Development Programs – Clarity, Communication, and Commitment are Key

Classroom setting with silhouettes of presenter and attendees. Screen on wall reads "Employee Development Program."Organizations today sure like to tout how they offer “employee development programs” of one type or another.  Yes, everyone seems to have them.  You will find these programs promoted under a wide variety of names, including:

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

Such a variety of names! Also, I notice many of them are used interchangeably.  In the human resources world, each name may have its own specific meaning or implied objective.  However, to those likely to take part in such programs, any technical differences in the names probably do not matter.

What’s in a Name?

A lot! Be careful, as the name alone can affect the perceived intent of the program.  This perception, whether accurate or not, can drive the degree of acceptance by employees.  Of course, other factors may also impact how the program is received by staff.  For example:

  • Did people like or value any previous programs?
  • What do my coworkers think about the new program?
  • What level of trust currently exists between management and employees?
  • Finally, plain, old confusion can creep in as well.

When something is unclear, people usually try and come up with their own meaning for it. Unfortunately, quite often that meaning is not accurate.  So, if the program name itself is generic or vague, then the real purpose of the program is apt to be unclear as well.

Ask a dozen staff for their thoughts on an upcoming new program and you will likely hear a dozen different answers.  Some might actually be positive.  Others might be ho-hum and call it just another flavor-of-the-month management fad.  Plus, don’t forget those who always suggest any new program is somehow just another suspicious plot hatched by the powers that be.  Talk about being off to a bad start!

A Real-World Example

Consider the actual case of a large company with several thousand employees and dozens of locations statewide which created an “Employee Development Program.”  We are talking about good people with the best of intentions.  The program had the modest initial goal of trying to get all staff on the same page with regard to basic information.  You know, the kinds of things everyone needs to know regardless of their job title, position, level, or length of time on the job.  Topics such as sexual harassment, violence, confidentiality, industry-specific laws, and proper use of IT systems, just to name a few.   A team of first-line workers, training staff, managers, and even a few high-level executives worked together to develop the program, which would be mandatory for all.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea.  This was not a substitute for new employee orientation or other normal on-boarding activities. Those were already in place.  The new program was a way to ensure all staff received a documented and up-to-date refresher on vital topics, as well as an opportunity for training in skills useful to everyone.  Such skills might include communication, conflict management, customer service, etc.

Once every employee had gone through the initial program, the firm planned to repeat it periodically as needed.  A sister program was also in the works which would include a focus on career development.  This new program would include items such as day-on-the-job (to raise awareness of positions in other work areas), mentoring for newly promoted staff, skill training, etc.  Other fine programs designed to support employees who wished to further their formal college education already existed.

So far, so good… or so it seemed.

What Happened?

Once launched, confusion spread like weeds among front line workers as to the actual purpose of the “development” program. Program staff said they received phone calls.  Lots of them.  They were asked questions such as, “What if I don’t want to be developed?” Or, “I’ve been here a long time. Why is this being forced on me now?”

Lessons Learned

In hindsight, it is easy to see what happened.   A number of critical errors led to the program having a less than ideal outcome.  These include:

  • The program name was generic and did not clearly convey its purpose, resulting in confusion among employees.
  • When rolled out, supervisors and mid-level managers did not properly explain the program or its purpose.
  • Across the board, the program did not get promoted at staff meetings as originally planned.  Many bosses simply handed out the program materials as yet another required task. Staff received orders to “just do it.”

Also, high-level executive support lacked in several ways:

  • These leaders did not actively serve as cheerleaders for the program.
  • They failed to hold managers accountable for presenting the program as instructed.
  • The use of metrics to measure implementation compliance was intentionally avoided by executives. This resulted in the inability to determine the extent of implementation either organization-wide or in any specific work areas.

When it comes to creating and rolling out any type of employee program, remember the three Cs: clarity, communication, and commitment.  These are key to success!


Featured image courtesy of geralt/

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