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Workforce development well designed

Author: P. Hnojská, A. Hoffmannová

We can discuss workforce development from many different points of view, but we always come to the conclusion that workforce development is key from the HR point of view. Development is a key HR process and we should not do only because we should motivate employees, give them a chance to grow, because investments into training and development are common types of spending, because others do it. It is true that without workforce development, no value can be created. Organizations cannot lose money on effective workforce development. The success indicator of effective development is the alignment with the organization's real needs.

Workforce development and competency model

Workforce development needs to be studied in the context of company goals. It is crucial to align the business goals with the development needs. The competency model includes skills, characteristics and competencies needed to perform well at a certain position. A standardized appraisal system works with pre-defined criteria and enables the identification of those employees who we want to develop. During the appraisal interview, employees set up a development plan that should not cover only a selection of trainings from a training catalogue. Competencies can serve as a guide for a development plan. Competencies describe observable behaviour and thus help with the selection of the correct form of development (in-house or externally). General competencies represent essential firm values that are followed by company-wide programs. Example: if an organization is undergoing a change, new requirements for management are implemented. For such situation, we can use a special situational method – managerial games, role playing, sales games etc. E-learning modules exist that are suitable for knowledge development and practice. Functional competencies are connected with a concrete activity of an employee on a certain position. They can be developed by conferences, courses, internal rotation programs, project work, shadowing, practice, affiliations, training, supervision, self-study, business case solving, long-term and operational coaching, etc.

We observe that changes on the job market are happening much faster than before. More and more often, people change jobs completely. Few people will be able to survive all careers with what they have acquired so far. New skills very quickly just to be able to perform the new job. The nature of work and workplace are changing quickly as well. Work requirements are increasing as well as “broadening”. Employees need deeper knowledge and multifunctional skills. Slowly but steadily, common professions are disappearing: secretaries are being replaced by assistants and the change is deeper than just a change in the name – the job is not only about arranging appointments, it requires more complex administrative and organizational tasks. Requirements for flexibility are increasing and there is a stronger need for communication skills both internal and external. With technical professions, the need to acquire new skills is several times higher since the development of new technology is extremely fast. Managers in technical positions are required to be able to forecast the situation on the market, to look for new business opportunities, to be able to resist stress and be able to work with large teams. Successful companies need to keep up with all the changes and the very successful organizations must be a step ahead. Therefore, organizations should implement a systematic and effective workforce development program.

Formal tools

Workforce development is primarily connected with soft skills that most managers consider secondary as they are more focused on empirical facts and indicators. But it is possible to work with simple and comprehensive tools in workforce development, tools that provide status reports too. HR staff who consider workforce development a strategic part of the business are willing and able to find such tools. A well-designed competency model can be used if it is aligned with development possibilities in-house or externally. Such a competency model comprises all desired behaviours and desired performance and enables individual and team goals planning. With such tools HR can compare employee development over time.

Are we doing it right?

Workforce development is a process with an enduring value. It is valuable to think about where we are today and where we want to be for the sake of its greater efficiency. We should consider the following:

  • Is the development focused on necessary competencies and career growth?
  • Is a system for identification of development needs designed and implemented? Is it based on the needs of the organization?
  • Is the preparation and development aligned with personnel planning and performance management and succession planning?
  • Do managers take responsibility for the development of their subordinates?
  • Are development costs calculated in respect of the potential of employees?

Companies that are planning to professionalize workforce development should answer the following questions first:

1. What skills should be developed?

We need to set up the workforce development given the current needs of an organization. Forward-looking organizations orient themselves on the future needs that are part of the long-term business strategy. Example: if a company needs to enter foreign markets, HR should face this challenge by providing development programs for expatriates. Thus, the company develops managers that will be able to face future requirements. The organization will be able to reach its goals sooner and avoid future problems.

2. How should they be developed?

Organizations can select from various suitable forms of development. Organizations can also consider ways to set up the development process given the optimal ratio of formal and informal occasions for development. What does effective development really mean? First we need to respond to the first question correctly. Another component of efficiency is the results of development – can we observe them? Measure them? Compare and analyze them? The third component of efficiency is the right form of development, not only given the financial costs but also the unique character of corporate culture.

Development centres

To provide an employee with relevant information about the level of key competencies, his/her strengths and weaknesses or development possibilities HR can use a method called the Development Centre (DC). This is quite a demanding program that is not used company-wide. During the program, employees deal with real-life problems as well as problems they have not yet faced. On the basis of systematic observation, feedback is given to employees. Using DC, HR can compare the current level of competencies of an employee with the desired level and it serves as a basis to plan a relevant development program given the potential of an employee.

3. Who not to develop?

Rich organizations often approach development as a form of benefit. The disadvantage of such an approach is that every employee has access to every kind of training regardless of the real value for the company. We can develop everybody, but differently with respect to: quantity of care and quality, the difference between the real performance and the employee potential, and costs. We can develop employees just to retain them at their current position or speed up their development. Primarily, we develop those who are valuable for us and need to mature and talents who we need to prepare for a higher position. Sometimes we do it by putting more pressure on performance, other times we help them grow and develop, and thus we motivate them.

What should not motivate organizations to develop workforce?

  1. We still have some money for trainings and development activities.
  2. We have not drawn any money from the European Union yet.
  3. We need to prove that we invest in development for recruiting purposes.
  4. We must placate our employees and show them that we are interested in them.
  5. There will not be enough work, so we will use the time for something useful.
  6. Other companies also provide development programs for their employees.

What should not motivate employees to develop themselves?

  1. I feel like I want to do something.
  2. I need to report something in my career plan.
  3. I need an entry for my CV.
  4. I do not have much to do.
  5. I am interested in it even though I know I will not use it.
  6. At last, I will spend some time with my colleagues and friends out of the office.

4. How many employees to develop?

A well designed and used appraisal system should be the answer. Such system provides precise information about the best employees as well as the under-average ones. Usually, we can break the workforce into several segments by their performance. These employee segments should receive differentiated care given their potential and value for the company. Best care should be given to the 20 % of high potential employees.

It is not about developing everybody no matter what. The goal is not to provide as many external trainings as possible, but to give employees the opportunity to perform well and to meet all the requirements. For the organization, this means being able to meet the requirements of the external environment. That kind of development is useful for both sides and can be considered as sustained development. Organizations have human capital at their disposal – and such human capital that is able to face new demanding challenges is a plus for a company that wants to succeed.


Petra Hnojská a Anna Hoffmannová – Human Capital Advisory Services Consultants, Consulting division, Deloitte Advisory, s.r.o.

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