August 31, 2021

5 Keys to Implementing a Development-Centric People Strategy

Your company may be among the growing number of employers today that have incorporated learning and development conversations into their hiring strategies. If so, you likely understand that millennial and Generation Z candidates see an employer’s commitment to their professional development as a key consideration when weighing job opportunities in this very highly competitive labor market.

Likewise, you may also be among the growing number of progressive companies that understand a prospective candidate’s orientation toward learning is a very important criterion for determining fit.

Taken together, these scenarios illustrate why many companies are starting to put employee development at the hearts of their people strategies.

The capacity to learn new skills and continuously adapt to new realities is becoming the single most important competitive advantage for both employers and employees in today’s rapidly evolving economy. But accelerating everyone’s ability to learn new capabilities isn’t the only reason to put learning and development at the center of your talent strategy. Let’s consider how a development-centric approach can benefit other elements of your people strategy, too.

How Learning and Development Touch Every Part of Your People Strategy

1. Values and Culture

Making learning and development core values and key drivers of the company’s business strategy is a critical step in creating a culture of learning and conscious people development. It gets everyone on the same page about vision, goals, and expectations for what it means to operate in this kind of culture.

2. Employer Value Proposition and Brand

Your people strategy is a powerful way to communicate your employer value proposition and brand. Younger workers in particular are drawn to purpose-driven employers. And because skill development is so important to employees’ professional futures, companies that emphasize employee growth have a purpose-driven differentiator that helps them attract and retain quality talent.

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts cannot reach their full potential without strong learning and development components.

Take unconscious bias as an example. It is an inherent tendency we all possess. Learning about unconscious bias is key in any effort to manage or mitigate it in the hiring process. Becoming more conscious in our mindsets and behaviors around DEI requires an ongoing process of learning and developing at both the individual and organizational levels.

4. Leadership Development

A development-centric people strategy reinforces and supports a strong leadership culture and builds a more reliable pipeline of emerging leaders in your company.

5. Engagement and Retention

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, career development opportunities were a major factor in employee retention. In the tight post-pandemic labor market, development-centric people strategies can help organizations engage and retain talent while avoiding the worst of the Great Resignation.

6. Well-Being and Safety

A development-centric people strategy reinforces the connection between ongoing learning and developing good practices to support health and well-being both in the office and outside work.

How to Create a Development-Centric People Strategy

Based on our experience and research, these are the five keys to implementing a development-centric people strategy:

1. Understand the Role of Leadership

Executive leaders have a vital role to play in communicating the importance of learning and development in their organizations. However, they may not fully appreciate the extent to which employees look to them to actively model and cultivate the everyday conditions required for a true learning and development culture.

Though they may look to HR and learning and development teams to implement certain aspects of a development-centric people strategy, leaders should own, model, and drive the development agenda in their organizations.

2. Align Business and People Strategies

Once the business strategy is defined, the people strategy is often left up to HR and learning and development leaders. However, to really succeed, a development-centric people strategy must align with every aspect of the business strategy. They cannot be treated as separate strategies.

3. Define Development Principles

Defining development principles is important because it provides a common language and clear expectations that can be applied by all employees. Development principles often cover things like making learning psychologically safe, the importance of a growth mindset, and the role peers play in supporting individual and team learning.

4. Identify Core People Capabilities

Get specific about the technical and nontechnical skills and capabilities your employees need to deliver on your business strategy. Consider replacing dated and vague hard and soft skill buckets with more specific categorizations like mind skills (e.g., critical thinking), people skills (e.g., communication), and technical skills (e.g., data analysis).

5. Embed Development Throughout the Employee Life Cycle

The employee life cycle essentially serves as the people strategy framework for many companies — but the employee life cycle can also serve as a practical and effective means to embed, leverage, and reinforce more learning and development opportunities for every employee at every stage of their career. In our experience, this approach is a powerful way to get leaders, managers, and employees involved in making a development-centric people strategy truly integrated and sustainable.

We believe that designing organizations to develop employees’ full capabilities is key to business success and will make the most positive difference in our world. It is the ultimate contribution an organization can make to society.

Catherine Allen and Ed Offterdinger are cofounders of AO People Partners and coauthors of Conscious, Capable, and Ready to Contribute: A Fable — How Employee Development Can Become the Highest Form of Social Contribution.

Get the top recruiting news and insights delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for the Recruiter Today newsletter.

Read more in Career Development

Catherine Allen is cofounder and CEO of AO People Partners. She focuses on guiding her team to build the full suite of capabilities to help leaders reimagine and create the cultures, structures, systems, and incentives that make investing in conscious people development possible. Catherine holds an MS in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University and a BA in English from Boston University.

Ed Offterdinger is a philanthropist, author, speaker, former executive managing partner at Baker Tilly, and cofounder of AO People Partners. Ed is passionate about helping CEOs, executives, and leadership teams shift their mindsets, perspectives, and practices to do what's best for their people, their businesses, and society. A DC native, Ed is a graduate of the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce.

Catherine and Ed's new book, "Conscious, Capable, and Ready to Contribute: A Fable — How Employee Development Can Become the Highest Form of Social Contribution," is available on September 20, 2021, on Amazon and other online booksellers.