What is personal development?
‘Personal development’ is a popular catchphrase, but what exactly does it mean? It is a broad term, encompassing any activities that are designed to improve a person’s talents, potential, employability and even wealth. Any time you make a conscious and deliberate effort to improve yourself, you are engaging in personal development. This includes improving your personal as well as professional life. In a professional context, personal development relates to the steps that people take to further their careers, increase their knowledge, sharpen their skills and become more well-rounded, productive employees.
The benefits of employee personal development for employers
Investing in the personal development of your employee is clearly good for them, but it can also benefit your business, including in the following ways:
- It can help you to attract and retain staff. When employees are deciding whether to accept or stay in a job, they consider more than just the salary and benefits. They want a job that gives them room to grow professionally and personally. And they want a manager who values them as a person, not just an employee.
- It can foster better professional development as well. When employees have a better understanding of their personal values, needs and strengths, they’re more likely to have a greater focus and sense of direction in their career.
- It allows you to identify employees who are being under-utilised. By understanding their skills, talents and interests, you can get a better idea of how to develop your employees more effectively through in-house training. Similarly, you can more easily recognise if an employee would be better suited to a different role within your organisation.
- It can increase the productivity of your workforce. Supporting your employees to develop personally is likely to make them generally happier. And happy employees are more productive than unhappy employees.
Personal development strategies
1. Encourage self-awareness
Having self-awareness contributes to overall wellbeing, which in turn leads to better performance and higher productivity at work. Consider helping your employees develop their understanding of themselves by offering free personality tests. Encourage group discussions about the results of the assessments, so that employees can gain insights into their co-workers’ personalities as well.
Personality assessments can help employees identify how they can best use their strengths in their work. For example, an employee who mainly works independently may discover they are more relationally focused than they realised. If they are given work that provides more opportunity for connection, they’ll most likely be happier and more productive.
2. Provide personal development resources
Make sure that your employees can easily access a range of personal development resources. Many online resources, such as videos, podcasts, articles or training courses, are available for free online. Gather these resources in an online database, which your employees can access at any time. Continually update it with new resources. The more material is available, the more likely it is that your employees will find something that resonates with them.
3. Personalised employee development plans
An employee development plan documents your employee’s intentions and learning outcomes, as well as the support they need to achieve their growth goals. General frameworks and questions are useful, but development plans should be tailored to each employee. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t benefit your organisation or your employees. Work together with each individual employee to develop a structured plan with clearly defined objectives and targets. Make sure these are based on their specific skills, strengths, career goals and opportunities in your business.
Finding time for training and education can be a challenge for busy professionals. Consider offering flexible learning solutions, which employees can access on their mobile devices at their convenience.
4. Encourage personal goals as well
It’s important to recognise that your employees have lives and interests outside of their job. When you ask your employees about their professional goals, find out about what they want to achieve in their personal lives as well. Then, offer your support to help them achieve those goals. Give them space and time to pursue their passions. For example, if an employee is an avid painter, why not organise an art-based team building activity that everyone can get involved in?
5. Provide informal training opportunities
Incorporating informal training sessions into the work week is a cost-effective way to make development easily accessible to your employees. Get creative with it. You could start and book club where employees read books relevant to your industry and discuss the latest trends or set up 15-minute ‘lunch and learn’ sessions where employees teach each other a new skill.
6. Task or job rotations
Allowing your employees to rotate roles with colleagues in their team or in another department gives them opportunities to practice their skills, develop new skills and to discover new talents and interests. Consider offering this development opportunity if an employee shows a desire to gain practical experience or develop additional skills. Moving an employee to another department also helps to improve communication between departments, thereby increasing the efficiency of your entire organisation.
7. Stretch assignments
A stretch assignment is one that pushes the boundaries of your employee’s existing role or responsibility. Work with your employee to find out where they want to improve and then find challenging assignments that will allow them to develop their skills. Stretch assignments can be horizontal or vertical. Horizontal assignments require the employee to use additional skills to do work that is similar to their current role, but not exactly the same. Vertical assignments extend the scope of your employee’s role to include upstream and downstream responsibilities. Stretch assignments are great for training flexibility and adaptability. They also give employees a chance to develop the skills, knowledge and competencies that they will need for higher-level positions.
Coaching involves a senior employee working one-on-one with a less experienced employee. The focus is usually on developing a specific skill or addressing a performance issue. Coaching tends to be a very practical, hands-on method of skills development, which is ideal for teaching technical or analytical skills. However, depending on the focus, it could also be a fast way for employees to learn specific leadership, team management or organisational skills. Keep in mind that coaching can be quite time consuming, and it ties up one of your most valuable resources—a seasoned employee.
As with coaching, mentoring involves senior leaders or management working closely with junior employees and supporting their development. Whereas coaching focuses on performance and improving or learning a specific skill, mentoring tends to be more focused on the mentee’s overall personal and professional development. It is also typically more long-term than coaching and reciprocal—both the mentor and mentee learn and develop by sharing their diverse experiences.
Find ways to connect your junior employees with internal or external mentors. They could be senior managers in your organisation, industry leaders or other successful individuals. Consider creating a directory of professionals who want to share their insights and mentor younger or inexperienced professionals. Alternatively, you could encourage your employees to take initiative and seek out mentors themselves.
10. Support work-life balance
Your employees’ personal development efforts are less likely to be fruitful if they don’t have a healthy work-life balance. They need time and energy to commit to their personal and professional growth. Help your employees to work smart, maximise their efficiency and set aside time for their interests outside of work. Promoting a healthy work-life balance will also keep stress and burnout levels down, boost employee morale and enhance your workplace culture.
11. Give employees time for personal development
Support your employees in their self-discovery and personal growth by scheduling time for personal development into the workday. You could give each employee a set amount of time each day to work on their personal development goals, perhaps first thing in the morning or just before leaving work.
This time is a long-term investment in your talent. When your employees see that you care about them as people, not just workers, they will be much more motivated, engaged and loyal to your organisation. Plus, your business will directly benefit from the new skills that your employees acquire, which they can apply to their work.