The events of 2020 have tested many traditional ways of doing things in business. One test, the results of which will become more apparent in the mid to longer term, is how to create a learning environment for your employees and with it, the conditions for talent and organisations to evolve and grow.
Here are 5 things that I believe Leaders will benefit from focussing on in 2021 to encourage learning and growth.
1. Focus on behaviours to change (or reinforce) culture.
While we might rely on training programs to help inform our people about what we want to accomplish and how, be mindful of the reality that it’s the behaviours they see every day that help to shape their attitudes and understandings of what’s acceptable.
The behaviours we exemplify and evoke in others also serve to shape workplace attitudes and with it, the real culture and values found in your organisation.
So, while training programs are important for distributing knowledge, information and ideas, the real leverage for growth comes from following up formal training with an understanding of, and coaching support for, the behaviour standards you expect.
2. Meet employees where they are at and with what they need.
Many training programs are created based on what the purchaser wants and not, necessarily, on what participants need. More crucially, the business return is rarely even factored into the training investment.
It’s a universal truth that not all employees are the same. To facilitate their learning and development, and with it the growth of your business, the real leverage comes from understanding the individual: where they are in their career development; and what tools and resources they’ll need to begin the next stage of their growth.
This means using learning opportunities experienced by the individual (or team) in daily activities, interactions and projects. By enabling employees to get things done while providing them with the time and resources to understand why some things worked and others failed, they can be better prepared and more successful. Imagine the leverage to be gained from supporting their critical thinking about strategies and tactics! This coaching approach is far more effective than traditional training, and the learning they get from guided reflection really sticks!
3. Focus on growth by maximising ‘discretionary effort’
How your people approach their work, and their roles, has a tangible impact not only on their performance, but on their willingness to give their discretionary effort to your shared purpose.
You may have already heard of ‘employee engagement’, you may even invest in annual surveys that measure the level of employee engagement in your organisation. I’m often called, when a business gets a bad employee engagement score. 9 out of 10 times they ask me to work with their people to increase their engagement levels and, therefore, their discretionary effort potential.
Much to my clients’ surprise, unlike other OD practitioners, I don't subscribe to the theory that focussing on the disengaged workforce will get sustainable results. Rather, from my experience, the real leverage comes from improving ineffective performance management systems and developing leaders who invite people to be their best, create accountability, and reward people for meeting their expectations.
• Engaged – Someone who voluntarily performs at their best.
• Disengaged – Someone who is allowed to perform at less than what is expected.
4. Provide more substantial and meaningful opportunities for connection than you think might be necessary
Creating a community around employee and leadership development initiatives helps to contextualise the learning process as well as improve creative problem-solving competencies. Learning experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and person-centred lead to deeper learning.
Therefore, the real leverage comes from providing people with multiple opportunities to share their learning with others, be it through in-person conversations or through internal company social media portals. The more the connections, the more sharing, the more ‘vicarious’ learning, the stronger the capability and exponential return on the original investment. And your business won’t just be doing what it’s always done but will be driven to continually look for ways to do things better.
In summary, I believe that the real leverage for business growth and sustainability in 2021 is to meet the needs of your people by understanding what they require from you to continue to develop their skills and abilities so that they can become more productive and valued members of your team.