You hired great people. But even the most talented, experienced employees need to develop skills so they can succeed in their current roles--and be ready to advance to the next level. The problem, of course, is that it's difficult to find time for learning and development when your company is busy focusing on "real work." In many organizations, learning falls to the bottom of the list, where it never gets addressed.

As a result, your people don't develop the skills they need to take on greater responsibilities, leaders can't delegate because "I'm the only one who knows how to do this" and everyone is frustrated.

How can you develop an approach for learning that isn't too time-consuming and doesn't break your budget? Recently I developed this framework for an organization whose leader needs to develop junior members while managing a challenging workload.

Step 1: Define skills thatyour team needs Get together with your leaders and managers (at the beginning of the year or periodically) to define needed skills in the following categories:

  • Interpersonal skills (such as collaboration, listening,. . .)
  • Technical skills (such as Microsoft Office, HTML, . . .)
  • Professional skills (such as writing, facilitation, design, project management . . .)
  • Conceptual skills (such as strategic planning, decision-making, leading a team, . . .)

Step 2: Identify skills that individual team members wantto develop (and/or that their managers think they should develop My firm does this every year as part of our performance management system. We ask employees what they want to learn, and ask their managers what they think their team members need to develop. Step 3: Organize and prioritize Once we've built our overall list (step 1) and understand employees' preferences (step 2), we decide which skills are a priority for our entire team, a function or a level. While some employees will develop their skills on an individual basis ("I'll attend a workshop to learn HTML 5 programming."), we also create a short list of learning topics we'll address as a firm. Step 4: Decide on learning methods A good learning plan goes beyond sending an employee to a class, and includes a mix of:

  • Learning events (internal and external), such as: workshops, courses, conferences, seminars.
  • Experiential learning, such as: work within role, special assignments, coordinated swaps, job shadowing.
  • Mentoring/teaching (because teaching creates learning as well as shares knowledge), such as structured mentoring/coaching, buddies, common interest groups.
  • Knowledge management, such as: best practice sharing, reference and reading materials, internal standards and documented processes.

Step 5: Develop a learning plan for six to 12 months Keep this simple--you don't want to overreach--but create a simple framework as follows:

  • Methods
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Timeline/calendar

Step 6: Lather, rinse, repeat Now that you've got the party started, build on your momentum by:

  • Collecting periodic feedback from team members
  • Revisiting your plan every quarter and adjust as needed