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How people development makes a company more competitive

Prove through actions that you value and invest in your workers and are a people development company. It will help attract top employees.

4 min read


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Rob Owen-Wahl/Pixabay

Organization leaders hear it every day: “It’s difficult finding qualified employees.” “People don’t want to return to in-person work.” “Now we have to think about employee well-being; what’s next!” The ones who say that may not be people development advocates.

In business, competition for the highest value resources — human, physical, economic, noneconomic — is constant. Demand ebbs and flows, but each organization is in competition for resources that advance its vision of success. 

Today’s competition for human resources has taken on new dimensions. In the past, conventional wisdom said offering competitive compensation and benefits was all an organization needed to do; today, that is just ante to be in the game.  Differentiating an organization as a people development exemplar enhances its ability to attract the best available employees and demonstrates a core commitment to continually earn and sustain organizational relevance.

Why differentiate with people development? 

Strategy thought leader Michael Porter defines differentiation as making your products or services different from, and more attractive than, those of your competitors. In the context of a competitive go-to-market strategy, a business’s choices are clear: Operate as either a low-cost leader, innovator, differentiator or niche player. Applying this concept to earning and sustaining relevance with employees is a new way to think about people strategy. 

Here are five ideas to differentiate your business as a people development exemplar:

  • New employee onboarding. First impressions last. Making onboarding an extraordinary experience sets the tone. Onboarding is much more than completing documents and delivering the employee handbook. Employers can help new team members avoid potential cognitive dissonance about their new job through a clearly defined Day One, Week One, Month One road map that includes ample connections with colleagues, exposure to company culture and frequent check-ins on matriculation through the onboarding experience.
  • Purpose-driven mentoring. With a clear purpose centered in individual development, mentoring can be impactful. Well-designed mentoring programs include intentional pairing of mentor and mentee, regular engagement, defined activities and goals. Clarity about what mentoring is not (i.e., coaching, sponsoring or a guaranteed path to promotion) helps align expectations.   
  • Career pathing. A recent Society for Human Resource Management study showed more than half of workers said they need to learn new skills within the next year to continue their careers, and 46% said they are not as skilled as they need to be. When it comes to delivering structure around individual development, few organizations stand out. The opportunity: Create a strategy for formal individual development plans, co-owned by employees and their managers. Review plans at least semi-annually, and update accordingly.  
  • Externship opportunities. An externship presents team members an opportunity to spend a fixed amount of time (e.g., three to six months) working at another company, developing skills and broadening experiences. The outside business may be an affiliate, supplier, partner or customer. The originating company pays the team member’s salary. Done well, an externship provides enrichment and perspective that enhances team member engagement. 
  • Career deceleration. Workforce composition is changing, getting younger and older at the same time.  Much emphasis is placed on accelerating Generation Z members in their careers, while at the other end of the range, many younger baby boomers and older Gen-Xers are interested in changing the pace or calibration of their work. A mindful approach to capitalizing on team members’ ability to contribute in a different way than people who are earlier in their career creates talent-sharing opportunities that often are overlooked.  

Many organizations miss the opportunity to see themselves as people development exemplars, and instead, unintentionally, self-identify as talent consumers. Operating as a talent consumer can relegate the firm to competing for human resources based on compensation alone.  

Organizations can make intentional decisions about their people development philosophy. Differentiation as a people development exemplar requires a well-thought-out competitive strategy, implemented through engaged managers who understand the value of the human capital they steward. Sound bites like “people matter most here” or “people are our competitive advantage” are hollow unless supported by strategy and actions aligned with nurturing and development of highly valued human resources. 

Dave Coffaro provides strategic management consultation and executive coaching and serves as a director with Members Trust Co. As principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, he works with businesses and nonprofits to achieve accelerating growth, more favorable economics or both. His most recent book is ”Leading from Zero: Seven Essential Elements to Earning Relevance.” 


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