Some managers let employees work in the same job for years without investing in them. The workers never build their skills are never given opportunities to grow in the company, and never have plans to expand beyond their current job duties. Eventually these workers grow weary, then bored and then disengaged. There’s nowhere for them to go and no reason for them to try.
Other managers strive to grow their employees. They suggest books that provide value, and give their team members new tools freeing up their time for other projects. These departments have life with employees who are engaged and excited.
If you feel like you have a zombie staff then it’s time to break out of the rut. Here are five ways to make learning a priority in your organization so you can help your employees grow their skills.
Choose Learning Modules That Meet Your Organization’s Goals
Before you jump into learning opportunities and training systems, you need to decide what you hope to gain from your employees learning new things. To answer this, Joanne Wells, manager of learning and development at Canada Post, created a brief list of questions for managers to determine if a learning program will really help a team member or group of employees. These include:
How will the learning strategy improve individual performance?
Do you have the culture in place to support growing an individual’s strengths?
Is there a connection between the lessons and where the business is going?
Without the right motivation and vision, learned skills will either fall by the wayside or employees won’t understand the importance of developing them in the first place.
An additional question to add to this list is “why should my employees care?”
Even the most loyal employees are still motivated by their own personal success and growth, the team at Growth Engineering writes. Managers who want to encourage them to invest in learning and training must be able to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question. From the obvious value of developing new skills to receiving encouraging feedback from management and seeing the possibility of internal promotion, employees need to be able to experience the rewards of investing their time and effort to grow their skills.
Case Study: Teamwork.com Encourages Employees to Become Readers
Peter Coppinger, CEO at Teamwork.com, explains that he tried and failed to implement a book club in his organization. He wanted his team to read and constantly grow, but it took the company a few tries to find a system that encouraged team members to pick up books of their own accord.
“I want Teamwork.com to be a company staffed exclusively with people who are continuously learning,” Coppinger says. “I understand that we all have life and time pressures and other pursuits so all I ask of everyone (including myself) is that we do our best, even if that just means reading a few pages when we’re taking a break.”
When Coppinger created a more relaxed reading culture instead of a book club with set deadlines, employee curiosity grew, and teams organically started discussing reading materials on their own. The motivation wasn’t to impress the boss anymore, but rather to grow their skills and form a community within the company.
Cherrypick Employees Who Have the Drive to Learn
Not every employee will be eager to learn and develop their skills, which means managers could grow frustrated if their growth efforts are met with blank stares or a lack of effort. To prevent this, consider looking for employees that actually want to learn and are eager for training.
“Don’t waste training budgets on employees who haven’t demonstrated learnability, even if those employees are otherwise skilled, collaborative, and productive,” Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessments, and Mara Swan, Executive VP of Talent at ManpowerGroup, write. “Focus on employees with higher learnability: curious and inquisitive individuals who are genuinely interested in acquiring new knowledge.”
They compare learning to coaching: Some employees are more open to coaching and are eager to take on a mentor, while others might prefer a different learning experience to grow their skills.
Case Study: Varsity Tutors Improves the Employee Onboarding Process
When Greg Stahl was hired as at VP of Marketing for Varsity Tutors, he realized there were gaps in his SEO knowledge. His company dedicated time and resources to training him, which better prepared him to take on the task at hand.
“The experience reinforced several things for me: the importance of supporting employees in continuing their education, that a long career means we never truly stop learning, and that it’s important to seek help when you need it,” Stahl writes.
He also believes that the business benefits outweigh the costs of education, as employees invest what they learn and are less likely to leave.
“Newcomers need some foundation—background that might be provided by more formal strategies for onboarding,” Catherine Lombardozzi, founder of Learning 4 Learning Professionals, writes. “Most employees’ experience of learning prior to their first jobs is highly structured, focused, and directed... as a consequence, managers often report that college does not prepare students for the workplace.”
Even highly qualified candidates could stand to benefit from training seminars and learning opportunities. Companies that have solid learning policies in place will find this easier to provide than those that don’t.
Give Team Members Choices In Their Training
As your company considers various training options, it’s important to find tools and learning opportunities that your employees will use and find value in.
For example, the team at InterCall, a subsidiary of West Unified Communications, shared an useful infographic showing exactly what employees think about job training:
41 percent of employees say they would like more training in the next year.
48 percent of employees want customized training for their job functions.
33 percent of employees say the training materials presented aren’t interesting or engaging.
While employees find value in training and want more of it, they want to make sure the content is specific to their actual work environment, rather than a cookie-cutter training that could be applied to anything.
Case Study: ZinePak Creates Open-Ended Training Options
Kim Kaupe, cofounder of ZinePak, gives employees $500 “creativity stipends” each year for classes or programs that grow their desired skillsets outside of their daily tasks. This allows employees to choose those programs that work best for them and decide where they want to take their career paths.
Instead of boxing employees in, ZinePak gives them the tools they need to get where they want to go.
This level of support is something many millennials would appreciate. According to a Millennial Mindset Study of 1,200 employees by Mindflash, 88 percent of millennials are willing to invest personally (sacrificing anything from lunch breaks to vacation days) in order to train themselves.
By providing the right support and tools to grow, younger employees won’t have to resort to using their vacation time to gain the skills necessary to succeed in their fields.
Create Opportunities for Informal Learning
In many cases, encouraging learning simply involves giving employees opportunities to stretch themselves. Managers who embrace informal learning can build employees up while preparing them for formal training opportunities.
“A less experienced employee can learn a vast amount by watching a veteran employee give a presentation, without needing to ask any direct questions,” Daniel Stafura, cofounder at THRIVE Learning System, explains. “While this doesn’t mean that direct questions will never come up, it’s important to realize how much can be learned by just observing.”
In some cases, sending a meeting invite or including an employee in a particular discussion can provide greater insight than investing in complex training processes.
“While the spontaneity and lack of structure associated with informal learning earns some criticism from hard-line academics, informal learning prepares people to benefit from the formal learning process,” Sarah Johnson at Knowledge Anywhere writes.
An employee who is exposed to a software tool informally might feel more excited to learn about its features in a classroom environment. Alternatively, a lower-level worker who sees management techniques in action can better understand them when they’re taught at a leadership conference.
Case Study: Zynga Exposes Employees to a Variety of Departments
In an article for Gloo, content strategist Vincent Scalia recently shared why he admires the Zynga mentorship program. Interns and lower level employees start a six-month program where they are exposed to multiple departments and have the opportunity to learn from different people. They see skills in action and learn more about the company they work for.
The result of this learning environment is a staff that fully understands the burdens that other employees have and the various functions in the company. By creating an informal learning policy, employees are able to pick up more about the organization than if they were simply reading an employee handbook.
Look for Relevant and Effective Training Tools
The final step in creating an environment of learning is to discover how your team learns and communicate with them through their ideal learning style.
“Everyone learns differently,” Jacqueline Whitmore, business etiquette expert, writes. “Appreciate the diversity of your team’s personalities and learning styles — these differences create a more dynamic culture and benefit your business.”
For example, 90 percent of the information our brains pick up is visual and humans can process images 60,000 times faster than text, reports Vitaly Shter at iMedia. This means that video modules allow our brains to eliminate the work that comes with text, so we’re more receptive to the messages and can focus on the content. More managers are opting for video training and communication tools to better connect with team members.
Case Study: Experian Creates Employee Connections Through Video
The team at Skeleton Productions shared a story about creating series of videos for Experian to better connect emotionally with each other and form a community.
“Through video, a visual, intimate medium, we told these stories that allowed employees at Experian to connect emotionally with their co-workers and superiors,” they write. “Video catches people’s attention, which meant the stories kept people’s attention and they spread.”
As a result, Experian employees reported feeling more engaged and connected to the people around them — and the company they work for. Though in this case, the learning process wasn’t focused on skills, but rather employees learning about their peers and organization.