If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably seen this pattern again and again in the employees you hire. They start out strong, eager to learn all there is to know about their new position, fueled with the energy of opportunity, performing at the top of their game. They bring new ideas and creative solutions to old problems. They are ascending like rockets in your organization.
Cut to a few years down the road, and they are moving more like a city bus. They follow the same route day in and day out, hitting all the same goals they have for years. They’re still solid employees, but their growth has plateaued. They’ve stopped taking risks, stopped innovating.
Sound familiar? These employees provided fuel for your organization early on because they were invigorated by all they were learning and the promise of new opportunities. But, over time, after they mastered the essential functions of their job, the learning likely dwindled, taking away critical motivation for growth.
A recent survey of over 10,000 employees found that the two most important employer attributes are: a sense of purpose and opportunities for growth and learning. Along with providing a sense of motivation and purpose, learning in the workplace has other benefits:
- It will increase employee engagement. Nearly half of disengaged employees (46%) report a lack of learning opportunities as a reason for their disengagement.
- It will improve your organization’s profitability. Companies that offer comprehensive training have a 24% higher profit margin than those that don’t.
- It will keep your organization adaptable. In five years’ time, 91% of HR decision-makers think it’s likely that people will be recruited on their ability to deal with
change and uncertainty.
So, now that you’ve seen the stats, here’s how to create a culture of learning at your organization.
Promote a growth mindset.
Many companies operate on an old-school definition of success that praises achievement, results, and talent. While it’s important to acknowledge when your employees have reached a goal or when an individual has performed well, it’s equally important to highlight and reward hard work.
Those who believe that talent is inherent and intelligence is static have a fixed mindset. According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who coined the term, praise and reward structures based on this idea of talent can have a dampening effect on employees’ willingness to learn, innovate, and take risks.
If you urge employees to embrace challenges and persist in the face of difficulty, then you instill a growth mindset. With this outlook on work, employees will come to see errors as opportunities for more learning and setbacks as natural milestones on the road to mastery. A growth mindset, fueled by learning, encourages the adaptability that’s so essential today.
- Reward remarkable effort alongside great results.
- Discuss setbacks as a team with candor and curiosity.
- Prize cooperation and teamwork over competition.
Structure feedback around learning opportunities.
With an old-school way of thinking, feedback can be frightening. If talent and intelligence are inherent, then doing something “wrong,” isn’t just a mistake — it can call into question an employee’s belief in their own abilities.
To encourage a culture of learning, link constructive feedback to concrete learning opportunities. Rather than instilling a feeling of wrong-doing, learning-focused feedback gives insight into organizational health, motivates employees to look closely at what is and isn’t working in their performance, and keeps the focus on continual improvement.
Say an employee’s close rate from new leads has really plummeted in the last quarter.
Some HR leaders might pull the employee aside to pressure them to do better. If you start here, you’ll miss out on two opportunities (at least!): to help the employee learn from a challenge and to gain more insight on what isn’t working in your organization.
If, instead, you have a conversation with the employee about what has changed in the past quarter and what factors are contributing to their recent struggles, you can identify, with the employee, some strategies to overcome stumbling blocks.
Perhaps you’ll learn that a recent update to your organization’s CRM has made the outreach process much more cumbersome or that a new vertical isn’t working out as predicted.
Armed with this information, you can help the employee define a learning opportunity that will solve the problem at hand, such as successfully completing a software training. At the same time, you can help your organization make smart decisions about the larger structures that are contributing to the employee’s challenge.
Set clear, well-defined learning goals.
You likely already set performance goals with your employees. Perhaps it’s how many sales they close in a month or how much revenue they generate in a quarter. Perhaps it’s based on outreach or other services successfully provided. These indicators of performance give you and your employees a shared sense of success and of where challenges might exist.
Learning goals are no different. Just like performance metrics, they help an employee chart their progress and can provide an idea of what areas need more attention. And like other goals, they often work best if they are SMART:
By collaborating with your employees to articulate specific learning goals, you emphasize that learning is as important as other job functions. This encourages employees to take the time that they need to acquire the skills to improve their performance — and your organization as a whole.
You can set learning goals with employees on both the macro and the micro level.
For example, a larger learning goal might be:
By the end of the quarter, I will read three business communication books and create a tactical presentation informed by my reading for the team sales meeting.
And a learning goal for a specific training or webinar might be:
By the end of this training, I will demonstrate a deep understanding of new OSHA guidelines by outfitting 6 prep stations to the given safety specifications.
Give your employees the tools they need.
Once you set learning goals with your employees, providing access to smart tools will also send the message that your organization values on-the-job education. Without the right tools, employees may waste time seeking solutions without enough information, become frustrated, and may even be turned off a learning project entirely.
Part of creating achievable learning goals is providing each employee with everything they need to succeed — and encouraging them to use the tools at their disposal.
- Provide convenient, relevant eLearning modules that employees can easily slot into their workflow.
- Keep your team informed on upcoming learning opportunities in your community or online, perhaps through a monthly internal newsletter or education-focused meeting.
- Invite employees to share relevant articles, books, Podcasts, and other resources with each other, perhaps through shared files, a chat channel, or group email discussion.
- Acknowledge innovative or sustained use of learning resources to inspire employees to use the tools you provide.
Hold engaging, relevant training events.
When employees think of training, they may think of boring classes, held in a fluorescent-lit room, with an outside speaker lecturing to them.
An organization built on learning, though, is one that does training right. Training can be an engaging, fun time to both instill learning and boost team morale. They are events to look forward to instead of requirements to make it through.
- Generate excitement before a training by sending out teaser info, emails that ask questions and engage thinking, and bonus materials beforehand.
- Make training fun, interactive, and effective by combining a positive, active experience with memorable emotions.
- Consider hiring learning experts to create custom learning solutions for your employees.
Looking for more on engaging employees through training? Check out our eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Engaging Your Employees in Onboarding and Training.