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How to make learning and growth a part of your organizational DNA.
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The ancient wisdom that learning never ends is of great modern importance. Company leaders are embracing how important adaptability is to thriving in today’s quick-changing business environment. And employees from the next generation expect a workplace that will continually feed their minds and build their skills. Indeed, training and development opportunities are the most popular benefits an employer can offer to Millennials, according to Deloitte’s 2016 report on corporate learning trends.
Skills are generally straightforward to learn and often narrow in scope: Knowing how to use a piece of machinery is a skill, for instance, and so is being adept at Microsoft Excel. You can usually teach individuals a basic skill online and then test them to measure whether they’ve mastered it, says Phil Geldart, CEO of Eagle’s Flight, an organizational culture and leadership development firm based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
TRY THIS: In her book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), Kim Scott says the best way to develop a culture of candor is for leaders to ask their employees to challenge them directly—and to not react defensively to what they say. “If a person is bold enough to criticize you, do not critique their criticism,” writes Scott, a former manager at Google and Apple.
A learning culture reflects an organization “that values and has norms around learning,” says Amy DuVernet, director of certification programs at Training Industry Inc., a media company focused on learning professionals in Raleigh, N.C.
In addition, you must “take the time to continuously reinforce new skills learned,” adds Debbie Deissroth, SHRM-SCP, corporate director of learning and development at Kennedy Health in Cherry Hill, N.J. “It’s critical to integrate all of the learning so that people can see the connection between each of the skills being applied until they become preferred behaviors.”
“Buy-in” goes beyond sign-off. Leaders must fully understand how a learning culture works, why they’ll need to be visible champions of it and, of course, why it’s worth the investment. “Any time you can translate HR initiatives into dollars, it’s going to help you make the argument,” DuVernet notes.
TRY THIS: Endeavor to get inside the CEO’s head while you’re making your arguments—and ask lots of questions to clarify his or her vision for the company, suggests James Balagot, head of learning and development at San Francisco-based Yelp, which publishes crowdsourced reviews of businesses. “I’d ask, ‘What kind of brand do you want? What kind of people do you want to hire?’ When you have a learning culture, you attract a higher-quality candidate, one who’s more aligned with the company vision.”
While learning cultures start at the top, they won’t get much on-the-ground traction if you don’t get middle managers on board. Managers must understand how important learning is to the company’s long-term future—that it keeps workers’ skills up to date, if not ahead of the curve, and prepares employees for growth opportunities, which improves retention.
TRY THIS: Employees at TED, the media organization that posts educational and inspirational talks online, have “Learning Wednesdays” every other week. These are meeting-free days when workers can do whatever they want—as long as they use the time to learn something.
Because culture is an organizationwide issue, you must ensure that each worker recognizes the value learning offers to him or her as an individual as well as to the business as a whole.
TRY THIS: Make employee relevance part of HR’s internal brand. That’s what the folks at job board Indeed.com did. “Our new tagline for Indeed’s HR team is ‘We care about what you care about,’ ” Wolfe says.
When reviewing learning technology platforms, a number of products are available. You can buy off-the-shelf programs and then run them as is or customize them, or you can invest in tailored, industrial-strength solutions.
Always assess the results of your efforts. Besides determining your effectiveness, this will give you the information you need to keep your business case updated for management.
TRY THIS: Measure the usage and effectiveness of different learning channels. For example, DuVernet asks, if you set up a learning library, are people using it? If not, try making the same information available through additional means.
If you find people aren’t partaking in what you’re offering, take a hard look at the content —and your approach to it. “Consider whether the topics are right,” Wolfe says.
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