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Three Ways to Support Continuous Employee Growth and Development

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lesley Hawkins
December 15, 2017

Every year, some of the world’s most widely recognized companies make news headlines because they announce they are replacing annual performance reviews with more ongoing coaching and feedback for employees.

I’m not going to try to convince you your department should scrap annual reviews just because that’s what’s happening in the private sector. It’s been well documented that public agencies or government departments don’t, and can’t, run like private industry because there are many nuances and intricacies which come with working for any type of public sector employer. But, the challenges and opportunities for improving the work experience for people are very similar.

People want real-time feedback and encouragement, and they want opportunities to learn and develop on an ongoing basis. Research confirms organizations that provide these opportunities and more to employees can increase productivity, satisfaction and boost employee engagement.

But we also know that most employers struggle with providing employees with the type of support they need and want. According to the 2017 Nonprofit Talent Management Priorities Survey, respondents said they lack the time, capacity and the funding to realize their talent priorities.

There’s no doubt that adopting modern HR practices requires a lot of work. It involves making talent management personal for every individual. This type of shift won’t happen overnight, but thinking about meeting the needs of your workforce will help your organization connect with and engage employees.

Here are three ways you can get started:

  1. Make the connection between work and the big picture

Jane E. Dutton, PhD, a professor of business administration and psychology at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan said it best in her book Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace, “Meaning doesn’t take money.”

Make sure managers understand the vision and values of the organization so they can reinforce them and connect the dots for employees during one-on-one meetings. Whether someone is working in the back office or regularly faces donors or partners, it’s important to remember how their day to day impacts the bigger picture.

Connecting with employees on a regular basis—either in person or online—will make sure everyone is on the same page with the same end goal, even when their individual roles and responsibilities may be different.

  1. Leverage tools and resources to provide real-time feedback

We know that technology continues to transform how we work and live. From self-driving cars to hyper-speed public transportation and smarter home technology, it’s safe to say the pace of these changes isn’t going to slow down any time soon.

We can apply the same line of thinking to how technology is helping HR and other business leaders get more out of their talent programs. In fact, McKinsey Global Institute research suggests “digital labor platforms” can help improve productivity, reduce employee-related costs, and boost profit margins.

The good news, as the 2017 nonprofit talent management survey reports, is a significant chunk of nonprofits realize it’s time to update their antiquated HR practices, with 40 percent saying their top priority is to restructure their performance management systems and programs, and 31 percent saying it’s to move to a continuous feedback model.

Regular feedback between managers and their teams is essential to helping people understand how they are doing and how they can do even better. Technology enables people to give and receive feedback that is timely, specific and actionable so individuals can see the impact of their actions and provides opportunities for managers to show their appreciation in real-time.

  1. Embracing learning at every opportunity

Institutional, instructor-lead learning can be expensive, time consuming and hard to access for some specific jobs and roles. So why not give people more freedom to learn when and how that feels most natural to them and better fits their schedule? If the goal of learning is improved performance, then we need to provide people with content and the opportunities to learn in the ways that feel most natural to them and fit within their flow of work.

Online courses, job shadowing, mentoring, reading articles or even watching videos are all formats that provide the same—and sometimes better—results for people and their organization than attending a class or seminar in person. And the great thing about learning content and delivery these days is it’s becoming easier to access in smaller, bite-size chunks across multiple devices. Microlearning meets the needs of today’s workforce because it makes information easier to consume and keeps people focused on what they’re learning.

Better yet, online social and other collaboration tools make it easy for employees to share what they’ve learned by watching a TED Talk or reading an article or how-to blog post, providing an opportunity for employees to connect and exchange ideas as part of a team effort.

This brings me to my next point about recognizing and rewarding employee-led learning. This type of tracking might be difficult to manage, so consider adopting systems, which give people credit for their learning efforts and have the ability to capture how they are applying the information they learned through real work experiences.

Give people what they need when they need it

The expectations of people and their experience of work are changing, which means employers in the public sector and the private sector need to adapt to meet these expectations or risk missing out on attracting and retaining top talent. Talent management is no longer a back office, paper-pushing HR duty. Organizational leaders and managers have an important role to play in creating a work environment where people can thrive.

The ability to personalize talent management is where HR and learning professionals can help managers and employees make the connection between theory and practice. People want job satisfaction, development opportunities and real-time feedback and encouragement. Workplaces that provide these opportunities to employees at a personal level are in the best position to give people what they need to feel motivated and encouraged on an ongoing basis. By talking about employee performance and development regularly, you set your staff and your organization up for long-term success.


Author: Lesley Hawkins is a Senior Business Consultant with Saba Software. She has been in the Learning and Development industry for 19 years where she has led learning program and material design and delivery, organizational change, communications, client relationship management, needs analysis, and high-quality solution design and delivery.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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