In a competitive labor market, recruiting and retaining employees can be incredibly difficult. One of the best ways to attract new employees and keep them around is to offer professional development opportunities. Research shows that 91% of high performing employees feel that working for a company that offers learning and development opportunities was important to them. Especially in a small business environment, when a career path and promotion possibilities may not be as clear or as plentiful, finding ways to develop your employees is vital.

A recent article from Entrepreneur gives five ways you can work to develop the future leaders of your company.

Help employees understand the big picture.
Employees want to know how the work they are doing fits into the larger company goals. They also want to understand how their work directly impacts the success of the company as well as the community as a whole. Help employees see these connections by explaining the “why” for your organization.

Offer internal and external training.
Even if you don’t have a big budget for employee training, there are many things you can do to help employees develop their skills. Allow employees to spend time cross-training in other departments.  Set up a lunch and learn program where employees can share their skills (work related or not) with others. Are there industry or professional networking groups or certification programs your employees can participate in?  You can also look into online learning options (like, Udemy and Coursera) like to see if they may be a good fit for your organization.

Have one-on-one conversations.
Encourage your managers to have one-on-one meetings with each employee at least monthly, to check in and gauge. This can be a time to ask some stay interview questions and learn about the goals of your employees. Find out what they hope to achieve. Check in on their job satisfaction. Celebrate some of their successes. Ask what you can do to help them.

Connect employees with a mentor.
Creating a mentorship program can be a great way to build positive employee relationships and allow employees to learn from one another. This can also help ensure that important company knowledge is not lost when senior leaders leave the company.

Hold employees accountable.
Employees want to know exactly what is expected of them. Help employees set goals and define success. They also want to see that other employees are being treated similarly. Fairness in accountability is critical to employee engagement.

Developing your employees is a great investment. Not only do you benefit from their enhanced skills, but you also get the add benefit of happier, more engaged employees that are more likely to stick around.