Employee Development in an Economic Crisis

Mimi Bacilek

Ask anyone if employee development is important and you'll hear, "Of course!" Ask if identifying high-potential employees is important and you'll hear the same response. But ask many organizations about their employee development plan for 2009, and you’ll learn they have backed off considerably because the economic crisis is constraining resources for employee development.

Employee Development and Business Competition

When we constrain employee development, we constrain the ability of the business to successfully compete. The good news: In a resource-restrained economic crisis your competition is likely shrinking its product and employee development. The bad news is if you do the same you lose a powerful opportunity to gain the market share your competitors inevitably leave on the customer’s table.

Maximizing Resource Investment requires Employee Development

Aberdeen Research conducted a timely study in 2008. The results show that best-in-class organizations employ three strategies to maximize resource investment: increase employee engagement, align employee developmental processes with organizational objectives and focus existing human resources assets on employee development. Aberdeen reports 33 percent of best-in-class organizations comprehensively address their employees and that employee engagement is the driving factor for success of these businesses.

The paradox of growing the organization for the future while protecting it in the present affords human resources leaders the powerful opportunity for engaging in the business of the business and making the case for employee development. Create conversations in the executive suite that acknowledge the reality: An organization’s capability is directly related to the collective capacity of its employees to innovate and execute.

Human Resources Drives Leadership Development

Human resources managers must engage executives in developing comprehensive strategies for leadership excellence at all levels that drives business innovation and excellence of execution. Quickly advance the conversations to identify the two or three most powerful employee development approaches. These should consume minimal incremental resources while resulting in rapid employee development. For example, how do human resources professionals lead in order to drive innovation up the organizational hierarchy? Or what is required to create an environment of reasonable risk taking for the business? What are the best approaches for driving effective employee development and succession planning for key tactical positions? How can you expand a high-potential employee’s span of control or key job requirements for business growth while fostering leadership development along the way?

The objective is to focus employee development energies on leadership processes that position the organization to out-compete the competition.

Aligning Employee Development with Business Goals

Little is more powerful in the organization than a strategic human resource focus. It maximizes the organization’s resources, aligns employee development with business objectives and engages the energies of the workforce in the success of the business.

With clarity of developmental strategy and focus, the human resources executive’s role shifts from the traditional management of developmental resources to providing executive mentors guidance and assistance. Human resources mentors engage with high-potential employees in key roles on business-critical projects. In the process, human resources executives are preparing other leaders to provide outstanding mentoring. External resources to these executive mentors can provide a high return on investment. Coaching that enables the executive to mentor leadership development across the organization becomes a long-term investment. It is a force multiplier, enabling the faster executive development and delivery on business goals as a byproduct development.

Employee Development Requires Conversation

What conversations are currently occurring in your organization relative to strategic employee development? If few to no employee development conversations are occurring, how can you catalyze them? If employee development conversations are occurring but are not focused on the strategic, how can you reward the effort while redirecting the energies? If the organization has a strong employee development process in place, how can you drive executive engagement in investing most in those with significant short-term gain and high overall ROI? What can you do to get the process of employee development started?

First published on Human Resources IQ.