Employee Development: An Investment in Our People


Our employees are our most valuable resource.

I imagine you’ve heard that before, and most likely, saw it written on a poster or a welcome message. And supposing you have heard or seen that in your organization, you may have thought, “So…(long, awkward pause inserted here)…what does that mean and what’s in it for me?  Hopefully, it means the organization will invest in you and develop you to be the best you can be to the benefit of you and the organization.

First off, I have no doubt leaders believe this premise to be true. It makes sense, and at the very least, it sure sounds good.  Regardless of how automated we get and how reliant we become on technology, we need to take care of our people. At the risk of going on a tangent and significantly digressing from my main point, we need to do this regardless of whether we view them as people or resources or human capital. (Full disclaimer: I’m old school and consider them to be people, and that’s coming from a guy with a couple of degrees in Human Resource Management.)

Let’s get back on point. One of the most beneficial ways to truly demonstrate our people are valuable is through employee development. That can range from on-the-job training for new folks to charting out a way for someone to become a senior executive. In fact, the government has leadership development and succession planning codified in law. Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations calls for the systematic training and development of supervisors, managers and executives.

But wait a minute, not everyone wants or is qualified to be a supervisor, manager or executive. That’s okay. Regardless of whether an individual wants to be in their current position for the rest of their life, or if they’re willing to be mobile and want to progress up the ladder, employee development is critical to both the individual’s and the organizations’ success. The Officer of Personnel Management states “Career development planning benefits the individual employee as well as the organization by aligning employee training and development efforts with the organization’s mission, goals and objectives.”

Often time, development seems to be targeted only to those people who are being groomed for promotion or who are willing to be mobile. For these folks, it’s important to establish individual development plans, which can provide a roadmap for short- and long-term goals. But if a person wants to stay in their position for the foreseeable future, we still need to develop them. We need them to be productive in their current role, so provide them the tools, training and resources to be current and successful.  Individual development plans are useful for them as well, as you identify needs and any gaps in training or capabilities.

Early in my military career, a seasoned manager pulled me into his office and asked me about my future plans. He wanted to know what type of positions I wanted to work, and more importantly, where I wanted to end up. I’m not sure why he took an interest in me. We didn’t work in the same area, and I wasn’t in his organizational chain. More than anything, I think I was traveling a similar road as he had taken early in his career, and this was a way for him to give back and provide some short-term mentoring. With his help, I outlined a map of sorts of the types of positions and assignments I should work towards over the course of my entire career. He then provided some milestones for me to achieve at different points along the way to help me get where I wanted to go.

For the most part, I followed that path pretty closely with a few deviations along the way.  It was never written in stone, nor should it have been. Development is a personal thing, and needs can change over time. That’s true for the person as well as the organization. But it starts with a small investment of time and some questions. It’s hard to develop someone if they don’t know where they want to go. It reminds me of a section of the book Alice in Wonderland.  “Alice came to a fork in the road.  ‘Which one will I take?’ she asked.  ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.  ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.  ‘Then it doesn’t matter,’ replied the cat.”

But for our people, our most valuable resource, it does matter where they want to go. It also matters where the organization needs to go. New technologies, laws and policies, fiscal constraints and a host of other factors will necessitate training and equipping employees. People’s needs and ambitions will also change over time, and their destination may change. And that’s okay. But it’s incumbent upon leaders to keep the dialogue going and to keep asking questions.

Establishing those individual development plans and revisiting them at least annually can help set new requirements, and maintain currency and qualifications. They also help ensure they are going in the right direction — wherever and whatever that direction may be for each individual person. It’s worth the investment.  It does matter.


Brian Schooley is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Marçal Prats

Interesting article full of good bits of advice. It is true that companies have an obligation to invest in their employees and how to develop their skills; it is an intelligent way to retain talent. On the other hand, the hardest part is knowing what you want. The example from Alice in Wonderland is awesome! I have taken note of.

Brian Schooley

Marcal…thanks for the comments. I agree with your sentiments on knowing what you want. Sometimes we just aren’t sure about the long-range plans, but certainly we can identify ways to improve our technical skills in what we’re doing now. As I mentioned, not everyone wants to do something different…and that’s okay. Let’s help that person be an expert at what they do.

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thank you for the insight, Brian! This advice is helpful for everyone, regardless of where you are in your career. I’m always looking for ways to invest in others. I’d love some quick pointers on how that manager helped you map out your path forward early on in your career. Any key points that would be good to include? I’d really like to provide the same helpful tidbits to others starting out in their career. Thanks!

Catherine Andrews

What a kind action from that mentee to you! It makes me think that I should start doing that more for younger people in my field. Thanks for giving me inspiration.