For the most part, the quality of an organization is determined by the skills, enthusiasm and cooperation of its staff members. That’s why training is justified as a core concern. If you’re not finding ways to get ahead, you’ll be left behind by the march of progress. To look at it another way, investing in your employees is investing in your future.

But training isn’t something to be approached casually through ad-hoc activity. You need to be thinking ahead and envisioning the paths that your workers will take as part of your business. Will they grow their roles, or change them entirely? Focus on new skills, or enhance their existing abilities? The more thought you give it, the more you’ll get out of the process.

So how should you be laying out these paths? How should people progress from the earliest stages of the recruitment process to positions of seniority? Here are some general tips for designing professional journeys for the people in your organization:

Recruit for culture over experience

You’ll no doubt have heard of the GIGO principle: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If you start with bad ingredients, you’ll get bad results, and they’ll only become more complex and frustrating over time. That’s why you need to get the best ingredients you can, with the right mix of innovators — and that means making great recruitment your top priority.

It’s useful to look for experience, and passion, and qualifications, and numerous other things besides, but there’s one thing you should be seeking above all others: personality. To be more specific, personality that fits with your unique organization. In the best-case scenario, any given hire is going to stay with your company for many years, ultimately becoming an integral member of the team: if they’re good at what they do but they don’t gel with their colleagues and the goals of the company, their value will always be somewhat limited.

When you’re sourcing candidates, then, keep one thing in mind: it’s easier to reel in personality than it is to develop it. Find the people who are powerfully, irrepressibly in line with your organisational culture, then train them up as needed. Think of it as shaping clay into a statue. Too much material isn’t a problem, but too little definitely is.

Help employees try new things

Once you’ve hired people, and they’ve got their sea legs under them, you need to keep them interested. What you want to avoid is letting them fall into comfortable routines. It isn’t good for cognition, mood, or their overall value. That’s why shaking things up should be a major part of every development plan. Get workers trying new things — what is there to lose?

On an occasional (and staggered) basis, have employees shadow each other to learn about their respective roles and become more familiar with the overall workings of the business. Perspective is important, as is interdepartmental communication: the better a writer understands the design process, for instance, the more usefully they’ll be able to work with the design team.

You should also provide ready access to extensive training materials. Should any of your employees have a pressing desire to learn about something new, support them in their quest. There’s every chance that the knowledge they acquire will raise their value in your company, plus it will make them much more content (and grateful for the assistance).

Consider what you’ll need in the future

You’ve hired your workers to fulfill particular roles, but that might not be consequential in the long run. What are you going to need in a year? What about in five years, or in a decade? Because it takes time to train people up, you need to plan ahead. The alternative is to simply hire from scratch whenever a new position opens up, but that isn’t ideal — the longer someone works for you, the more useful they become, and internal recruitment (with new hires brought in at the lowest level) is preferable wherever possible

Of course, you’ll need a solid long-term plan to achieve this: before you can design journeys for people, there must be a journey for your organization as a whole. If you have no such plan, then it’s worth gathering everyone together for a big meeting intended to chart a realistic course. What goals do you care about pursuing? How close do you think you can get?

In the end, you should be able to roughly anticipate the roles you’ll need to fill at different stages of your organization’s growth (particularly those you expect to be hard to fill). It won’t matter if there ends up being some deviation, because you can’t flawlessly predict the future. It’s simply about having some idea of where you’re going, and laying out the competencies that employees will need to prove to lay claim to certain roles.

Aim to keep your workers happy

No matter what you have planned, the overriding drive should be to keep your workers happy and content in their positions. The reason is simple: anyone who feels dissatisfied in their role will inevitably become less productive and stop contributing to the team in a manner reflecting their abilities. You can threaten disciplinary action or even dismissal all you like, and it won’t make employees feel any more inclined to impress you.

Whatever role they’re filling, and whatever you have planned for their future, every employee should feel settled and grateful — but that part shouldn’t be their responsibility. There’s value in assuming a quasi-parental position (though a modern one, as opposed to the troublesome traditional method): talking to workers, understanding their problems, and looking for viable solutions. If you can truly look after someone, they’ll be loyal to you.

That loyalty is what ultimately matters, as your development journeys will go to waste if people don’t stick around. A loyal employee will stay with you through the hard times as well as the good (and there will always be hard times, make no mistake about that). Invest in your team, and your team will help your business flourish.

Your employees are your most valuable investments, so it’s foolish to bring them in and simply leave them to gather dust. If you find the right ingredients, encourage professional diversification and experimentation, plan your roles for the future, and keep everyone happy, you’ll end up with a stronger team and a more resilient business.


About the guest author of this article:

Micro Startups is your online destination for everything startup. We’re dedicated to spreading the word about hard-working solopreneurs and SMEs making waves in the business world. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe @getmicrostarted.