Written by Mary Ann Masarech, Employee Engagement Lead Consultant
Business leader and author Arie de Geus once said, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” In the years since he made this comment, organizations have grown savvier about learning and development – and how this can drive organizational growth. Many enterprises now:
- Demonstrate a commitment to development in their core organizational values.
- Include a mid-year growth conversation in their performance management process (and actually hold people accountable for having it).
- Combine action learning projects, just-in-time performance resources, or mentoring programs with ILT or VILT learning experiences to ensure that employees have the knowledge and skills they need to meet the demands of their jobs.
- Emphasize the 70:20:10 learning and development model, which suggests 70% of learning happens on the job through “tough” assignments, 20% through people, and 10% from formal learning like workshops or books.
So why don’t employees behave the way you trained them to? Why do so many development efforts often fall short of creating a well-equipped and engaged workforce?
I believe that in spite of heightened emphasis on more strategic learning approaches and the mechanics of how people learn, organizations often overlook one or more of the key requirements for successful development and behavior change described below. Individuals need all four before they can perform with the initiative, enthusiasm, and skill level their organizations need.
1. Training: Knowledge and skills training (whether in a formal setting or on the job) is often the first thing people associate with employee development. Although it is an essential ingredient, it’s not sufficient. Training can fill in the gaps when employees don’t know how to do something. It is helpful for building a common language across the workforce around critical leadership, customer service, and sales concepts and behaviors. Yet without proper business context, manager support, and individual accountability, training can’t deliver the sustainable workforce performance that organizations need.
2. Feedback: Feedback provides the shared context and focus for successful employee development. Before individuals can choose appropriate development opportunities, they need to know what they do well and where their role requires them to demonstrate an even higher level of effectiveness. In addition, for learning to be applied successfully, employees need to have a business context for their expanding knowledge and skills: How does their job fit in with the bigger organizational picture? Where should they focus their efforts? Which skills are most important to success? Why?
3. Coaching: No one succeeds on his or her own. Even the best-trained, most focused employees require support, guidance, and “course corrections” sometimes. When managers partner with their employees in creating development plans, they are able to provide more strategic, effective, and efficient coaching. Managers can also play a critical role in helping employees identify learning opportunities that exist outside the published curriculum of courses (e.g., stretch assignments, special projects to broaden experience, mentoring or peer coaching, cross-training).
4. Motivation: Organizations can provide development resources and managers can coach, but without personal commitment, employees’ development efforts may amount to “going through the motions.” All employees come to work each day with a unique blend of personal values and goals (although they are not always cognizant of these drivers). Employees who are clear on what matters most to them are better able to manage their professional growth and maintain momentum when new skills aren’t easy to apply or obstacles arise. This is often the forgotten ingredient in development initiatives.
Not New News
Our founders Buck Blessing and Tod White were talking about these essentials 40 years ago, when overhead projectors represented the latest in learning technology. That’s because successful development is not only about methodology and tools – it’s about making sure that the individuals you depend on have the focus and “fuel” to apply what they learn in a way that will drive your organization forward.
“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.”
– W. Edwards Deming, Business Innovator