This is the final post in a multi-part series about career development in small businesses. This article looks at the importance of employee engagement and how focusing on career development is one way to positively impact engagement levels in your workforce.
“The learning curve is the earning curve,” writes Josh Bersin in The New Organization: Different by Design. “People now flock to companies that can give them the opportunity to grow and develop.”
As we mentioned in the first article in this series, businesses often focus career development efforts on the progress employees make within the company, and around succession planning–who do we have that can fill that role? But for individuals, career development is about the development of one’s skills, increasing one’s talent and a sense of self-actualization; it’s about the fulfillment of one’s potential.
Prior generations may not have been as focused on finding work that was fulfilling. Or at least they weren’t as vocal about it. But today’s workforce population has made it clear that work isn’t “just work” anymore. Employees want to be satisfied by what they’re doing for 40+ hours each week, and they want to work for an organization that they trust, and with which they feel engaged.
Increasing employee engagement by providing career development is one method of addressing staffing concerns that small business owners have. According to the 2015 Small Business Owner Report, 38% of business owners said finding the right talent was a top concern, while 16% of business owners said a top concern was employee turnover.
“To be competitive, you can’t offer the bare minimum. Candidates are interviewing for jobs, but employers are auditioning, too. Career development is part of that. It’s not just about the 401(k) or the hourly wage. Employees are looking at the whole package,” said Sandy Castoro, Founder & President of PassionFruit Consulting, an HR firm that specializes in change management and organizational culture.
When a business seeks to attract exceptional candidates, hire top talent, and retain engaged employees, career development opportunities must be an integral part of what the organization offers to employees.
What factors drive employee engagement?
“If [employees] are not inspired and engaged at their work, they drift away, and you may find yourself with a large organization operating with low performance or inconsistent customer service…The issue with employee engagement today is that we have to build an ‘always on’ listening process, one the opens up streams of feedback and concerns in a way that helps leaders immediately spot problems and design solutions that make employees more productive, aligned, and engaged at work,” Bersin writes in The New Organization: Different by Design.
How do you begin listening to determine if your employees are engaged? Start by defining employee engagement for your company, and ask these questions:
- How do leaders and managers define employee engagement?
- How do you know that individual employees in your company are engaged? Do they relish their jobs? Enjoy specific responsibilities or tasks? Willingly “go the extra mile”?
- In teams with engaged employees, what business results are you seeing? Higher productivity? Lower costs? Greater revenues? More efficiency? Lower turnover? Higher product or service quality?
- How do disengaged employees behave, and what is the impact on their teams and your entire company?
Once you have an idea of whether or not your employees are engaged, you can look at ways to take their engagement to (at least) the next level. Some elements that impact employee engagement include:
- Perceptions of job importance
- Clarity of job expectations
- Open dialogue with managers
- Positive work relationships with peers, superiors, and subordinates
- Personal alignment with the organizational culture and values
- Effective internal communications
- Career development opportunities
In an ideal world, a business will work to address each of these areas to improve engagement, create a strong organizational culture, and demonstrate to employees that they are valued.
“Now that millennials make up a majority of the workforce, it’s even more important to show that your business values employees by providing them with development opportunities. That you’re creating a good organizational culture. That you’re helping the larger community, and that you’re connecting employees with each other,” said Castoro, the Founder & President of PassionFruit Consulting.
On the topic of career development, she stresses that it’s an important way to engage employees.
“It’s not just a way to throw money away, or make more worker bees. You’re investing time and money in employees and helping engage them with your business,” she says.
A survey conducted by Randstad and Ipsos Public Affairs also highlighted the importance and effectiveness of career development programs. Of the employees surveyed, 28% said “Investing in employees’ careers through training, professional development or continuing education” was one of the most effective engagement tools.
How does employee engagement impact your small business?
When you engage employees by focusing on their career development, the business benefits in a variety of ways:
- Employees stay with an organization because they’re engaged and developing their careers and are more likely to perform at a higher level.
- Institutional knowledge increases and can be shared among employees.
- A culture focused on development and growth ultimately enhances the ability for your business to perform well.
“Small businesses often can’t afford to pay as much as a large corporation,” says Castoro, the HR consultant. “But if you’re providing on-the-job training or individually-tailored career development those efforts show employees that you’re invested in them. That’s a competitive advantage for the small businesses that can’t offer a big salary or huge health benefits.”
By providing opportunities for employees increase their knowledge, skills, and expertise you demonstrate your commitment to your employees. In turn, this focus on their development positively impacts the employee’s self-esteem and heightens their commitment to the employer which eventually leads to improved employee engagement.
Engaged employees are less likely to leave, which means a focus on your employees’ career development might just save you a significant amount of money. In a report that analyzed the cost of Millennial retention, companies indicated that it takes between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace each employee they lose, and that that it takes 3 to 7 weeks to hire an employee in a new role. Add to that the time it takes for an employee to become truly effective once they’re hired, and the cost is significant.
What does career development look like in small business?
“As a business owner, it’s your job to have answers when employees ask, ‘What do I need to do to succeed in this job? Where is this job going?’ If you can answer those questions, it demonstrates that you’re putting effort into thinking about their future, not just yours. And, if you can’t answer their questions, you’re not doing your job as the business owner,” says Castoro.
Before you start feeling overwhelmed by the idea of creating a career development program, let us assure you: your program doesn’t have to be elaborate. In our Creating a Career Development Plan for Small Business Employees article, we mentioned some ways you can provide learning and development opportunities that require minimal—if any—expense. When looking at how your business can support career development, consider these options:
- Create formal career development plans
- Establish a mentoring program
- Structure your organization in a way that supports employees, while also granting them freedom and empowering them to make decisions.
- Encourage employees to attend professional conferences and networking events.
With some creativity, commitment from the management team, and input from your workforce you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to put together a career development program that inspires your employees to participate. Keep in mind that it’s not just the programs you deliver, it’s also the fact that you’re putting time and resources towards offering them that helps build trust and a engagement with your employee population.
“The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important—and then get out of their way while they do it.”
- Jack Welch, former CEO, General Electric
Most of us want to enjoy our work and feel satisfied by the contributions that we make. Career development is one way for small businesses to enable their employees to contribute and increase their skills in a way that delivers personal, professional, and organizational results.
Identifying individual talents and providing career development opportunities for employees to further their abilities is a critical component in a robust talent management strategy. A focus on career development does wonders in engaging the current workforce while also recruiting and retaining future employees. When you empower and engage employees, you’ll find that your company may excel and reach heights you didn’t think possible.