Employee development programs can reap countless benefits like greater business success, engagement, and reduced turnover, but they can just as easily fail. What pitfalls should you avoid to make sure your program is successful?

Confusing Employee Training for Employee Development

Is a series of lunch and learns or an occasional seminar your company’s employee development plan?

If that’s all you’re investing in, then you’re confusing training for development.

There are merits to having an inspirational training session. But once the energy around that fizzles out…has anyone actually changed?

A few sporadic training sessions don’t encourage lasting change. They serve a purpose — conveying knowledge. And while there might be some knowledge gaps, the issue in the workplace is often more about behavior.

But how can you get someone to actually change their behavior?

The solution lies in having people apply what they’re learning to real-life situations. Workshops and other training programs often provide people with scenarios and roleplays, most of which fall flat because they just aren’t realistic. Also, it’s hard for learners to take a workshop scenario or roleplay as seriously as they would a real situation in their day-to-day life.

Effective employee development programs prioritize putting new skills to the test in real life. Sure, a percentage of employee development happens in a workshop or on a learning platform. Still, just as much of it should be happening in the workplace where employees are applying what they’ve learned.

Most employee development programs don’t close the loop on this. They tell people what to do and assume they’re going to go out there and do it. But the only way to ensure people will thoughtfully apply their knowledge is with an employee development program that closes the learning loop.

Workshops and even most learning platforms only address one piece — the learning portion. Real behavior change and learning occur when individuals can take action to apply their knowledge, and then have the time and space to reflect on their experience and grow. It’s an ongoing process.

So if you’re only spending time on training (or the learning portion of the learning loop) and wondering why it isn’t making as much of an impact as you’d hoped, it’s time to start developing your people.

RELATED: The Difference Between Employee Training and Employee Development

Not Developing Every Employee Early Enough

Waiting until an employee is well-established at your company to start their development because you’re afraid of investing in someone who might end up leaving is a wasted opportunity.

By starting a development plan while onboarding a new employee, you’ll be rewarded with what they’ll be able to bring to your company. Not only will you be able to maximize their potential in a current role, but you’ll also create an incredibly strong candidate for internal promotion opportunities.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age for someone to become a people-manager is 30, but the average age they start getting any kind of leadership development is 42. So what’s happening in that period?

Well, people are navigating it on their own. And while some might be learning from their mistakes, others might be compounding ineffective behavior. So when they finally start a development program, the patterns they’ve created aren’t so easily changed.

So why not start development before people even step into a leadership role? While certain positions might have more visibility across an organization, everyone influences the culture. That’s why it’s essential to start with employee development early.

Not Keeping the Momentum Going

Like any new initiative in the workplace — your employee development program needs momentum to keep it going.

You wouldn’t put a new culture value on your website, announce it on Slack or Teams, and magically watch your company’s culture change. So you can’t expect that simply implementing and launching an employee development program will be enough for real results.

There are many simple ways that even the smallest People teams can keep building momentum around employee development. Scheduling discussion sessions, asking others to share their experiences, sending out reminders and encouragement, communicating clearly about the rewards, and more are all effective ways to encourage engagement.

Ultimately, however, your organization will need to build employee development into its culture by creating a culture of learning. Only when employees feel like they have something to gain through engaging with their development program — whether it’s a chance to advance in the organization, upskill their own career, or truly make a difference in the workplace — and are given the time and space to develop themselves, will you be able to see the greatest results.


Set your program up for success by downloading the guide to the 10 pillars of an effective leadership development program.

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