10 Employee Development Ideas to Boost Productivity and Retention

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Your employees are craving chances to develop new skills, but do you have programs in place to accommodate them? Adding employee development programs provides opportunities for your employees to build on their strengths, cross-train, and develop leadership and management skills. These opportunities satiate their desire to improve and learn. In these ways, career development benefits not just your employees but your company as a whole.

If your organization doesn’t have programs and resources available, it risks falling behind. Employees may seek development opportunities elsewhere, or worse, your workers may lack skills needed to perform their jobs effectively. This is especially true in fast-paced industries where workers need to learn new skills and gain new certifications on a regular basis.

“Forward-thinking organizations need to create environments that embrace and unlock the potential of the whole employee,” says Linda Jingfang Cai, global head of learning and talent development at LinkedIn. This doesn’t always mean considering employees for promotions, but it does mean coming up with employee development ideas and paving a path for career growth.

To help you get started, we’ve curated 10 different employee development ideas, along with guidance on how to implement them and the benefits they can provide.

Why are career development programs important?

Offering your employees development opportunities not only improves their skillset but also adds multiple benefits to your company.

In 2023, Gallup measured managers’ and teams’ engagement and turnover rates before completing an upskilling program, then again after the program was finished. They found managers’ engagement increased up to 22% while their team’s engagement increased up to 18%. The upskilled teams had turnover reduced by up to 28%—and they were up to 28% likelier to improve performance compared to their peers.

If those statistics don’t convince you that employee development is critical, consider that it costs more to train a new employee than to upskill your current team members. This cost can balloon if you lose high-performing individuals.

Keeping your employees means keeping them happy, and keeping them happy means providing challenging, impactful work, opportunities for internal career growth, and chances to learn new skills. All three are reasons why employees consider a new job, according to the latest LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report.

How to create an employee development plan

Creating an employee development plan requires some strategy. You don’t want to simply sign up for Coursera and let your team loose. Instead, use these tips to build a professional development plan that guides employees through every level of their career advancement. Here are some things to consider as you get started:

1. Research development opportunities

Laying the groundwork for employee development means getting buy-in from multiple departments across your company. Some things to consider as you propose your employee development plan include:

  • Does your plan fit with your company’s strategy? Look at whether new skills will help your company achieve short- or long-term goals or whether helping an employee will fill a critical skills gap such as management or technical expertise.
  • Do your employee development ideas fit into your budget? It’s important to view your plan as an investment and determine ways to maximize your ROI.
  • Do the employee growth opportunities match your employees’ needs? It’s important to chat directly with your employees to ensure your development plans meet their needs. For example, a pharmacy technician may not want to learn management skills but would love the opportunity to become a Certified Immunizer.
  • Does your professional development plan accommodate different learning styles? Some employees prefer in-person, hands-on training, while others thrive on self-paced online learning. Be sure to keep your employee development program inclusive with opportunities for different learning styles.

2. Plan and communicate training timelines

As you choose which employee development ideas to include in your program, start forming a timeline for when training starts and ends. You should also plan when you’ll follow up with trainees to gather feedback and when you’ll start implementing that feedback.

Training timelines don’t always need to be cut and dry. If your organization is fast-paced, it may make more sense to set training goals for employees to hit each month or quarter. This allows them to fit career development into their schedule rather than stick to strict due dates.

3. Share training goals

You’ll also need to decide on your employee development goals as well as how to measure success. These can be overarching goals, such as reaching a 90% training completion rate by the end of the quarter. Whatever you decide on, however, you should share those goals with company and team leadership to get buy-in and keep them in the loop.

Additionally, encourage employees to create their own specific goals for training. Setting these goals is ideally a conversation the employee can have with their manager, and both manager and employee should meet regularly to check in on goals, remove any roadblocks, and provide encouragement and praise.

10 employee development ideas and their benefits

As you can see, employee development is a critical part of an agile and successful business. When your employees are given the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers, they’re more likely to be engaged, productive, and loyal.

There are many different employee development ideas you can implement to support your employees, and these 10 are excellent starting points to consider.

1. Create a mentoring program

A mentorship program is a method of employee development you can start during onboarding. Once you extend an offer, pair your new hire up with someone who knows the ropes at your company and is willing to show their fellow employee around.

You can have your mentor reach out to the new hire before their starting day, which gives the pair a chance to get to know each other better. This also gives the new hire a chance to ask their mentor about what to expect on day one, including who they should get to know and any company policies they need to understand right away.

It’s also helpful to send a “best self” survey to your new employee before they start so mentors, managers, and coworkers know what kind of praise this employee prefers (public or private), what kind of work they enjoy most, and their communication style.

Learn more: How to integrate L&D at every stage of employee development

2. Host regular one-on-one meetings

Individual coaching is important, not only for employees’ career growth but also for helping employees feel supported and heard. Gallup found only 37% of managers strongly agree they invest in employees’ development—but only 25% of employees strongly agree their manager invests in their professional development.

To bridge this gap, provide your managers with training of their own that covers the following:

  • How to share difficult feedback
  • How to ask open-ended questions
  • How to best support their direct reports
  • How to actively listen
  • How to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals with employees
  • How to prepare for remote, in-person, and hybrid one-on-ones

Learning these skills helps one-on-ones become more productive for both managers and employees.

3. Conduct effective performance reviews

Performance reviews allow managers to provide critical support to employees, including feedback on areas for improvement and setting development goals. Naturally, effective performance reviews are key to helping your employees reach their full potential within your company.

Along with providing management training, sharing these tips with your managers can help them create helpful and effective feedback loops with their employees:

  • Provide employees an opportunity to self-evaluate. This not only gives your employee a chance to share their take on how things are going, but also gives managers insight into potential misunderstandings or missing details. You can use a tool like Poll Everywhere to send out a pre-review survey.
  • Be specific and objective in your feedback. For example, saying “your work hasn’t met objectives” doesn’t help the employee understand what areas need improvement. But saying “your project missed the deadline and went over budget” opens the door to a conversation about how the employee can improve on timelines and oversee finances.
  • Don’t overload the review with negative feedback—or positive feedback. Give your employee positive reinforcement, but don’t be hesitant to point out what’s not going well either. Not sharing negative feedback can be more detrimental than hurting someone’s feelings, while withholding positive feedback can leave employees frustrated, hopeless, and looking for a new job.
  • Provide actionable feedback your employee can use to improve. Don’t end the performance review before discussing next steps, including timeframes and what success looks like.
  • Leave room for responses. An effective performance review involves two-way communication, and managers shouldn’t monopolize the conversation. While the manager should be specific about the employee’s performance and its impact, they should also leave room for the employee to add their thoughts.
  • Follow up afterward to discuss progress. Make next steps the topic of discussion in one-on-ones following the performance review, and be sure to ask for your employee’s take on how their professional growth is going.

4. Provide cross-training opportunities

Cross-training is a great way to provide an opportunity to learn new skills and develop their talents. This can also improve communication and collaboration—as well as camaraderie between employees that boosts morale.

Cross-training can take many forms, including:

  • Job shadowing: Employees can learn a lot by shadowing another employee for a period of time. This gives them a firsthand look at different roles in the company and the different competencies they entail.
  • Rotational programs: These programs rotate employees through different roles on a regular basis. This can help develop a broader range of skills and provide insight into how other divisions of the company operate. For example, a Strategic Finance Analyst may find it beneficial to rotate into the sales department to speak directly with clients and understand their unique pain points.
  • On-the-job training: You can provide training for specific skills and tasks with on-the-job training. Some employees learn best by doing, and on-the-job training definitely checks this box.

When providing cross-training opportunities, don’t forget to consider the needs of your employees as well as the needs of the teams and employees helping with the training. Allowing someone to rotate into an already overloaded and stressed team won’t help anyone achieve goals.

5. Give access to continuous learning resources

While structured employee development plans are helpful, some employees flourish when given the chance to take their learning into their own hands. You can support these employees by providing access to continuous learning resources, which often take the form of elearning. Some of the most popular include:

  • Envato Tuts+: With a focus on creative skill sets, Envato Tuts+ is a library of 550+ video courses and short tutorials. From learning color theory to how to edit a podcast in Reaper, Tuts+ covers a huge range of creative skill sets and software aimed at improving marketing, design, and coding skills. Best of all, your teams can access these expert-led video guides for free.
  • Coursera: Working with 300+ universities and well-known companies like Google and IBM, Coursera offers 6,100+ courses. These include casual learning, certifications, and even degree programs. Enterprise-sized companies need to contact Coursera’s sales team for details, but Coursera for Teams starts at $399 per user per year for teams of 125 employees or less.
  • Skillshare: Featuring 35,000+ classes from industry experts like Gary Vaynerchuck and Rand Fishkin, Skillshare classes include hands-on projects that help your employees put their new skills to work. Skillshare for Teams starts at $159 per user per year.
  • Udemy: Home to 10,500+ courses ranging from AWS developer certification to cryptocurrency investment courses, Udemy also includes analytics and reporting so you can dig into the details of your L&D program. You’ll need to request a demo for the Udemy Enterprise plan, but the Udemy Team plan (for up to 20 users) costs $360 per user per year.
  • Khan Academy: A free learning resource, Khan Academy is well-known for helpful math and coding videos but also includes test prep and economics courses.
  • Pluralsight: This learning resource offers an upskilling-specific program to identify your teams’ skill levels and areas of proficiency. Pluralsight then allows you to test your employees’ skill growth and also offers labs for hands-on practice. You’ll need to contact Pluralsight for details on its Enterprise plan, but its Starter plan costs $399 per user per year for teams of up to 50 people.

6. Start a book club

Have a few bookworms at your company? You can ask if one or two of them would like to lead a book club. The group can tackle one or two chapters at a time and meet periodically to discuss each person’s takeaways and questions.

Book clubs can help employees improve their communications skills alongside gaining new knowledge from authors. That knowledge may range from productivity skills to leadership. Be sure to share any guidelines on book topics and meeting times up front. Offering to reimburse the cost of the books may also encourage participation.

Some popular titles include:

  • “Atomic Habits” by James Clear: A step-by-step guide that explores how we form habits and how readers can adopt good habits through small changes.
  • “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown: Created for those in leadership positions, “Dare to Lead” covers ways leaders can “dare” to motivate and inspire employees.
  • “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle: Using real-life examples, Coyle explores what a good internal culture looks like and offers tips for businesses to develop their own positive internal culture.
  • “Think Again” by Adam M. Grant: Written by a psychology professor from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, “Think Again” focuses on rethinking and unlearning to gain a better understanding of ourselves and those around us.
  • “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie: A classic (and for good reason), Carnegie’s book explores positive ways to interact with others to achieve our goals.

7. Invite experts for in-person seminars

Guest lecturers not only grab attention by mixing things up but also provide different perspectives and teaching styles for students. Experts coming directly from the field can also share their unique career experiences, which can provide critical context for your team.

Additionally, inviting industry experts gives employees a chance to network with others in their field (or desired field). This can lead to new learning opportunities, support, and possibly even mentorship.

Plus, in-person seminars may appeal especially to those that prefer hands-on training. These types of learners will likely find expert-led seminars more engaging than online courses.

8. Use gamification

Gamifying your professional development program is a proven way to boost participation and engagement. A recent study by KPMG found that offices that participated in a company-wide gamified learning program increased their number of clients by up to 16%—the more time employees spent playing the learning game, the more likely it was that their performance improved.

A few ways to incorporate gamification into your L&D program include:

  • Use a platform like Poll Everywhere to inspire friendly competition with leaderboards. This can also create team-building opportunities and help individual employees build rapport with each other.
  • Reward employees for completing their training or passing assessments. Rewards contribute a positive association with learning—just be sure they appeal to your employees. (This means pizza parties are probably out.)
  • Make training fun by adding games and quizzes. These additions can also help make the content more accessible to those with different learning styles, and if a group like the one behind the Webby Awards can use Poll Everywhere to inspire their audience, so can you.

9. Try learning in small doses

There’s nothing that puts a damper on employee engagement than a 50-slide training PowerPoint. Thankfully, you can keep your employees from snoozing by using microlearning.

Microlearning breaks down new skills and topics into smaller, more bite-sized chunks. These small chunks help employees retain more information and stay engaged. Plus, smaller learning modules that focus on one key idea and no more than three supporting subtopics ensure each employee can learn at their own pace and at the time that best suits them.

10. Ask employees to share learnings

If your employees complete their skills training courses, invite them to share their notes and takeaways in a presentation at your next meeting.

By sharing their newfound knowledge with their peers, employees can practice communication and public speaking skills. And the ROI on the knowledge they gained is increased since you now have multiple employees with this new knowledge.

Employee development ideas FAQs

What are the four approaches to employee development?

While they may vary depending on who you ask, the four approaches to employee development usually include:

  1. On-the-job training: Employees receive opportunities to learn new skills as part of their job. Examples of how to include on-the-job training in your employee development plan include job shadowing, job rotation, and apprenticeships.
  2. Interpersonal relationships: Relationships with mentors, managers, and peers can teach employees soft skills like leadership, diversity and inclusion, and problem-solving. Examples of how you can build interpersonal relationship skills include one-on-one meetings, book clubs focused on leadership and inclusion, mentor programs, and asking employees to share their learnings.
  3. Formal education: If upskilling requires your employees to complete a degree or certification, they’ll need formal education. Examples of formal education include continuous learning opportunities and expert-led seminars, as well as tuition reimbursement for paid certifications and degrees.
  4. Evaluation: Regular clear and objective feedback shows employees how to improve by defining success. Examples of how to incorporate evaluation into your employee development plan include manager one-on-ones, performance reviews, and even quizzes to help employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement.

Remember, the best approach to employee training programs varies depending on the needs of your employees and your company.

What are examples of development plans for employees?

A good employee development plan should involve the employee in question and identify skill gaps keeping them from their short- and long-term goals. The plan should also cover any action items, due dates, and define how success is measured.

For example, you may develop an employee development plan that focuses on developing leadership skills for Employee A. Their plan might look something like this:


What is the best way to develop employees?

The best way to develop your employees’ skills depends on their individual needs plus the needs of your company. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some general tips to follow to help your employees and your development program succeed:

  • Set good examples across all leadership roles.
  • Provide managers with tools to create individual development plans.
  • Define success and set SMART career goals.
  • Share regular constructive feedback.
  • Make professional development and internal career growth a part of company culture.
  • Foster a work environment where learning is encouraged.

What are good employee development objectives?

Your employee development objectives should be customized to each employee, their team, and your company’s goals. That said, some examples of employee development goals include:

  • Complete a certification or earn a degree
  • Network with industry experts
  • Build rapport with team members
  • Learn how other teams fit into the success of the business
  • Increase revenue by X%


Make employee development engaging, use Poll Everywhere

Investing in employee development is a smart move. By giving employees opportunities to grow, you can improve their engagement, productivity, and morale—not to mention your retention rates.

Poll Everywhere can help take these employee development ideas from boring, dry PowerPoints to engaging, interactive content. You can gather questions, ideas, and thoughts before your professional development program starts, use it in the middle of an in-person presentation to engage your audience, or gather actionable insights from reports and analytics after the program is over.

So why wait? Add these employee development ideas to your corporate culture and schedule a free Poll Everywhere demo today to see how it can boost your L&D initiatives.