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One of the most common ways to make your employees feel valued in the workplace is to offer some type of development program. Whether this is one-on-one coaching, a company-wide personal development program, or offering education programs, these initiatives should benefit both the employee and the employer.

This rings especially true for developers, who rated “opportunities for professional development” as the #1 thing they look for when assessing a potential job. Whether they want to advance up the ranks at their current company or learn new skills to support them in the long-run, working for companies that offer these programs is very important to them.

Based on information from one of my favorite HR-related books, Misplaced Talent, here are three essential components of an employee development program, as well as unique tips on how to roll out these programs to your developers.

"The first step in creating an employee development program is to build self-awareness."      [Tweet This]  

 Self-awareness

The first step in creating an employee development program is to build self-awareness. This can be done by creating some form of assessment, having the employee complete it, and then coming up with the program itself. Some examples of these assessments that help unveil self-awareness in your employees are performance reviews, feedback from colleagues, and psychometric assessments. And while those can sound formal and rigid, it’s up to you to structure them in a way that fits your current employees. Most developers dislike the standard 360 performance reviews, so try creating another type of test that works best to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.  

So for example, Denise has been a Mobile Developer at your company for two years now. She wants to grow into more of a leadership role, where she can manage the mobile development team (while still coding as part of her job). She knows she doesn’t have much “formal” leadership experience, and wants to know how she can fill in this gap. So you implement a self-awareness test for her and her managers to fill out. Results show that Denise excels in certain areas, but is struggling in the area of managing conflict. This information helps guide you and Denise in the next steps, which could be taking a leadership course or attending a conflict management seminar.

Development challenge

Once you’ve raised self-awareness in the employee, you are both now aware of the areas they want and need to improve in. You can now create a targeted development challenge for them to complete. This could range from something like raising their technical skills to establishing new behavioral habits. These type of challenges could include the employee taking an online course, rotating jobs among different teams within the company, or attending a conference.

The purpose of these developmental challenges is to expose the employee to activities that help them grow. If a developer wants to learn project management as a skill, having them take a course in this will help them learn the required skills, see if it’s a good fit for them, and ultimately have an impact on their career happiness.

Organizational support

The last part of a successful employee development program is organizational support. Throwing a book at someone and expecting them to read it, become an expert, and then make your company millions of dollars is a bit of a stretch. Employees need support from a subset of people within the organization to truly grow.  The book puts it best, saying, “Mentoring and coaching is essential for ensuring a safe psychological environment for growth.”

For developers, this organizational support typically manifests itself in the form of mentorship programs, pair programming, coaching from their managers, and even giving employees time to work on their side projects.

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