We’ve all heard the deceptively provocative question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” While that query may be able to ignite vigorous debates in philosophy class, human resources managers should be aware of a slightly different take on that maxim, one that has everything to do with employee engagement, retention and productivity.
The deliberately altered version goes like this: If a company has industry-leading career development opportunities and employees don’t know about them, does it matter? This one is a lot easier to answer: no, it doesn’t matter. That is why companies that have put in the effort to establish myriad avenues for career development need to take the next logical step and ensure their employees know and take advantage of the opportunities.
Say It Loud, Say It Often
It is pretty simple to assume that unleashing the benefits of an engaged and enthusiastic workforce comes down to communication and establishing a culture built on transparency. While that short answer is correct, the more vexing question is: how do you do it?
A good way to test out whether you are doing enough is to ask some simple questions. Even if you are not in the middle of a formal review, take the time to get to know your employees and have casual conversation about where they see themselves in one, two, or five years. Ask if they see paths within the company to reach those goals. The answers you get—even when the answer is only a blank stare and stammering—will tell you what you need to know.
Even the best of companies will need to do more when it comes to communication. But wherever you stand on your journey towards a more open and communicative culture, ask yourself daily how you getting the message out to employees about career advancement.
People often are just too busy focusing on the demands of their current role and the goings on in their lives to consider opportunities for moving to a different or even more rewarding position–especially when those opportunities may be outside of the department in which they are currently working. Understanding this means you have to be proactive about making employees aware of potential growth pathways.
One way to do this is to organize social gatherings that bring workers from different departments together. These meet-ups should encourage employees to educate one another about what they do and explore ways to collaborate. This allows people who do not normally interact to brainstorm ideas and creative solutions to problems. A potentially bigger benefit is derived when employees realize there are new possibilities open to them outside their current positions. Just make sure that people know that it is OK to discuss new roles and jobs in these otherwise informal gatherings. Even better, formalize ways that co-workers can pursue opportunities after these get-togethers are over, such as asking managers to publicize short term open opportunities to help with one-off projects (and asking managers to allocate the resources from their own department if possible when an employee expresses interest in trying on a new role for the day).
Employee engagment and enthusiasm can be a direct byproduct of communicationabout the possibility for advancement. Don’t devote the time and resources to creating opportunities and then hope the word gets out. Make sure everyone can hear the tree when it falls in the forest of your workplace.