills are lacking.

4. Job rotation: Managers can also provide valuable insight into opportunities for growth and development by offering employees cross-training experiences to build skill sets. By having employees from different department mentor each other, they learn about multiple aspects of your business and are often able to come up with new and useful solutions to problems and challenges. This approach is often the best way to make your employees problem-solvers, which is helpful to their current and future employment, as well as to the organization as a whole.

Don’t be threatened!

Managers can provide development opportunities by delegating to talented employees who are ready to assume more responsibility. Unfortunately, this can be threatening to some managers who fear losing control. Or, perhaps they feel they are risking their own job security by helping others succeed.

In reality, a good manager is also a good delegator. In this role, he or she is typically viewed as a strong manager, which can only help your own career development.

Plus, realize that you will be gaining valuable time to do other more strategic tasks by delegating responsibilities to your up-and-coming employees. So rather than thinking of educating employees as a risk or threat, think of it as a “win-win” situation. The reason is simple: It is!

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. “Click here to buy the book: