Why We Must Think Differently About Employee Development (i4cp login required)


A few weeks back, I was on a call with a colleague.

Somehow, we landed on a topic that’s become a personal favorite in the
decade or so that I’ve been around the HR profession: overused business

We had a good laugh going over some of the standards in the corporate
canon: Triangulation of synergies. Low-hanging fruit. Secret sauce. Outside the

There were plenty of others, but we can circle back to those. Or not.

Anyway, it seemed timely that not long after this conversation, I
stumbled upon an Entrepreneur
that introduced me to yet another buzzy, HR-centric term: “People

The phrase itself struck me as one more bit of nebulous jargon that
sounds neat while not really saying much. But give Steffen Maier (the
article’s author and co-founder of Impraise)
a chance to explain people enablement, a concept he calls “the human resources
trend you can’t ignore.”

“At its essence, people enablement is a more holistic approach towards
individual development, and it encompasses the technology, processes, and
content empowering employees and teams to develop and improve faster.”

It’s worth pointing out that Impraise—the company Maier
founded—provides technology that its website describes as “The People
Enablement Platform.” So, you could say he has a little something to gain by
promoting this idea of people enablement. But that doesn’t mean there’s not
some truth in what he’s saying.

Organizations must view employee development differently than they have
in the past. Today’s employees aren’t looking for a career trajectory that goes
upward in a straight line. They crave continuous development in the form of
lateral moves and varied experiences in different areas of the company.
The HR function can and should be instrumental in supplying these experiences.

The importance of offering new career experiences

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has underscored the importance
of increasing the flow of talent through the organization in The
Three A’s of Organizational Agility: Reinvention Through Disruption

In that report, i4cp identified “fluidity of talent and knowledge
across the enterprise to address emerging areas of need and opportunity” as one
of the five traits of agile leaders and organizations.

The same study highlighted a handful of companies developing robust
programs designed to achieving this goal by exposing employees to work that
stretches them well beyond their current roles. For example, consider the Gigs
initiative that Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) launched
in 2017.

Originally piloted to 525 DCPI workers from three different business
groups, the program allows employees to pursue their personal passions—from
fitness to photography, voiceover work, and much more in between—on various
Disney-related tasks and projects beyond their “day jobs.”

Others are creating their own technology to pair employees with new
opportunities throughout the organization. Netherlands-based consumer goods
company Unilever, for instance—in partnership with New York-based HR technology
provider Gloat—has developed its new FLEX Experiences platform.

The AI-powered technology matches Unilever employees with projects that
help expand their skills and knowledge in different areas across the
organization. Meanwhile, Unilever gains access to a deeper, more diverse talent
pool to dip into for these projects.

As part of its quest to become a borderless organization, it’s imperative
that Unilever employees experiment and learn outside of the work they’re doing
today, Jeroen Wels, the company’s executive vice president of human resources,
categories, and organizations, recently told i4cp. (You can soon read more on
FLEX Experiences in this i4cp case study.)

“[Finding new projects through FLEX Experiences] easily connects them
with their sources of energy, which is their purpose,” says Wels. “We’re trying
to give them the opportunity to go deeper or go into a completely different
area, based on their skills, their passion, their energy.”

The benefits of breaking down borders in this way are many, says Tom Stone, senior research
analyst at i4cp.

“It’s critical for retention and employer branding purposes, especially
for organizations where employees indicate this is a big factor in why they
joined or stay in the organization,” says Stone, adding that offering diverse
professional experience also aids upskilling efforts.

This could be especially valuable for workers facing job changes as a
result of automation, he says, as employees can more easily pivot to a new or
upgraded role if they already have some relevant on-the-job experience under
their belts.

(See this
i4cp infographic
on job rotation as an upskilling strategy.)

“It can also lead
to lower attrition rates, to the extent that varied career experiences rates
highly in terms of employee priorities,” concludes Stone. “And, similarly,
talent acquisition improves when the employer brand can honestly include
examples of employees getting varied career experiences.”

Companies like
Disney and Unilever clearly grasp this reality, and have adopted the more
rounded strategy for developing employees that Maier espouses when discussing
the people enablement concept. And, like Stone, he sees clear organizational
benefits to taking this approach.

“Employees will be more engaged and more likely
to stay longer with a company, productivity will increase, and growth will
follow naturally,” writes Maier, “as people will have the intrinsic motivation
to bring their best selves to work.”

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