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Competencies Development Competency-based Management

The relevancy problem: Why development is failing employees

By HRSG Team on February, 28 2023

Article table of contents (jump to section):

  1. Employees prioritize development
  2. Development disappointment
  3. "Irrelevant, boring, outdated"
  4. Three ways to ensure relevance
  5. Transform learning and development

Employees place development at the top of the list when deciding whether to join or stay with a company. But when development lacks relevancy, it becomes just another chore on an ever-lengthening to-do list.

Learning and development (L&D) is a concept whose time has come. HR leaders are looking to L&D to help them attract new talent, retain the talent they have, and fill talent gaps created by rapid economic and market changes.

But there is a widening gap between the high expectations placed on L&D by HR and the value it ultimately delivers to employees and the organization.

In this blog post, we'll look at three ways to enhance the relevancy of development activities to make them more effective for the organization and more attractive to its employees.


Employees prioritize development

Employees are more intentional and thoughtful about their careers than ever before. Work isn't just a way to earn money: It's a path to self-actualization. People are seeking work opportunities that align with their interests, abilities, values, and sense of purpose.

According to research from IBM, employees are now prioritizing career advancement ahead of compensation. Similarly, a Gallup survey found that 65% of workers saw upskilling as an "extremely” or “very” important factor in deciding to take a new job, and 61% considered it “extremely” or “very” important when deciding to stay in their current job.

Conversely, when development opportunities are lacking, it can accelerate an employee exodus. Research from Monster found that 29% of workers want to quit their job due to a lack of growth opportunities.


Development disappointment

In the abstract, L&D is a valued employment perk, but the reality is falling short. The IBM study found that only 48% of employees considered the opportunities for career development and advancement to be “very good” or “excellent” at their organization. Similarly, a survey of more than 1,200 professionals from the U.S. and U.K. found that only 23% viewed their organization's current workplace training as "extremely effective."


"Irrelevant, boring, outdated"

There are many reasons for employees to feel less than enthusiastic about L&D, but a lack of relevance tops the list. An Oracle survey found that 88% of employees consider the training provided by employers to be “irrelevant, boring, or outdated” sometimes, often, or always.

If employees don’t see development opportunities as relevant to their current job or future career goals, they are unlikely to remain committed, motivated, and engaged. Development activities demand significant effort from employees. If those efforts, which are often made in addition to the regular workload, don't bring employees closer to meaningful goals or result in tangible growth, they will understandably disengage and view development as a burden rather than a perk.


Three ways to ensure relevance

Given the critical nature of relevance to the success of any development program, how can HR managers ensure that development activities are perceived as relevant by employees?

These three criteria can help:

  • Can employees visualize how these activities support their career goals?
  • Do employees get a choice of development activities that align with their preferences?
  • Do activities provide enough granularity that they feel targeted and achievable?


Visualization involves helping employees see how their development efforts can further their career by showing them how those efforts take them closer to their ultimate destination. An example of this type of visualization is career pathing, which lets employees explore vertical and horizontal paths that lead from their current role to new career possibilities. When development options are linked to job competencies, employees can see the areas they need to work on and the training they can take to prepare for their next move.


Providing a choice of learning options ensures that employees can select learning modalities that are most likely to support their success. Some people are hands-on learners, others are visual, and still others prefer more formal learning. In-person learning can be highly stimulating for one learner, but impossible to fit into the schedule of another. The more choice the organization builds into its development program, the more likely employees are to pursue a development plan that reflects their interests, schedules, and preferences. Following the 70-20-10 model, which includes 70% on-the-job activities, 20% mentorship and peer learning, and 10% formal learning, is a good starting point.


Bringing more granularity to development activities involves breaking ambitious goals into smaller steps to make them seem less intimidating. The learning required on the journey to prepare for a new job, for example, can seem overwhelming, but when that journey is broken into a series of smaller steps and daily activities, it becomes achievable.

A competency-based development program can bring greater relevancy and granularity to learning activities because competencies define success behaviors in greater detail. The average competency includes five progressive levels of proficiency, and each proficiency level can be mapped to specific learning resources. This level of granularity supports a microlearning approach that helps employees target a specific performance area, build a plan, and improve in that area before moving on to the next career challenge.


Transform learning and development

At a time when talent is in short supply, HR managers are redoubling their efforts to attract, retain, and optimize this valuable resource. Competency-based development programs can make a measurable impact on all three talent objectives.

Learn how to build relevant, engaging development programs using competencies. Download "6 Principles for Building Better Development Programs with Competencies," a step-by-step guide for designing, launching, and measuring the impact of employee-centric, competency-based development.

Take a closer look at CompetencyCore, the first AI-driven platform for defining talent using competencies and growing talent through competency-based development and career pathing.