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Personal and professional development: Are you doing enough to attract and retain your employees?

Organisations prioritising their employees' personal and professional development – their capabilities, skills and competencies – reap the awards in many ways.

They can attract new staff. A global survey of Millennials and Gen Zs found learning and development opportunities to be the second most important reason for joining their current organisation. More than a quarter (29%) see it as a priority.

  • They can retain staff. Onboarding new employees takes time, effort and money. Companies that excel at internal mobility keep employees for almost five and a half years – nearly twice as long as those who find it challenging.
  • They can experience an uptick in performance and productivity by developing skills that help their employees and businesses thrive.
  • They can be a great place to work. Employees knowing there's an opportunity to progress is core to a positive work culture and employee wellbeing.
  • These benefits are being recognised. Almost three-quarters (72%) of learning leaders say that learning and development is now a more strategic function in their organisation.

And Best Companies founder and CEO Jonathan Austin is urging job searchers and companies to keep wellbeing and learning, and development high on the agenda despite the pull of high salaries during a cost-of-living crisis: "<Some companies'> charge out time may be up to 95 per cent. As a result, they may have no wellbeing and no focus on growth and development because they have no time. They may be paying employees a lot, but they're not really nourishing their soul."

So do organisations set the parameters for good personal and professional development, or is it in the hands of the employees? It's a two-way process. Organisations must consider their core business and development plans when looking at learning and development opportunities. But personal development planning is a must – tailoring the offer to engage and excite individual employees.

So, what is a personal development plan? It's a structured path to self-improvement, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses and covering any career, personal or academic goals. It's common for companies to view the process as a tick-box exercise, but not our Best Companies Learning & Development special award winners.

Our panellists explain how their commitment to their people’s personal goals and ambitions are making a difference on the ground and helping them become employers of choice.

This article shares highlights from the conversation. Watch the both panellists' sessions for November's Best Companies Live below.

1. Empowerment is key to personal growth

"One of our core values is embracing discomfort", says Sarah Dewsbury, Gearset's Head of People. "It's all about personal growth, development, and trying new things”.

Gearset's internship programme brings new people into the business, supporting them to learn and grow. It's also an internal development opportunity, giving individuals the responsibility of managing, coaching and developing somebody else. "It's been really successful in transitioning the people who've had that experience to become our future leaders," adds Sarah.

And for Energize, that empowerment starts on day one. "Everybody comes in knowing they've got a career development pathway. It's very black and white on what you need to do to achieve and progress," says Amani Sharif, L&D Manager.  

"How much experience you have or don't have doesn't really matter; the point is, if you come to Energize, there is 100 per cent an opportunity for you to grow both personally and professionally."

For Costello Medical, employee empowerment, development and ambition have fundamentally shaped the business. "We really believe the company should go in the direction people within it want to take it," says Saoirse Leonard, Head of Talent Strategy.

"All our scientific divisions have come about because somebody in the business felt passionate about a certain type of product or a particular area of expertise and made a good business case that aligned with our company values. We're always encouraging people to further their passions and strengths."

The same employee-led approach has shaped the company's geography. Colleagues who've wanted to work in a different location but remain with Costello Medical have set up successful offices in places like Boston and Shanghai.  

2. Learning doesn't have to be formal and structured

Equally important to Gearset’s structured personal development opportunities are its organic, informal ones. These include a team-led 'drink and learn' every month, where members set the agenda and share their experiences, to a self-led peer group – an offshoot of leadership training.

"There are gaps between the modules for employees to put into practice what they've learned and get feedback,” says Sarah Dewsbury. "Those who've gone on the course use each other as a tool to help their development, connecting on a monthly basis. They say, 'I'm struggling with this', 'I'm trying this out,' or ask, 'what are you doing in your team?' We're an open and collaborative team, and it's really nice to see the benefits of encouraging this behaviour."

And for Skipton Building Society – which is proud to have filled 45 per cent of its roles internally – less is sometimes more, with 'bitesize' leadership training to ensure employees experience the right learning at the right time. It has also developed 'playlists' so staff can drive their own growth and development.

3. Take opportunities to learn and develop together

HSO runs a whole-organisation training conference every 18 months as part of the company's significant investment in learning and development.

"We do a thorough training needs analysis to identify what people really need to understand," says Rebecca Fox, head of L&D. "We make sure it's soft skills, it's functional skills, it's technical skills and wellbeing."

And there is a real 'one team' approach. HSO invited customers to the last event, along with partner Microsoft who hosted some sessions. For Rebecca, big events like this help overcome some learning barriers. "Often people say they don't have the time to do training, but a lot of people were involved in this conference, and we worked as one team to achieve it."

For Costello Medical, it's collaboration over competition when it comes to development and promotion.

"We have no cap on senior roles," says Saoirse Leonard. "If somebody's earned a promotion, they'll receive it. We don't have colleagues competing for a limited number of senior roles."

And with the company running two rounds of promotion every year, those working at a promotion-worthy level have the reassurance that they can take the next step within a reasonable timeframe.

Meanwhile, Energize's New Starter Academy is going from strength to strength. Over six weeks, it gives new recruits – generally graduates or those on their first or second jobs – the training they need to be a successful recruiter (or successful in other parts of the business). It helps them reach milestones such as being self-sufficient on calls and doing their own deals.

"It's been so successful," says Amani Sharif. "We're getting people doing their first deals within their first few weeks even though they're not targeted until month three. And to see that they're getting conversions and doing well makes them feel more motivated, happy and capable."

Our panellists show that supporting personal and professional development is a win-win – boosting the bottom line and helping grow employees’ confidence and purpose. While it needs to have a strategic focus for the most impact, organic, informal initiatives can also bring great benefits.

Costello Medical's Saoirse Leonard sums up why organisations should prioritise personal development planning: "We employ fantastic people, and fantastic people are ambitious. They have options, and we want to keep them. We don't want them to see us as a company where they come to start their careers, but as somewhere they can build a career and be here in 10-20 years."

Are your learning and development opportunities helping you recruit and retain staff during these challenging times? Find out what they think with our b-Heard employee engagement survey. You could be one of our future special award winners!

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