Half of All Companies Admit Their Employee Development Programs Are Outdated. Is Yours?

There's nothing wrong with acknowledging to that job candidate that you know he (or she) is going to leave eventually.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone can agree that the phrase "climbing the corporate ladder" no longer holds meaning. Nowadays, employees don't train for the next role in the company's hierarchy. Instead, they gain skills and experiences in different departments and areas of expertise.

Related: Is Your Employee Development Broken? Here's How to Fix It.

Companies apparently recognize this: Deloitte's 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 72 percent of companies surveyed believed career paths aren't defined or hierarchical anymore.

While this may give employees more freedom in their professional lives, it's left employers stumped on how best to support employees in their development. In fact, the Deloitte study also reported that 47 percent of companies still have developmental programs designed for defined paths.

But here's the problem: If employers can't provide developmental opportunities designed for the 21st century, employees will be unfulfilled and disengaged; and that bodes ill for retention. It's time, then, that employers rethink the idea of the career path. Here's how:

Give up the idea of a "lifelong" employee.

In the past, career paths were designed to keep employees around for their entire career. But this is increasingly less common. The sooner leaders realize that employees are eventually going to leave, the better they can meet those employees' more immediate needs.

Marc Cenedella, CEO of the New York-based career site Ladders, said he believes career paths are now driven by the individual's needs, not the company's. "These new self-created paths are more dependent on the individual's ability and drive to move forward than dependent on a set number of years spent with any given company," Cenedella explained in an email.

So, take advantage of this paradigm shift. When hiring, ask candidates what they want to get out of the role. Find out what skills they want to learn and what goals they want to accomplish. Then, discuss ways the company can support those goals. If hired, employees will then be more invested in the job and perform better during their tenure.

Related: 4 Ways to Successfully Develop Employees Year-Round

Embrace "the lattice."

China Gorman, managing director of the world's fastest-growing community on the future of work -- UNLEASH America -- suggests thinking of career paths as a lattice. Instead of employees working their way up an organizational ladder, they may also go left and right.

"The key for employers is in creating programs and pathways to develop the skills that their employees will need in the coming years," Gorman said in an email from her company in Las Vegas. "This works well for employers because micro-learning takes far less time and investment capital for employees to earn micro credentials than two- or four-year degrees."

The trick to micro-learning is finding a way to track and prove employees' credentials. For instance, you might use a recognition program that provides virtual "badges" when employees master a skill. This way, employees can see their progress and be able to clearly communicate what their expertise is.

Look for contributors, not employees.

The 21st Century has seen a rise in work trends ranging from freelancing to gig jobs to job-hopping. As a result, employees have a wide range of experiences to show. But this may mean that their skill set doesn't meet rigid job descriptions.

Jim Link, chief human resources officer of Randstad North America's Atlanta headquarters, said he believes it's time for employers to stop looking for employees and instead look for contributors. "Work is less about a job description and more individually project-based, measured by how a person supplies effort toward an organization's business objectives and goals," Link told me.

This can allow companies to adapt quickly when talent needs change.

So, ceate a solid plan for finding and attracting freelancers and temporary employees. Get ahead of the game by having a benefits plan that meets these employees' unique needs. For example, give them the choice of health insurance or a 401(k) contribution during their time with the company. Such offerings give companies a competitive edge in landing top contributor talent.

Take learning outside the organization.

To get the most out of employees, leaders need to admit that they no longer have all the answers. Every organization and institution has a different way of doing things. Employees can learn a lot and bring new perspectives by learning outside of the company. Employers need to support these learning experiences.

"Employees like to have the option to choose different alternatives based on their strengths or where they are in their life," Susan Stelter, the Chicago-based chief people officer of the business and technology consultancy West Monroe Partners, said via email. "Sometimes, that means taking time off to volunteer or pursue a passion."

Instead of feeling threatened when employees want to volunteer or freelance, encourage it. For example, last month my employees participated in GoodFour. This past April 4, they were given four hours to spend, volunteering.

Related: 4 Steps to Make Employee Development Stick

Seeing how my team members chose to spend their time showed what their passions were and how they could use their experiences in their current roles. And that was good information. So, this time away is now a monthly activity we all participate in.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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