Do you want to know the secret to improved morale, increased productivity, and a thriving business? It has nothing to do with increasing pay (although that’s generally welcome), offering more benefits (ditto), or investing in expensive consultants and fancy motivational posters.

No, if you want happy employees who contribute to your organization’s growth, you need to invest in their growth. It’s true. When you encourage and support your employees in their efforts to learn and change and grow in their jobs, they are not only going to bring those skills back to your company, but they are going to be happier and more loyal in the process.

Business team on a project

Some managers are reluctant to encourage employees to build upon their existing knowledge and skills, fearing that by doing so they will only encourage their best trained employees to leave for better paying positions elsewhere. However, studies show that when you care enough to invest in employees, they in turn will invest in you. And best of all, when you offer a robust training and development program to employees, it actually helps attract talent — meaning that you will have a richer pool of talent to draw from when it comes time to staff your growing business.

The question is, then, how do you support employee growth, especially when you are on a shoestring budget?

Improve Training

According to the American Society for Training and Development, companies that invest in training for their employees see huge returns on those investments, including a nearly 25 percent increase in company revenues. The majority of companies on the Fortune 500 list offer robust employee training programs, with those that spend the most on training and development ranking the highest on the list. These companies also experience lower turnover and have happier employees than companies that spend less.

It’s clear, then, that you need to invest in training. This includes formal tuition reimbursement programs, to investing in self-guided online IT training courses that employees can view at any time to brush up on their skills or prepare for certification. Set aside a portion of the budget each year to invest in training, and encourage employees to take advantage of the opportunities you’re presenting.

Encourage Innovation

One of the worst things a leader can ever say is, “Because we’ve always done it this way.” Chances are, no matter the process or problem, there is more than one way to approach it.

Encourage your employees to show innovative thinking, and allow them to test their new ideas. Creative problem solving often requires teams to work together to brainstorm ideas, or work across departments or job roles to bring ideas to fruition, so allowing innovation can also strengthen your team and bring forth more new ideas and solution. The idea is to not get so caught up in how things are done, and allow your employees to imagine how things could be done, which gives them more confidence and helps them grow.

Busy employees innovating

Support Passion

Many tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Yahoo, have (or have in the past) allowed employees to spend time during the work day working on their own passion projects and experimenting with new ideas. The amount of time spent on these projects ranges from 10 to 20 percent of the workday, but the idea is simple: By giving employees some “free” time to explore some new concepts, develop their best ideas, or even just have some time to think about problems in a new way, employees feel free to be creative and grow in their roles — and in the best cases, the company benefits from a new product, service, or improvement.

While smaller companies may not have the bandwidth to withstand all employees spending 20 percent of their day on non-urgent matters, the idea of supporting passion projects and encouraging new ideas does scale. Start small, by giving employees small blocks of time each week, and see how it goes. Most importantly, encourage the sharing of ideas between employees, and with you. You never know when an employee’s spark of inspiration could actually be a stroke of genius.

It’s been said that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. With that in mind, it only makes sense to continuously develop and strengthen your team by encouraging them to learn, experiment, and grow. When you do, your business will grow along with them.