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Employee-Led Development: The Key to Engagement


GP research consistently shows the impact of employee engagement on productivity, turnover, and employee well-being. Because of this, organizations worldwide have adopted some form of employee engagement or opinion survey to assess and monitor critical aspects most linked to the positive results they’re after.

Despite the strong link between engagement and business results, the construct of engagement remains somewhat elusive as solution providers market differing models and definitions of success (we at GP Strategies have contributed our own model). Regardless of the approach, one constant across findings is that employee development and growth are key drivers of engagement.

Though related, development and growth are distinct from career advancement, which is also frequently correlated with employee engagement. While advancement is often a high driver of engagement, not everyone has a current desire to win promotions. There are seasons in life when the traditional career ladder doesn’t feel overly important; for a lot of people, that’s never been truer than it is now. Despite the ebbs and flows around advancement within an employee’s career, growth and development are constantly and strongly correlated with engagement. Even when a team member isn’t seeking formal advancement, they still have a strong desire—even a need—to grow in their role and as an individual.

As organizations strive to provide development opportunities, more leaders are encouraging employees to chart their own career path. Employee-led development allows people to take ownership of their careers: Seek the opportunities, reach out to others in those roles, identify gaps in their own skills, and pursue new opportunities to expand those skills.

This autonomy can significantly lift engagement—unless employees run into roadblocks. If they can’t perceive varied job roles, identify the skills required for those jobs, or even find out about open positions within their organization, they’ll struggle to plot their course of development.

Many organizations lack the job data, technology, or system integration to create the transparency employees need. A thorough organizational assessment can identify counterproductive policies and cultures associated with talent acquisition, hiring, and internal movement, and a strong organizational design practice can address the issues.

The smart use of technology is a critical component in creating a culture of employee-led development and engagement. Ultimately, a formal talent mobility system is about building a culture of skill development and allowing that to create a positive domino effect, aligning expertise with needs across the organization. Without the right tools in place to systematically create visibility and a path forward, managers and HR teams will remain the default go-to sources for development opportunities, resulting in an almost inevitable bottleneck in the pipeline. It’s simply too much to place on a single group of already busy individuals.

One tool designed for this purpose, Talent Mobility (from fellow LTG company PeopleFluent), manages current job, employee, and learning data. With everything in one place, employees share the development load with their managers as well as leaders and HR teams and have easier access to the data they need to perform effectively and remain highly engaged.

Many folks believe mobility tools are simply about moving employees to new internal roles a bit more quickly, but that’s not the full picture. Internal job matching, when not implemented as part of an intentional and well supported program, can actually increase turnover if there aren’t enough available openings. Employees don’t need another enhanced career site or a basic job board with a list of random job recommendations. Instead, they want a re-imagined, end-to-end experience that helps them plan and manage their personal journey within the organization.

Benefits of a Comprehensive Talent Mobility Strategy

Employees are looking to upskill or reskill, and in many industries new role-specific skills evolve on a yearly basis—or faster. For some, these realities are enough of a prompt on their own, but there are also strong upsides to a structured talent mobility practice:

Reduction in Turnover Costs

When experienced employees are forced to leave to find growth opportunities, organizations lose productivity, institutional knowledge, and client relationships. And that’s before the cost to replace outgoing team members is even tallied—not to mention the uncertainty of hiring externally. But a SmartRecruiters study found that “75% of employees who receive promotions will stay with the company for at least three years … as do 62% of workers who made lateral moves.”

Higher Employee Engagement

Companies that offer on-the-job development opportunities, like lateral moves or stretch assignments, can increase employee engagement. With so much work now being performed in hybrid and remote work environments, this can be a real boon for organizations looking to sustain employee satisfaction and contribution as well as foster equity in opportunity.

Tech-Based Advantages

Implementing a system that automates many of the administrative or repetitive tasks associated with employee development creates more space for HR and L&D professionals to focus on initiatives that advance the organization. With that space, talent professionals can be more thoughtful with pulse surveys and analysis, build stronger employee resource groups, and design more meaningful diversity and inclusion learning journeys, for example.

The implementation of any new talent management strategy calls for a comprehensive change management initiative to support the adoption of the process. It’s important to incorporate stakeholder commitment with strategy and tools to address resistance, remove roadblocks, and support employee acceptance of the differences in culture and technology. The thoughtful integration of purposeful organizational design, well-applied technology, and real change-management support can transform the engagement of an organization through employee-led development.

About the Authors

Cheryl Jackson, PhD
Organization Design & Change Practice Lead
For over 15 years, Dr. Cheryl Jackson has been supporting transformational efforts in Fortune 500 organizations across a variety of industries including retail, manufacturing, healthcare, and food and beverage. With a doctorate in Industrial-organizational psychology, she combines her experience with scientific methodology and research techniques to create practical solutions that drive meaningful change in the workplace. Cheryl is driven to create effective solutions that help the organization as well as its employees thrive. Her focus is organizational effectiveness strategies supported by organization design, change management, assessment and development, employee engagement, leader development, and performance management. Cheryl is driving the development of the OD and Change Management practice within and across GP Strategies through the development of offerings and solutions, internal and external education, and supporting client initiatives. She remains actively engaged in the practice by contributing to whitepapers, blogs, articles, conferences, and podcasts on organizational design and change management and serving as a lecturer in the Master of I/O program at Texas A&M University.
Akash Savdharia
Vice President for Talent Solutions at our fellow Learning Technologies Group company PeopleFluent, Akash is an entrepreneurial technology executive with over 10 years of experience bringing SaaS products to market that solve real-world data-driven problems. He drives the business vision, growth, and strategy for their talent products portfolio. Akash started out as a management consultant, focusing on business strategy for multinational pharma and biotech organizations. Later, Akash was co-founder and CEO of Patheer, an AI-powered talent development and analytics platform that revolutionized the enterprise talent and career mobility space. When Patheer was acquired by LTG, he joined PeopleFluent and the platform became Talent Mobility. Akash has a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona with a triple major in Information Systems, Operations, and Management. Talent Management Software | Learning Solutions | PeopleFluent Talent management software and learning solutions to help you guide your organization’s people, culture, and outcomes.

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