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Growth is an inherent part of human DNA. Individuals begin growing at birth and the growth process never really ends. First, it is “growing up” from infancy to childhood to adulthood. Although physical growth slows over time, the desire for development never goes away. Despite the routine of living and working in the same place doing the same job year after year, no one ever really wants to think that they have finished growing as a person. People want to wake up every day knowing that there more opportunities ahead. They want to know they have not yet reached their full potential. And that human desire for growth is certainly manifested in the area of career because work plays such a huge part of daily life. We spend most of our waking hours at work.
Today, for most people to be happy with their job and stay there long-term, that employer must provide opportunities for growth and development. It is no longer enough for the job to generate enough money to satisfy the bill collectors. It needs to generate enough challenge to satisfy the mind, body and soul. That is a big shift in thinking for many employers and HR departments, but smart companies are taking steps to make that happen. Last week, we looked at five strategies top companies are adopting to help staff grow and develop. Continued from last week, here are another five strategies proactive companies have implemented to keep employees challenged and growing.
6. Stretch assignments and on-the-job training
Stretch is the new buzz word to describe when employees take on projects that are new and challenging for them… basically outside of their wheelhouse or comfort zone. To stretch is to be challenged, and it is what most employees claim to want most from their jobs. Employers that are open to giving staff opportunities to learn new software, tackle new projects and grow their skills are rewarded with loyalty and a great reputation to attract more talent.
This type of work environment is evident at Bitnami, a San Francisco based company that has over 100 server applications and dev stacks available in a convenient one-stop shop. It is a key hub for tech enthusiasts in a city where tons of techies live and there is a wealth of places where they work. Miranda Myerholtz, Bitnami’s Office Manager, said that an eagerness to grow is an essential quality in the people they hire. Every employee at Bitnami can expect to go beyond job descriptions and develop professionally by learning new tasks and working across teams. In fact, the Career page on their website lists job openings and then invites people to apply even if no opening is a fit for their experience, but they think they can help the company achieve its mission.  At Bitnami, every employee must stretch and learn.
7. Coaching, mentoring, and leadership development programs
For companies that think that only tech companies can offer such a dynamic, growth-focused work environment, think again. Brooklyn-based Ideal Properties Group (IPG) hires people with zero sales or real estate experience and helps them discover how to do real estate sales. That is definitely an example of on-the-job training. Real estate broker Andrew Westphal says the company provides a “solid, hands-on, and useful training program that helps hone employees’ budding sales skills.” But beyond that, IPG launched a new group in 2016 aimed at improving women’s opportunities in the real estate industry and educating them through mentorship and coaching. The group, called Women of Ideal (WOI), meets bi-monthly and creates the opportunity for members to find mentors, learn more about the industry, understand how to build financial independence and much more. They believe every employee can benefit from coaching and mentoring.
8. Career development or counseling services
Given the big organizational changes being caused by overseas outsourcing, downsizing, global restructuring, mergers, new technology and disrupted career paths, employees are less likely to rise through the ranks of a company and are more likely to change jobs or area of specialization. A crucial factor for leaders, then, is preserving employee commitment to company goals and objectives despite such organizational instability. If employees experience career challenges that can seriously affect their success at the company, it can also affect their ability to be effective on the job. For senior-level professionals, this can have a direct impact on overall business strategy and direction. Career counseling is a strategic resource that employees can use and managers can rely on when work performance, career transition, personal conduct in the workplace and/or cultural fit becomes an issue. It provides a means for employers to encourage employees to seek career assistance early to keep small problems from becoming reasons to quit.
For example, Capital One, which employs about 43,685 employees in the U.S., launched a Career Development Center in 2007 to help associates define their interests and goals through assessments, training and professional career counseling. More than 12,000 career counseling sessions are completed a year. 
9. Job shadowing and job rotations
There are a number of benefits that job shadowing provides. It enables employees to gain a better understanding of the company, helps them develops skills, facilitates succession planning in upper level positions and increases employee retention significantly. Despite these huge benefits, most organizations don’t offer job shadowing to employees. According to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, only 31.3% of organizations offer job shadowing. This is bad news for companies that don’t offer job shadowing, but it’s great news for those that do. In a competitive marketplace, companies need every angle that gives them a leg up over competitors trying to ‘steal away’ top talent.
In fact, job shadowing is so useful that even the U.S. Military now offers job shadowing. According to the U.S. Army website, “The US Army Garrison (USAG) Fort Campbell Job Shadowing Program provides the opportunity for an employee to work alongside another employee within or external to their organization to gain experience of the role of another individual, to gain an insight into another work area, or to work alongside more experienced colleagues so they can learn and develop within their current role, and to help improve communication across organizations.”
A job rotation is another way that employers can help challenge and grow employees. This type of program moves employees through a variety of positions within or among departments, enabling them to gain exposure to different parts of an organization while growing and expanding their skill sets.
10. On-demand and mobile learning solutions to increase flexibility of how/when to learn
Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and automation with 160,000 employees worldwide. To help their employees continue to learn and grow, Schneider Electric University offers dedicated academies for executive development, leadership, customer education, energy and solutions, sales excellence and functional skills. The company also offers Energy University, a free online educational resource with more than 200 courses on energy efficiency and data center topics. They believe in providing high-potential, early-career employees opportunities to build their portfolio with multiple positions in multiple locations across the company. According to Jenna Roland, a Schneider Electric employer branding specialist, they believe their employees “will be stronger and more committed leaders of our organization in the future.” 
In 2012, Gallup reported that only 30% of employees in the U.S. feel engaged with their companies. Three years later, those figures had not improved in any significant way. Even though statistics show that it is worth a company’s effort and resources to develop employees in order to retain them, there was and continues to be a gap. In that space lies a golden opportunity for any business willing and able to help employees develop and provide challenges that spur growth. 
Quote of the Week
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Benjamin Franklin
 February 20, 2016, Samantha Goldberg, Ideal Properties Group Founder Unveils New Women’s Initiative, Multi-Housing News, https://www.multihousingnews.com/post/ideal-properties-group-founder-unveils-new-womens-initiative/
 Great Places to Work, Capital One Financial Corporation, http://reviews.greatplacetowork.com/capital-one-financial-corporation
 Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), USAG Job Shadowing Program, http://www.campbell.army.mil/Installation/Employee/Pages/JSP.aspx
 Schneider Electric Training, https://www.schneider-electric.com.au/en/work/services/training/technical-training.jsp
 June 20, 2015, Steve Olenski, 8 Key Tactics for Developing Employees, Forbes Magazine, https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2015/07/20/8-key-tactics-for-developing-employees/#472f8aa56373
© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.