As a leader and guiding force of your company, you likely have all the usual sound reasons for implementing programs of learning and development.
For the health of your business, a focus on training rather than hiring employees is key. When you consider that it can cost up to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace him, it makes good business sense to focus on learning and development as key priorities.
Along with keeping skills up-to-date—or preferably ahead of the curve—learning and development programs improve employee retention, while increasing engagement and motivation.
On the surface it would appear that planning your L&D program involves nothing more than identifying current or future skill gaps and designing your training based on filling in those gaps. But one frequently overlooked yet vitally important component of successful L&D may not be on your checklist all: This key element is emotional readiness for learning.
You can vastly improve your learning and development outcomes by identifying probable emotional blocks and proactively addressing them. One way to do this is by having supervisors schedule one-on-one conversations with those they immediately oversee to address potential issues and concerns. Getting ahead of emotional roadblocks can ensure that employees—and leaders—get the maximum benefit from the learning experience.
You are investing considerable time and budget into L&D, so you want to get the very most out of the investment. Having open conversations with employees about all the aspects of training, including emotional and personal, that may impact them can increase the chances your L&D program will optimize individual performance and positively impact the KPIs that you are intending to influence.
Emotional Issues That Can Get in the Way of Learning
• Employees may secretly question their capabilities to succeed and defensively close their minds to learning anything new: Delicate issues that center around fears about capability call for brave and authentic communication between leaders and staff. An employee harboring fears about her ability to perform well may defensively regard the L&D as a “waste of time.” Here’s where as a leader, it will be extremely helpful—as well as generous—for you to share some stories about yourself.
This may make you feel a bit vulnerable at first glance, but the outcome is definitely worth it. Sheldon Harris, a business coach at CEO Coaching International (CEOCI), encourages his clients to use transparency as much as possible when communicating with their employees.
On a special episode in CEOCI’s podcast, “On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!”, Sheldon claims that “the more you can push that line out on the edge of transparency and sharing, the more you’re going to find employees buying into you as a leader, and to what your company’s trying to do, and aligning their efforts with the outcomes you’re trying to achieve”.
It can feel career-threatening for both leaders and employees to admit they are insecure about their capabilities. Sharing stories about times in your own career when you felt daunted by a challenge and found it necessary to expand upon your skills, or about times when you doubted your capabilities, will not only endear you to your employees but will embolden them to be more honest about their own fears.
• Employees are worried about changes that spurred the L&D: When changes happen that call for additional training, open and transparent communication is essential. Good communication helps to create the kind of vibrant and inspiring environment that keeps employees engaged, involved and as if they are working with you to actualize a shared vision.
Change can make people uneasy. They may wonder if they will be able to remain relevant or if there will be redundancies in the future. Anxieties such as these distract your team members and make them less focused, productive and effective.
Be sure to openly discuss why the training is important and assure employees that you are involving them as driving forces in the future direction of the company. People love staying informed. When they know exactly why they are doing something, it helps them to feel that they are contributing and collaborating—less like cogs in the machine.
Make sure the discussion around the training includes an explanation of exactly what specific courses are being taught and how they will positively impact specific KPIs and facilitate operations as the company grows. You may even wish to seek input from your team about what types of L&D will provide the best ROI in terms of addressing the specific KPIs you are looking to improve upon.
Involving your team in the decision-making process makes them feel valued and offsets potential stressors that can happen around growth and change.
• Employees may feel that they are “Too busy for this!” In today’s over-connected environment, many workers feel overwhelmed with tasks and interruptions that break their momentum while they are attempting to meet deadlines.
Stress about an overloaded schedule can cause an employee to defensively close his mind to new learning simply because he feels his plate is already too full.
Encourage team members who feel overwhelmed to let their supervisors know how they feel, while also inspiring supervisors to work with employees to support them in clearing space in their schedules for training. It might not hurt to add the further assurance that ultimately the training will likely free up more time.
It is essential to cultivate an open environment where employees feel safe in communicating feelings of overwhelm to their supervisors. Facilitating open and honest communication allows these situations to be addressed so that staff can be fully present and engaged during training, thereby getting the most mileage out of their learning and development programs.
• Employee thinks she already knows all about the subject and doesn’t need any further training: This roadblock is especially likely to present if the training involves soft skills, like being a good communicator and the employee in question feels she is already an expert on this topic.
This is a tough one. The employee in question needs to bring to this situation a willingness to assess herself honestly. The bravado expressed here is very likely a defensive reaction born of a fear that her communication skills may not be all that they could be.
A mentor can be a wonderful resource in this scenario. An insightful mentor who is willing to honestly share examples of times in her career when she herself was too smart for her own good will support an employee stuck in a counterproductive cycle of false bravado to be courageous and admit to her own shortcomings.
The goal here again, as always, is to cultivate an atmosphere where open and authentic conversations are encouraged and rewarded.
• An employee is struggling with a distracting personal issue: When you are at the helm of a company full of humans, delicate situations are bound to occur. Human crises that intersect with training can derail an otherwise wonderful opportunity to upgrade skills and recharge an employee’s outlook around his goals within your organization, and his career as a whole.
Sensitivity is key here. A team member struggling personally with the illness or loss of a family member, dissolution of a marriage or even a positive disruptive change like becoming a parent for the first time may need extra support, such as an extended time period of time in which to complete training or even the option of pursuing individual training at a later date.
Without succumbing to playing therapist, it is a good practice to check on your team member from time to time to make sure he or she feels supported, is making progress and isn’t feeling too overwhelmed.
Be sure that the employee’s immediate supervisor is sensitive, attentive to his needs, and engaging in regular conversations with him to show support and keep the lines of communication open.
At the heart of the above examples is a call to set your employees at ease so they can bring their A game into the L&D experience. This makes it more likely that your team, your organization and you yourself will all receive the maximum benefit from your training program.
The best training efforts can go awry, or at the very least not provide the maximum benefits if you do not properly tend to the essential human element.
Your team is crucial to the health and continued growth of your enterprise. To keep them engaged, emotionally all-in and contributing all they are capable of contributing, make sure that they have the support they need and deserve.
About Annie Qureshi
I'm Annie Qureshi, a training manager by profession and blogger by hobby.