When you empower your colleagues, you’re delivering excellence for them and your clients

The level of engagement within a company’s workforce significantly impacts clients satisfaction and its bottom line. Recent research by Gallup shows that teams with high levels of engagement enjoy a 10 percent uplift in client loyalty and a 23 percent increase in profitability compared to low-engagement teams. Empowering colleagues with learning and development programmes can dramatically improve their engagement with a business. Supporting them in this way is crucial if you want them to deliver excellence. When people are encouraged to own their careers, they care more about the outcomes of their work, which translates into exceptional productivity and happy clients.

However, what’s often overlooked is the flexibility those programmes require to suit the needs of every individual. To foster a highly engaged workforce, businesses need to allow their colleagues to dial up or down their goals according to their personal requirements, whether they’re chasing a promotion or just want to nail the job they’re already in.

Building a career development framework with that level of flexibility isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge that needs to be tackled head-on. According to Gallup, colleague disengagement has cost the world $8.8trn in lost productivity.

Disengagement fuels disengagement. Once it begins, it spreads like wildfire, and it’s incredibly hard to douse those flames. The impact is costly, from lower productivity to dissatisfied clients and higher staff turnover.

Plus, companies can easily fall into a very outdated adult-child dynamic if colleagues aren’t encouraged to take charge of their own careers. In this dynamic, teams lack ownership over projects and wait to be told what to do. You get far less innovation this way, as colleagues don’t have a reason to try and push into anything new.

So, engaging every colleague has to be a priority, with empowerment embedded into the very fabric of a company. We’ve been building this principle into our own internal development programme (affectionately known as ‘Occupational Dreams’). It’s been put into place to help colleagues take charge of their careers by acknowledging their unique needs, aspirations and life circumstances and guiding them towards their best possible outcome.

It’s a constant work in progress, but our colleague engagement survey indicates it’s working. We have achieved a consistent engagement score of 86 percent when the average for a top-scoring company is 70-80 percent.

Here’s what we’d suggest to other businesses looking to embed a similar approach:

  • Create time for it. Many businesses fail to make time for learning and development programmes because time costs money in the short term. But the long-term impact will be well worth it.
  • Treat colleagues as adults and individuals. Give people ownership over their own training programme, including deciding their goals, who they need to help make them happen, and how.
  • Let your colleagues shape the programme. We took the time to get to know every one of our colleagues on a 1-1 basis, including their history, goals, and what they want to achieve and then used that information to inform the programme. Rather than a top-down approach, it was very collaborative at every stage, resulting in a highly tailored but scalable proposition.
  • Make your management your programme’s ambassadors. We involved all management – middle and senior – from the very beginning. They offered their opinions on everything from the rollout to the name, giving them a sense of ownership that motivated them to make their colleagues’ career development a priority.
  • Build learning and development into the flow of work. External training courses have their place, but lessons learned in the flow of work can be immediately applied and reinforced. For example, if a colleague wants to feel more confident on client calls, a manager can listen in, give immediate feedback, and repeat the process until that colleague feels they’ve nailed their goal.
  • Make it accountable. We have a team development lead who acts as a neutral party to hold people to account and check in on their progress.
  • Keep people from getting stagnant. Even if someone wants to stay where they are in their career, there will always be new skill requirements as the world changes. Regardless of a person’s career trajectory, there’s always room for growth and development.
  • Take a joined-up company approach. A training programme and its opportunities should include everyone in a company, not just those facing clients.

The idea of a work-life balance that suits everyone is an illusion. The balance will always tip one way or another – for some, it’s work-life; for others, it’s life-work. It’s about finding the right blend for every individual and giving them the tools they need to thrive. Businesses that embrace this way of thinking foster a culture of happiness and well-being that ultimately shines through in client interactions.

The aim is for excellence to not only be a goal but the norm. To achieve this, the environment needs to be inspiring and empowering to foster a community where every client and team member thrives and feels proud of where they work. It’s about creating the best team in the market, and that’s a goal any business leader should have as their first priority.