A CIPD survey out this week tells us that job satisfaction has taken a downward slide, with the number of employees looking for a new job hitting a two-and-a-half year high. The research found that lack of development opportunities was a significant factor in people’s decision to look for pastures new, with less than half those surveyed feeling they were given opportunities to learn and grow at work.

In a fast-moving, turbulent business environment, this apparent lack of focus on training and development is short-sighted to say the least. If organisations are to compete effectively and adapt to changing markets, they need their people to be constantly updating their skills, acquiring new knowledge and developing the ability to become more agile and resilient on the job.

Part of the problem is that—although advances in both technology and our understanding of how people develop have made learning more accessible than ever before—many companies are still stuck in the mindset that learning means going on a (lengthy and often expensive) official training course. However, the research shows that employees rate training from peers, coaching and on-the-job training as the most useful methods of training.

If we open our eyes and expand our thinking about what development means, and what our employees want, we will find that we are surrounded by (informal and low cost) opportunities for people to learn at work. So what can you as a HR professional or line manager do to satisfy your people’s thirst for development, make learning an integral part of the day job – and hang on to your top talent in the process?

1. Have regular development conversations with your team

Make learning and development a regular topic of conversation, rather than restricting it to the annual appraisal. If someone’s job is changing, or they are getting itchy feet, you can’t afford to wait for a year to discuss how they will acquire new skills or develop in their role.

2. Get teams talking

Encourage people to get out of their silos and talk to others from different departments and disciplines. It’s a great way to cross-fertilise ideas, share expertise and develop new approaches to old problems.

3. Create time to learn from what worked (and what didn’t)

Help people learn from their successes – and their mistakes. If a project’s gone really well let everyone know how you pulled it off. If it’s gone badly, share the lessons and explore how it could be handled differently another time.

4. Encourage thinking outside the box

Don’t restrict learning solely to areas that are immediately relevant to people’s jobs. Sometimes, spending time at industry events or networking sessions in other sectors can lead to light-bulb moments.

5. Reward and recognise

Make sure you reward people for the kind of behaviour you want to encourage. A small pay rise on completion of a professional qualification? Recognition for new skills acquired in the company newsletter or Intranet? Make learning something to be celebrated.

6. Facilitate collaboration

Make it easy for people to find the information and contacts they need to improve their knowledge and productivity. Internal social portals (which come as an integral part of some HR software systems) are a great way to help people find answers to questions and identify colleagues who can support them in their roles.

7. Make the most of mentoring

Much of the knowledge people need is often already available in-house. Set up an informal mentor programme to help employees share learning and expertise. It doesn’t have to be just top down. Reverse mentoring (where junior colleagues help managers get to grip with new technologies, for example) can work really well too.

8. Fight against a fixed mindset

Encourage everyone to focus on making your company a learning organisation. Make employee development and career growth part of something that everyone is happy to talk about at any time.

9. Walk the talk

Demonstrate a commitment to learning by doing it yourself. Attend conferences and exhibitions, update your knowledge through your professional networks, explore the latest thinking being shared in your sector publications – and then share the insights with your team.

10. Take a blended approach

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to learning. Think about how you can mix and match development approaches. A combination of on-the-job coaching, backed up by on-line learning resources, for example, could help to bring someone quickly up-to-speed in a new subject or area.


Look out for our blog next week on developments in the world of learning, highlighted at this week’s CIPD Learning and Development Show.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.