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Developing a Program

Providing channels for personal and career development is critical step in retaining employees. While most companies focus on compensation, benefits, and perks to support retention, ongoing learning programs are often overlooked. Especially for employees who are early to mid-career, this can be a critical factor when deciding to stay at or leave a company.

Offering a formal learning & development (L&D) program is a great way to bolster employee engagement and retention. According to Sequoia Consulting Group, most companies implement some form of L&D program before headcount reaches 500 employees. While manager and interview training are the most common L&D offerings, many organizations are expanding their L&D programs by offering different forms of training that appeal to a variety of career goals.

L&D provides a structured way to increase employee skills, engagement, and feelings of support. According to a study by LinkedIn, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their growth.

However, programs alone are not enough. This study also found that the number one reason employees feel held back from learning is because they can't find the time to engage in these types of opportunities. Manager involvement and support are critical to increasing employee engagement with learning.

Example Quarterly Plan

There are a variety of platforms and systems (LMS) that exist on the market to help companies develop content, manage programming, and automate learning opportunities. While these can be helpful, they are not necessary for most startups and companies with few to no existing learning programs.

To get started, we suggest selecting 1 up-skill topic per quarter (new technology, selling skills, negotiation, etc.) and running department-specific sessions around this topic.

All Hands Kick-Off

Each quarter, the CEO or relevant executive will announce the "quarterly focus" at an all-hands meeting. HR will follow up with an agenda for each department.

Managers & Directors

People managers should always receive manager-specific training first, allowing to better support their teams and answer questions.


Depending on the topic, sessions can be done across departments or in smaller department groups. Try to make each session as specific to the employee's role as possible.

For instance, when covering a new technology, example scenarios should answer the following:

  • How will this impact product roadmap
  • How should sales talk about this with customers
  • How should marketing think about using this as a messaging lever in future campaigns
  • How can recruiting use this to sell to candidates
  • Etc.
Team Meeting Follow Up

Managers should be encouraged to discuss the quarterly topic during team meetings. How are team members implementing their new knowledge, what aspects are they still finding challenging, what resources do they need to better support them on this topic?

Recognition & Achievements

When building a culture of ongoing learning, it's important that leaders publicly recognize achievements and strategic wins around the topic. During All-Hands, department meetings, or internal company updates (slack/ newsletter) executives should highlight notable achievements around the quarterly topic. Team managers can submit these throughout the quarter.

Example: The quarterly topic is negotiation skills. Using some of the skills we learned in the negotiation session, the product team was able to negotiate a new partnership with a strategic API partner.

Follow-Up & Feedback

To ensure learning programs support employees on the right topics and in ways that fit in vs. detract from work, make sure to collect regular feedback. The easiest way to implement this is as a standing question in employee pulse surveys.

Budgets & Stipends

Individual company L&D budgets will differ, based on your industry, size, and stage, but here are two common approaches and some high-level advice:

Budget as Percentage of Payroll
  • Seed-Series A: Start with planning for 1% of payroll to be devoted to L&D programs
  • Series B-C: 1.5% of payroll
  • Note: The “best” companies offer ~2% of payroll
Budget Per Employee
  • Budget $1500 per year, which will encompass all individual and company-wide programs
  • Note: The budget does not need to be allocated equally across all staff. For example, you may have larger budgets for managers and leadership.

Professional Development Stipends

Although less common at early-stage startups, larger companies commonly offer professional development stipends in addition to internal learning programs. These stipends can be used for any type of learning that improves the ability to succeed professionally and enhance performance. Opportunities can include workshops, consultation, coaching, temporary assignments, professional communities/memberships, conferences, certifications, mentoring, technical skills, etc.

Budgets vary, but the majority range from $500 to $2,000 annually, with the most common budget providing up to $1000 per year/ employee.

Stipend Best Practices

Employee’s Role:

Employees should seek out opportunities for development that align with their career goals and partner with their manager to identify core areas for improvement that will benefit their career progression and contributions to the team.

Manager’s Role:

Managers are responsible for guiding employees along their career path and providing feedback and support around areas for improvement. When suggesting learning opportunities to an employee, ensure that they are skills gaps discussed in a formal 1:1 or feedback session and are framed as valuable for the employee, team, and company.

  • Manager and employee identifies a learning need or opportunity: How will this opportunity benefit the individual and team? How does it align to the individual’s learning or performance goals, business output or results?
  • Manager and employee discuss the opportunity: Evaluate based on budget, individual and team alignment, department priorities, timing, while ensuring equitable learning for all team members.
  • Promote shared learning: Once the learning is complete, employee shares what was learned in a team meeting, in a department presentation, and/or by mentoring a colleague.
Pro Tip 1:

Learning is much more than workshops and training. Consider opportunities like taking on a temporary assignment, participating or leading a cross-functional project, mentoring, job shadowing, coaching, teaching others, attending webinars, participating in professional community groups or networking events.

Pro Tip 2:

Offer designated learning days throughout the year; encouraging all employees to learn a skill on that particular day. This can be a great culture-building opportunity and ensures employees are given the time to make their professional development goals happen.

Tools & Vendors

Learning Platforms

  • Coursera: Training and development programs developed by top universities and companies. Coursera offers some certificate and degree programs as well.
  • Udemy: Online learning and teaching marketplace that offers 180K+ video-based courses. Learn programming, marketing, data science, and more.
  • Technical Bootcamps, such as DataCamp, General Assembly, or Coding Dojo.

Tools to Help Manage Your Program

  • Learnerbly: If you’d prefer to offer a marketplace of learning resources curated from 200+ providers (including the individual learning platforms listed above), Learnerbly is a great option. By providing the Professional Development Stipend through their platform, there will be higher utilization, equity, and oversight into how the stipend is utilize.
  • Compt: Platform for consolidated employee perk stipend reimbursement.

Training Vendors

Here are few vendor recommendations you can bring into your organization's company-wide L&D programs:

Manager Training:

Managers have a major impact on the engagement and retention of their employees. For high-growth companies, many managers don’t have the experience and skills needed to lead effectively. Companies should invest in structured manager training to help set their managers and teams up for success.

  • Hone:  Hone is the management training platform for the modern workplace with a remote ready, inclusive & equitable curriculum,  adaptable to your organization’s specific needs. Hone offers fully virtual, live cohort-based manager training courses.
  • LifeLabs Learning: Training for leaders, managers, and executives.

Coaching is a great tool for anyone wanting to level up their career. Working with a coach is a great way to identify strengths and areas for growth. According to Compt, coaching is considered one of the top 14 best employee perks.

  • BetterUp: Platform to transform performance and growth for people, teams, and organizations where it matters most - career and leadership development, proactive mental health, and inclusion and belonging.
  • Bravely: Coaching used to only be available to senior executives. Bravely scales company-wide access to coaching, which supports your employee’s wellbeing, development.
Executive Coaches:

One-on-one executive coaching is typically available for VP-level executives and above. Exec coaching can specialize in particular functional areas, such as Sales/Marketing, and will typically work closely with an individual executive or executive team for 6+ months. Exec coaches typically kick off an engagement with a 360 review, followed by specific goal setting to work towards throughout the engagement.

Note: Executive Coaches are expensive, with many charging $1000+/hr.

For additional information about selecting an executive coach, check out our Executive Leadership post here.


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