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What Business Leaders Can Offer to Keep and Develop Employees Making the corporate ladder climbable for employees can increase diversity and profits.

By Erika Lance

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Employees are interested in professional development, and organizations want to hire and develop employees who can step into leadership roles. But where's the disconnect? What do organizations need to do to make the corporate ladder climbable?

Here are some specific steps that employers can take to build their leadership pipeline while offering opportunities shown to increase employee engagement, productivity and longevity.

A look at the research

According to Gartner research, more than half of employees indicate that it's important for their employers to offer real opportunities for personal growth.

Employers benefit as well. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) indicates that when organizations offer comprehensive training, they experience a profit margin 24% higher than those that spend less time on training and development activities.

These efforts can also help in building the kind of diversity in leadership ranks that so many companies — and their customers and employees — value today.

Related: Employees Now Have the Upper Hand: How Should Companies Respond?

Positive impact on diversity

Being proactive in coming up with ways to lay the foundation for employee development and growth can go a long way toward addressing the lack of diversity in senior leadership positions. This is true all the way to board seats.

It's well-known that the leadership pipeline can be a rate-limiting factor for upward growth if that pipeline is populated primarily by traditional stereotypes. And yet, at many organizations, that continues to be the case. It's not necessarily because of anything these organizations have willfully done to keep persons of a diverse background out of the pipeline, but more because of what many have not done — proactively taken steps to ensure that typically underrepresented groups of employees are getting the training, development and coaching support to move into higher-level roles.

Here are some ways organizations can invest in making the corporate ladder climbable while paving the way for greater leadership diversity.

Help managers develop coaching skills

Don't assume that your managers are all adept at and comfortable with coaching employees and helping them grow and develop to move into higher-level positions. Many aren't. But you can help to provide the tools, training and resources to help them serve in this very important role.

As part of this training, teach managers how to work with employees to develop personal development plans (PDPs) as part of the performance management process.

Encourage both upskilling and reskilling

Not every employee will be interested in moving up the proverbial ladder. And, let's face it, most organizations have very limited opportunities for employees who may be interested to move into higher-level roles. That doesn't mean, though, that they can't or shouldn't pursue opportunities to learn new skills that might prepare them for other lateral, or even lower-level, positions within your organization.

In today's fast-paced and continually changing environment, the need for new skills is apparent in organizations of all kinds. Upskilling can provide as much value for meeting employee development needs for some employees as preparing them to move into other roles.

Many companies already know this. In fact, LinkedIn's 2021 Workforce Learning Report indicated that 59% of respondents say that upskilling and reskilling initiatives were their top priority in 2021.

Related: Six Ways to Keep Your Employees Learning at Work

Provide leadership opportunities

Leadership opportunities don't need to be limited to those that involve supervising or managing others. The ability to lead a committee, task force or project team can offer a valuable leadership opportunity for employees while offering a way to evaluate employee competencies and potential to serve in more formal leadership roles.

Develop a role for career development coaches

Managers and supervisors aren't the only members of your staff who can play a role in coaching employees in their career choices and preparation for new roles. Your HR leaders and staff members can also play a role here, as can learning and development staff. In fact, having dedicated, go-to career coaches on staff can provide valuable resources to both employees and managers.

Serving in this role can provide a great professional opportunity development for employees, helping them develop a key management skill that, as we've seen, is often lacking.

Offer tuition and certification reimbursement

If you don't already, consider offering tuition and certification reimbursement to allow employees to attend college classes or other training programs they may be interested in. Organizations can gain tax benefits from offering reimbursement, making this a win-win in more ways than one.

As employees develop their skills, they become more valuable to their employers. It's an investment that can pay off in multiple ways, including allowing employees to level up in their current positions.

These are just a few of the most effective ways to help your employees climb the corporate ladder — if that's what they want to do. And even if they don't, providing support and resources to help them develop desired personal and professional skills can pay big dividends — for them, and for you.

Related: Creating An Equitable Workforce To Inspire Future Generations

Erika Lance

Chief HR Officer

Erika Lance is chief human resources officer for KnowBe4, the world’s largest security-awareness-training and simulated-phishing platform.

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