Development Programs – Clarity, Communication, and Commitment are Key

Employee development programs of all types seem to abound these days and are promoted under a wide variety of names; these include monikers such as: 

  • Employee Training and Development Program
  • Employee Development Program
  • Workforce Development Program
  • Career Development Program
  • Individual Development Program
  • Staff Development Program

 In your mind, or even by formal definition, each individual program name may have its own specific meaning or implied objective, and therefore these titles should not necessarily be used generically or interchangeably.  However, professionals who develop and implement such initiatives need to keep in mind that the intended participants of these programs are likely not aware of the technical differences in the names.

Therefore, the degree of acceptance by employees and perceived intent of these organizational efforts may be influenced – positively or negatively – by the recipients’ previous experience with organizational programs in general, the opinions of coworkers and others, organizational culture and level of trust, or just plain, old, innocent confusion.

 For purposes of this discussion, we will focus on programs which are intended for internal use by an organization for its existing employees.  As is usually the case when something is unclear, the mind tends to assign a meaning to it anyway, and quite often that assigned meaning might not be accurate or correct.  If the program name is generic or vague, then one should not be surprised that its perceived intent is also generic or vague.  If the program is poorly explained when launched, then its purpose will also likely be poorly understood.  In such a situation, ask a dozen employees what the new “development” program is all about, and you will likely get a dozen different responses; these might range from something positive all the way to being nothing more than a suspicious and sinister plot hatched by management.  Talk about being off to a bad start!

I recently spoke with a large, geographically diverse corporation with several thousand employees which, with the best of intentions, created and launched what it termed an Employee Development Program.  As its initial purpose, the program had the simple goal of trying to get all employees on the same page regarding basic information which everyone should know, regardless of their specific job title, level within the organization, or length of time on the job.  The program covered many applicable and appropriate topics including sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, confidentiality, proper use of corporate IT systems, corporate compliance, laws applicable to their specific industry, the organizational structure and hierarchy, and many other relevant subjects. The program was developed by a team which included employees, organizational development staff, supervisors and managers, and even a few high-level executives.

 Don’t get the wrong idea; this was not in any way conceived as a substitute or replacement for the orientation of new employees or other appropriate onboarding activities (which were already in place), but simply as a way to ensure everyone received a documented and up-to-date refresher of the applicable topics, as well as the opportunity to receive training in other universally applicable and useful skills such as communication, conflict management, customer service, etc.

 Once all employees had participated in the initial program, the plan was to repeat it periodically, as needed.  Concurrently, work was also underway on a sister program which would include a focus on career development; it was felt this yet-to-be-developed program would probably include aspects such day-on-the-job opportunities (to raise awareness of positions in other work areas), mentoring for newly transferred or promoted staff, additional skill training, etc.  The company already had other excellent programs in place to support employees who wished to further their formal college education, and it was felt these would dovetail nicely into any new program focused on career development.

 So far, so good.  However, once launched, confusion among front line employees as to the actual purpose of the development program began to sprout and spread like weeds.  Much to their horror, those who conceived the program discovered supervisors, managers, and even higher-level executives were not promoting and explaining the program at their staff meetings as originally instructed; many simply handed out the materials with a “just do it” management directive.  Program coordinators advised me it was not uncommon for them to receive telephone calls from employees who asked “What if I don’t want to be developed?” or “I’ve been here a long time. Why is this management fad, flavor-of-the-month program being forced on me now?”

In retrospect, it was easy for the folks in this company to see what happened.  There were a number of factors which led to the challenging and less-than-optimal implementation of the program; these include:

  • The name of the program itself was generic and thus did not clearly convey the nature of the program.
  • First-line and mid-level management did not properly communicate the program or its specific purpose during the roll out; additionally, it was not presented in a positive light, but simply as another burdensome task for employees to complete.
  • Executive and top management support was lacking; they did not sufficiently serve as cheerleaders for the program across the organization or hold first-line/mid-level management accountable for rolling out the program as they had been instructed.


NOTE: Career Lantern has a downloadable PDF version of an Individual Development Plan (IDP) available; click here.


Featured image courtesy of Woodleywonderworks – flickr

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