What managers of tomorrow need to know about employee development

The workplace—and the players within it—look quite different than previous decades. How, and when employees want to receive feedback has changed. What they value most has definitely changed. How we even communicate with them has changed.


So, how are managers supposed to develop modern employees in ways that are effective now, and in the future?


There are two skill categories that need to be developed, and according to employees, one is more valuable:


• Occupational, or job-related skills - these skills are the most straightforward, those needed to do the job today. Companies may be guilty of being too narrow in employee development, focusing only on job-related skills and skimping on those more tied to career growth.


• Transferable, or soft skills - human skills like active listening, empathy, communication and the like are more crucial to train for. Because they can be carried from role to role, company to company throughout a person’s career, no matter which direction(s) it takes, transferable skills are more valuable to employees.



Many managers get caught up in developing only job-related skills, which is understandable because, hey, there’s a lot of work to be done around here. But, modern workers won’t stick around for long if all you want to do is develop the skills they need to work faster in their current gigs.


Read on for how to give the modern workforce more of what they demand, err, want.



Forget training. Revamp your convos first.


The magic formula for developing both types of skills begins with manager-employee conversations. Think back to the last 1:1 you had with a direct report. How much of the time was spent covering more transactional, status-related topics vs. where that employee would like to go next in their career?


According to research by Steve Arntz, Director of Product Marketing for Bridge, 72 percent of employees stated their conversations with managers focused on status rather than substance. What they really want to discuss is what drives them, and how can they develop in the areas that will help them reach their long-term career goals.  


Substance conversations engage modern employees, and one of the best ways to determine true career drivers is to ask open-ended questions. That’s exactly what Bridge did in conducting research on employee career development. 


We asked people in several roles the following questions:


• How did you get to this place in your career?

• What does the pinnacle of your career look like?

• How do you plan to get there?



Of course, we had a working hypothesis of what we’d find … What we actually discovered was much more powerful.



Roles aren’t the ultimate career-development goal—meaning is


While we assumed that people had very specific ideas about the roles they wanted to grow into, the exact opposite is what we found to be true:


• People don’t have a concrete vision of their future roles

• People do enjoy talking about their values, the type of work they enjoy and learnings from others they have worked with, both good and bad


Asking employees highly personal questions about what motivates them can get really awkward, real quick. Fortunately, our research inspired a fun and engaging way to get to the heart of what moves each employee—Career Drivers.


Through a simple deck of cards, employees can identify which drivers are most and least important to them, as well as which ones are currently being met. They can prioritize drivers like recognition, autonomy, creativity, achievement, innovation and collaboration in an order that is truly relevant to them alone.


This exercise helps managers and employees work together to map out the development activities that will help them achieve what matters most. Goals needn’t be tied to future roles, as titles are less important than the actual outcomes they deliver. Think impact, purpose and work-life balance, to name a few.


Managers don’t need the actual cards to put the insights behind them into action (but they sure can help):


• Focus on drivers first (with roles bringing up the rear) in any career development conversation

• Empower employees to develop transferable skills in addition to the job-specific skills they need now

• Think outside of formal learning when developing their teams—workers also want stretch assignments, mentorships and ways to Practice their soft skills



If you’d like to learn more about Bridge’s Career Drivers development approach, we’ve got you covered with our infographic.

Top employee development trends for the year

If you are like every other working professional on earth, you probably spent a good part of January making lists. Resolutions. Goals. Objectives. Targets. It’s what people do to ramp up and settle into a new year. So in that grand tradition, we have one more list to add to the mix: Four trends that we believe will have the biggest impact on your employee training and development planning in 2019. 


Trend #1: Alignment Brings Results

Employee development efforts can’t succeed in a vacuum. Yet all too often, employee training and development programs are still mostly siloed and disconnected from higher-level business objectives.

Breaking this cycle isn’t easy; it requires an active, sustained effort to build productive relationships with your executive team and other key departments across your organization. But with these connections in place, you can create employee development and performance management initiatives that support, align with, and make meaningful contributions to your most important and strategic business goals.

When your business hits those strategic goals, the people in your organization will feel like they’ve made meaningful contributions if you’ve done the work to align what they do with the most critical business objectives.


Trend #2: There’s Nothing Soft About Soft Skills 

The verdict is definitely in. Today, people value transferable skills (often called “soft skills” or sometimes “human skills”) like emotional intelligence, negotiation, active listening, and collaboration more than traditional job-specific skills, and your employee training and development program should acknowledge and reflect this reality.

That’s not to say you should immediately abandon all your job skills training and convert your learning center into a yoga studio. But it’s important to recognize the crucial role that transferrable skills training plays in boosting employee retention, developing leaders, and building a positive, productive company culture. It’s no surprise that communication and emotional intelligence (EI) trainings are surging in popularity. And if you’re not already riding the Soft Skills Express, it’s definitely time to jump on that train. 


Trend #3: Employee Development is About More Than Employee Development

You’ve heard the cliché: Businesses no longer choose employees, employees choose businesses (or something along those lines). If that’s true (and it usually is), the breadth and quality of your employee development program has a direct, unavoidable impact on your ability to recruit and retain the best people.

We live in a world where the practical lifespan of most skills is about five years, which makes ongoing learning and development more valuable than ever. And if current and potential employees see that you’re willing to make a serious investment in their long-term success, you gain a significant advantage over competing employers. Finally, in a competitive employment environment, it’s always a good idea to promote your commitment to employee development as part of your recruitment program—and make it a visible, prominent piece of your employee benefits package.


Trend #4: Technology, Technology, and Technology (Did We Mention Technology?)

Technology advancements shape and impact employee training and development in a big way every year. And in 2019, there’s enough happening in this space to fill multiple articles. Or books. Here’s a quick list of some of the biggest, most promising technology developments you should explore and keep an eye on this year (if you’re not already):


• People Expect Blended Learning. This concept goes beyond simply providing online or mobile access to learning programs and materials. It’s about designing and creating holistic experiences that cater to people’s habits and their busy lifestyles. With blended learning, classroom training, on-demand, mobile, and other formats and platforms all work seamlessly together to provide rich, versatile, and personalized experiences. Blended learning is also about providing easy, anytime access, so people always have quality training and development opportunities at their fingertips.


• UX Matters. When it comes to online experiences, we are basically all spoiled. People are accustomed to easy, frictionless, intuitive experiences whenever they shop, play, or read online. So today, if you present your employees with a hodgepodge of PowerPoint decks, SharePoint docs, video files, and web pages cobbled together in a legacy LMS, they will give up and tune out—no matter how good the content is. That’s why so many smart organizations are investing in new end-to-end employee development platforms. They understand that they have to offer their employees the same quality experiences as their favorite news sites or shopping apps—and that a more unified, advanced learning and development technology platform is the best way to make that happen.


• UX Matters Part II: Flash Is Over. Speaking of legacy, this is a friendly reminder that Flash—the heart and soul of so much training content over the past 20+ years—is officially headed for obsolescence in 2020. If you don’t have an active plan for updating or replacing any Flash-based content and apps that are still up and running, it’s time to create one.


• Making Employee Development Smarter. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have become pervasive—whether it’s Netflix telling you what to watch next or driverless Ubers zipping around Las Vegas. In the employee development space, AI makes it possible to create new kinds of smart, customized, user-focused learning experiences that grow and adapt as people advance and move into new roles. AI will continue to play a central role in most areas of our work and personal lives—and that definitely includes employee training and development.


• Immerse Yourself in VR. Augmented and virtual reality have gone mainstream in a big way, and they hold fascinating possibilities for employee development. The cost of developing AR and VR content is coming down quickly. More low-cost VR devices are becoming available (including ultra-inexpensive options like Google Cardboard). And that opens the door to new categories of immersive, engaging, and ultra-realistic learning experiences that will help take your employee development efforts to the next level.


• Would You Like to Play a Game? The word “gamification” carries a bit of baggage. But in the context of employee development, gamification is not about turning your entire learning program into a Fortnite spinoff. It’s about building a competitive rewards or points system that motivates people to actively participate in your employee development plans. Setting up some friendly competition and rewarding people for their learning achievements is a proven way to boost participation and improve results.


That’s our list of some (but certainly not all) of the trends that we believe will have a significant impact on employee development in 2019. We hope they’re useful. Chances are, you’re already actively thinking about and working on many of them, because they all have the potential to make your employee development program an even more essential and valuable part of your organization’s success.



Check out our e-book to learn more about the future of employee development.

Are You a Manager or a Coach?

Your best answer is "both."

Conventional wisdom says that “manager” and “coach” are two distinct roles. Managers are bosses who direct people to achieve specific outcomes. They assign tasks, track performance, solve problems, and get things done. Coaches are mentors who guide people to help them achieve their career goals. They listen, explore options, provide support, and facilitate development. Yin and yang. Apples and oranges. End of story. Right?


Wrong. Because in 2019, it’s clear that managers who can’t (or don’t) coach are simply not as effective as those who can (and do). So what does it mean to be both a manager and a coach? How do you strike the right balance between the two? And what are the benefits of adding coaching skills to your manager toolkit?


Here are four basic concepts and ideas that explore the answers to these questions--and reveal how coaching principles can help you become a better, more effective leader.

#1: Different Folks Need Different Strokes

How do you get the best possible performance from every person you manage? The short answer is that there is no short answer. People with different personalities and levels of experience thrive under different types of leadership. For example, a new, younger employee who is just learning the ropes probably needs the kind of clear, structured, task-oriented direction a traditional manager provides. But a more seasoned employee in a familiar role will likely perform best with the kind of low-key guidance and support that looks a lot more like coaching. So by actively developing both types of skills—and then applying them where they make the most sense—you can significantly boost your ability to get the most out of every member of your team, regardless of age, experience, and personality type.


What Do People Want Most in a Manager?

According to a Predictive Index survey, they want a manager who knows how to coach. Coaching attributes popped up over and over again in the survey’s “Top traits of a great manager.” They include:

  • • Cares about my career and development

  • • Cares about me personally

  • • Listens well

  • • Lets me make decisions

#2: Put Me in, Coach!

If you survey your employees regularly, you already know that your most capable and ambitious people crave coaching. Study after study shows that effective coaching boosts productivity, raises employee engagement, and—maybe most important—increases retention rates. This correlation makes perfect sense. People tolerate being told what to do. But they value and embrace opportunities to improve their skills and reach their career goals. The more you can provide these opportunities—and convince your team that you support their development—the better they will perform and the longer they will stick around.


In fact, according to the Corporate Leadership Council, “Employees who report to managers effective at development perform up to 25% better than their peers, are 29% more committed, and are up to 40% more likely to stay at the organization.”


These numbers prove that adding coaching to your skillset translates directly into better business performance. And in the never-ending quest to attract and retain talented people, showing a sincere concern for and commitment to their long-term growth and development can give you an important edge.

#3: You CAN Get Some Satisfaction

Coaching is clearly good for employees and good for business. But it’s also good for you—both in terms of performance and job satisfaction. Managers who coach tap into the powerful, proven connections between employee development and business outcomes. When you apply coaching to your management role, you open the door to deeper insights into what motivates your employees, what they struggle with, and how they can add more value to your team. You form deeper connections that unlock hidden opportunities and inspire innovative new ways of thinking and doing business. But you also gain the personal satisfaction that comes from actively helping other people develop and reach their full potential. This all translates into better performance as a manager. But these human connections also add a deeper sense of meaning to the work you do every day. 

#4: Shifting the Balance

News flash: Your job is stressful and demanding. With constant pressure to meet the next objective, complete the next task, and pour water on the latest fire, it’s difficult to even imagine adding another new element to your job.


This explains why most managers spend the vast majority of their time on tactical, short-term management tasks, whether they like it or not. It also explains the large gap between managers who theoretically support the benefits of coaching—and those who actually develop the skills they need to take advantage of those benefits.


There is obviously no easy answer to this dilemma. But if you fully understand and embrace the value of coaching, develop a specific personal plan for integrating coaching techniques into your everyday management role, and then start taking incremental steps toward your coaching goals, the results you experience will naturally cause the balance to shift toward a more coaching-oriented approach to your job.


It’s also a good idea to investigate and take advantage of training and development options in your organization that will help you develop coaching skills. There are likely online or self-directed options you can squeeze into gaps in your schedule to get the ball rolling.


But regardless of where and how you start, you will be joining a growing movement of managers who increasingly depend on coaching to attract and retain better people, help their employees make the most of their skills and talents, and find more meaning and personal satisfaction in their jobs. 


Looking for More Insights?


Check out our e-book to learn more about how you can use coaching techniques to engage your employees.

Everything you need to know about performance management

There’s a lot of buzz in the HR space around the term performance management. But what is it, and how can companies use it to gain a competitive advantage?


Performance management is actually a segment of the broader HR discipline, talent management. While talent management encompasses everything from recruiting and onboarding to compensation and succession planning, performance management is focused on optimizing the workforce you already have by:  


  • Delivering continuous feedback
  • Setting and tracking goals
  • Recognizing employees for their efforts
  • Providing ongoing development opportunities


At its core, performance management is about improving employee engagement and productivity. And feedback plays a major role in making it happen.


Continuous feedback: performance management’s cornerstone


The annual review is quickly headed for extinction, thanks to the speed at which technology, work, and life as we know now move. Instead of waiting 12 months to address an issue, tweak goals or even recognize achievement, managers should give feedback on an ongoing basis.


Not only because it makes sense from a timing perspective. But also because the soon-to-be-dominant players of the modern workforce — millennials — need constant feedback from managers. Weekly feedback is the desired cadence for these digital natives who are used to the instant gratification of online gaming and the internet.


However, if weekly meetings with each team member are out of the question, monthly employee check-ins, or 1:1s can also deliver:  



Whether monthly or weekly, these 1:1s should do more than cover the tasks at hand. To maximize effectiveness, include these topics:


  • Goals
  • Recognition
  • Current work
  • Future roles
  • Feedback
  • Tasks


But feedback from the manager alone only gives employees half of the story.


Extra points (and motivation) for comprehensive feedback


Some performance tools empower managers to collect team feedback on individual players through peer assessments. And in a study by employee motivation firm, Make Their Day, 76 percent of employees found that positive feedback from their peers was very motivating.


The results of these peer assessments can also be used to determine areas of improvement for the team as a whole — helping identify any skills gaps that can be addressed with additional training, or even new hires.


No matter how glowing peer feedback may be, employees will still need concrete goals to help them do their best work for your organization.


Where to start? Performance goals for managers


While performance goals will need to be tailored to each individual team member and role, there are ways to easily set, track, and review performance goals.


  • Start with the overall company goals - to truly be effective, you must first know where the company wants to go. Then drill down on how your team fits into the big picture. From there, define goals for your team as a whole.


  • Assess where you are now - before setting individual goals, it’s best to see where your team currently stands in competencies, skills and output. Use peer assessments and quizzes to test worker knowledge, and historical data to gather output metrics for individual players. This information can help ensure that when setting goals for each employee, you are delivering on the “realistic” and “attainable” components of S.M.A.R.T. (specific, meaningful realistic, attainable, timely) goals. Your performance management software should make it easy to set these goals in ways that are easy to track.


  • Communicate these goals clearly (and often) - setting these goals isn’t enough. You’ll also need to communicate them regularly during employee 1:1s. Your performance software should provide constant visibility into what their S.M.A.R.T. goals are and how they are progressing.  


  • Track progress weekly or monthly - employee check-ins are the perfect platform for assessing progress and making any necessary adjustments. Your performance management software should also be used to:


  • Adjust goals based on the circumstances - being realistic about goals can only get your team closer to attaining them. Use performance management tools to increase or decrease the goal as needed.
  • Recognizing and reward progress - 69 percent of workers said they would work harder if they felt recognized. Recognition doesn’t have to be a big ordeal, a simple “great job!” during a 1:1 can go a long way.  
  • Providing additional support as needed - whether it’s a tweak to the sales process, reinforcement of company goals or even additional training, give employees what they need to reach the finish line.


  • Keep your eyes on the big picture - having the ability to look ahead as well as backward into performance history can be very telling on the team and individual levels. These insights into the entire team’s employee timeline can inform a range of business decisions, including staffing moves, promotions or even future goal-setting.



Tools of the trade: Performance management software


Countless performance management tools are available with various bells and whistles. But what does your organization really need? That all depends on your goals and HR processes. However, the key functions of any performance software solution should be to increase employee engagement and productivity.


When evaluating multiple performance software providers (which you should), be sure you’re comparing apples to apples by focusing on these key features and benefits.


  • User-friendliness / ease of use - no matter how much the software is capable of doing, if it’s too complicated, it will not be used. Look for options that have simple interfaces for all users — from HR leaders to managers and employees.


  • Robust reporting - when done properly, analyzing performance data can lead to improved business decisions across the board. Make sure your solution supports easy reporting on the metrics that really matter to your organization.


  • Integration with other needs / platforms - while not every app or component needs to integrate, having the capability to sync goals to Salesforce and other sources is key, as well as having the ability to link learning and development to individual goals and 1:1 meetings.


  • Superior support - of course, questions will come up from time to time. How responsive will the customer service team be to your specific needs? Some providers offer a dedicated account manager in addition to tech support to offer strategic support as well as tech-specific situations.


  • Continuous innovation - search for a performance management software partner that will evolve along with your organization’s needs, without charging you for costly upgrades to receive the latest product features and innovations.


Whichever performance software partner you choose, make sure it’s more of an ally than adversary in helping you track, measure, report, and engage your workforce.


There’s definitely an art and science to effective performance management. Fortunately, performance management software can do much of the heavy lifting for company leaders, providing the structure, accountability, visibility, record keeping and consistency required for effective feedback conversations. This allows managers to remain focused on what they can most effectively bring to the table — planning, feedback, recognition, adaptation, and most importantly, trust.

Custom E-Learning Development: Win at Online Training with Tailored Content

Online learning is changing the game for companies, enabling a smarter, more productive workforce. It all begins with the right training program.


But, with so many learning management systems and training content providers out there, how can HR and L&D teams maximize their corporate training efforts?


There are many popular topics where reinventing the wheel may not make sense. However, custom e-learning content has some perks that L&D leaders should weigh before determining the right ratio of custom to third-party training.


Custom e-learning courses have built-in benefits


In addition to the cost savings and scalability of using an online learning platform vs. in-person training, creating custom content can also:


  • Enhance relevance - when the content and examples included directly apply to the learners’ jobs, content can be retained in a more emotional way than generic content would.
  • Reinforce company brand and culture - branded courses can build on the company look and personality, especially when key company players are featured in some of the materials.
  • Provide greater control - owning the content means you can make updates on the fly, then deploy them company-wide — no “red tape” required.


Now that you know why customization is key for corporate training, here’s the how:


How to create custom e-learning courses


Creating custom courses in your LMS shouldn’t take long — but only if you do your homework first. Follow these best practices to put your best content forward:


Identify your audience(s)


Think about the subject at hand, and who needs to know this information. Is it something more general that most employees should understand, or is it more targeted to a specific department or job role? List out all of the potential audiences who will view your content.


What you may find is that you can break up larger topics into introductory, intermediate, and expert levels, then create multiple useful courses centered around one main topic. You can then use your LMS to assign the appropriate course to employees by job title or other factors.


Sketch or storyboard out the course


Create a loose outline of the key points you’d like to include in the course. Then brainstorm the types of content that will help convey your messages in ways that are relevant and engaging.

The beauty of creating custom content from scratch is being able to recruit subject-matter experts to feature in your courses — whether in photos or video.


Be sure to keep course length in mind, as modern learners have short attention spans. If your material takes longer than 10 minutes to cover, break it into smaller courses that are easier to digest.   


Find a way to work in video


Video is the versatile medium  your custom courses shouldn’t live without. From step-by-step demonstrations to role-playing scenarios, a few minutes of footage can leave a lasting impression in your workers’ minds (especially when you enable in-video comments to help trainees learn from their peers). These clips don’t need to include over-the-top production value, but should be more compelling than a talking head.


When they view comments and questions in real time, real social learning occurs.  


Keep their attention


Make sure learners are doing more than passively clicking through screens or watching a video — build in quiz questions to keep workers engaged and to gauge how well they are grasping the information. If they miss several quiz questions, send them back to the beginning to retake the course and try again.


Your LMS should have the functionality to switch up the types of questions on the next go round, so they can’t just memorize the answers and “cheat” on the next attempt.





Ask for feedback


This step is often overlooked, but a few key critiques from early course takers can help optimize the content for future learners. Analyze the feedback you receive from in-course quizzes, and send out an online survey to collect learner input.



Think outside of HR and L&D


Fortunately, customizing online courses doesn’t always mean you have to DIY from start to finish. Beef up your e-learning library with these tactics:  



Customize third-party content


Some LMSs come pre-loaded with several courses many companies would need to share with their employees. Think of them as a head start on creating your e-learning content, but with the added benefit of customization. Make third-party and preloaded courses your own by:


  • Removing unnecessary content
  • Incorporating corporate branding
  • Adding in videos or slides that include relevant examples
  • Embedding quizzes to help with retention



Flip the script on employees


Having to teach a subject requires that the instructor actually understands it. To add to your custom e-learning library with real-world and relevant examples, ask top performers to create a course or video tutorial on a specific topic.


These employee-generated courses can perform double duty as a performance goal for the instructor and a development goal for his or her peers.


Ask your LMS provider to do the heavy lifting


Once you’ve identified your training and development platform, ask if the provider has any resources available to help you build out your custom content library. Who better to act as an extra set of L&D hands than those who are already well-versed in online training best practices?



With a little planning and the right LMS, you can build out a robust library of custom e-learning content and reap all the rewards of more relevant online training for your employees.