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ATD Blog

Employee-Led Development: The Key to Engagement

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Research consistently shows the impact of employee engagement on productivity, turnover, and employee well-being. Because of this, many organizations have adopted employee opinion surveys to assess and monitor critical engagement metrics.

Despite the strong link between engagement and business results, the construct of engagement remains elusive as solution providers market differing models and definitions of success. (At GP Strategies, we have contributed our own model.) Regardless of the approach, one constant across findings is that employee development and growth are key drivers of engagement.

While advancement is often a high driver of engagement, not everyone has a constant desire to win promotions. Despite these ebbs and flows around advancement within an employee’s career, growth and development are still correlated with engagement. Even when a team member isn’t seeking formal advancement, they often still have a strong desire—even a need—to grow in their role and as an individual.

Employee-Led Development for Talent Mobility

As organizations strive to provide development opportunities, more leaders are encouraging employees to chart their own career path. Employee-led development allows people to take ownership of their careers, reach out to others in different roles, identify gaps in their own skills, and pursue new opportunities. This autonomy can significantly lift engagement—unless employees run into roadblocks. If they cannot identify the skills required for those jobs or learn about open positions within their organization, they’ll struggle to plot their development course.

Many organizations lack the job data, technology, or system integration to create the transparency employees need. A thorough organizational assessment can identify counterproductive policies and cultures associated with talent acquisition, hiring, and internal movement, and a strong organizational design practice can address the issues.


Without the right technology and tools in place to systematically create visibility and a path forward, managers and HR teams will remain the default go-to sources for development opportunities, resulting in an inevitable bottleneck. It’s simply too much to place on a single group of already busy individuals.

One tool designed for this purpose, PeopleFluent Talent Mobility, manages current job, employee, and learning data. With everything in one place, employees share the development load with their managers, leaders, and HR teams and have easier access to the data they need to remain highly engaged.


Benefits of a Comprehensive Talent Mobility Strategy

Many believe mobility tools are about moving employees to new internal roles more quickly, but that’s not the full picture. Internal job matching, when not implemented as part of an intentional program, can increase turnover if there aren’t enough available openings. Employees don’t need another enhanced career site or job board with a list of job recommendations. They want a reimagined, end-to-end experience that helps them plan and manage their personal journey within the organization.

Employees are looking to upskill or reskill, and in many industries, new role-specific skills evolve on a yearly basis—or faster. For some, these realities are enough of a prompt on their own, but there are also strong upsides to a structured talent mobility practice, including:

  • Reduction in turnover costs: When experienced employees are forced to leave to find growth opportunities, organizations lose productivity, institutional knowledge, and client relationships—not to mention the uncertainty of hiring externally and the cost to replace them. But a SmartRecruiters study found that 75 percent of employees who are promoted will remain with your organization for at least three years.
  • Higher employee engagement: Companies that offer on-the-job development opportunities, like lateral moves or stretch assignments, can increase employee engagement. With so much work now being performed in hybrid and remote work environments, this can be a real boon for organizations looking to sustain employee satisfaction and contribution as well as foster equity in opportunity.
  • Tech-based advantages: Implementing a system that automates many of the administrative tasks associated with employee development creates more space for HR and L&D professionals to focus on initiatives that advance the organization. Talent professionals can be more thoughtful with pulse surveys and analysis, build stronger employee resource groups, and design more meaningful learning journeys.

The implementation of any new talent management strategy calls for a comprehensive change management initiative to support the adoption of the process. It’s important to incorporate stakeholder commitment with the strategy and tools to remove roadblocks and support employee acceptance. The thoughtful integration of purposeful organizational design and well-applied technology can transform an organization through employee-led development.

About the Author

Dr. Cheryl Jackson is the organization design and change practice lead at GP Strategies. She has been supporting transformational efforts in Fortune 500 organizations across a variety of industries including retail, manufacturing, healthcare, and food and beverage. With a doctorate in Industrial-organizational psychology, Dr. Jackson combines her experience with scientific methodology and research techniques to create practical solutions that drive meaningful change in the workplace.

About the Author

kash Savdharia is the vice president for talent solutions at GP Strategies fellow Learning Technologies Group company PeopleFluent. Akash is an entrepreneurial technology executive with over 10 years of experience bringing SaaS products to market that solve real-world data-driven problems.

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