Research has found that companies with robust employee-learning and development programs have higher levels of engagement. The problem is that research has also found that most of these programs don't work. 

In a Deloitte study, 87 percent of companies that participated in the survey say retention, engagement, and culture are top priorities. In the same study, which queried 3,200 subjects, improving employee-learning programs was the third top-most priority. It's estimated that American companies spend $164.2 billion on such programs. But Keith Ferrazzi, the CEO of research-based consulting company Ferrazzi Greenlight, studied employee development programs at 16 different billion-dollar companies and found that many are plagued by ineffectiveness.

Ferrazzi outlines six tips for improving development programs in Harvard Business Review. Below, read how you can make your programs better.

Incentivize managers to coach employees.

Employee development programs cannot work without managers' help, so motivate them to lead the charge. "Historically, managers passed on knowledge, skills, and insights through coaching and mentoring. But in our more global, complex, and competitive world, the role of the manager has eroded," Ferrazzi writes in HBR. "Managers are now overburdened with responsibilities. They can barely handle what they're directly measured on, let alone offer coaching and mentoring. Organizations need to support and incentivize managers to perform this work."

Realize skills have a short shelf life.

Ferrazzi says that knowledge and skills learned through mentoring and formal programs help an employee for years to come. But with technological innovations moving quickly, "knowledge and skills can become obsolete within months," he writes. "This makes the need to learn rapidly and regularly more important than ever. This requires organizations to rethink how learning and development happens from a once-in-a-while activity, to a more continuous, ongoing campaign." Teach the necessary skills quickly and then go on to the next skill. Don't spend months on one thing--if you do, chances are that it will be irrelevant by the end of the program.

Give employees ownership over their learning.

The "highly-structured, one-size-fits-all" development programs will not cut it in this day and age, Ferrazzi says. "Individuals must own, self-direct, and control their learning futures." The development of skills and talent growth is not just for the employees; their improved skills will help your company innovate and be more productive. Your program needs to be customized for each employee, but also have the ability to scale across the company without costing you a fortune.

Create a flexible program.

These programs cannot be overwhelming to your employees, or else they will make them less productive. Learning and development programs need to be flexible so employees can do them whenever they have the time. The key is to create a mobile-based program that employees can do on their smartphones--making the program "readily accessible" will help your employees go through the program without being tied to a webinar at their desk. Make sure your remote employees can participate too. 

Lead by example.

An effective learning and development program is one that's ingrained in the company's culture. This means, as the leader, you need to participate as well. "If managers want employees to engage in learning and development, then they need to show that they are actively pursuing their own personal learning journeys as well," Ferrazzi writes.

Tailor your programs to a multigenerational workforce.

"With five generations actively in the workforce, organizations must restructure the way employees learn and the tools and activities they use to correctly match the different styles, preferences, and expectations of employees," Ferrazzi writes. Baby Boomers are adapting to new technologies, but they will not be as savvy as Millennials. Make sure your programs can be used by all of your employees, regardless of their age.

Published on: Aug 7, 2015