Innovation and learning is the cornerstone of any successful business – keep your employees learning and they’ll reward you with loyalty.
The most successful employees in any industry all possess the same enviable trait – they are constantly learning, growing and getting better at any role or challenge they take on. Attracting and retaining employees of this kind is the dream of any business, but competition is fierce and keeping this type of employee happy is a constant challenge.
Exceptional employees continually strive for new learning opportunities and if they’re not being challenged they risk getting bored and seeking new opportunities elsewhere. In fact, personal development is probably one of the most important factors for retaining great talent.
Companies are always seeking innovation and new ways of becoming more effective to stay ahead of the competition. Allowing employees to feel they can contribute to this and therefore, by implication, develop their own capabilities, makes them feel valued and rewarded and they are consequently more likely to want to stay with you.
New experiences and learning are exciting, but the real success is when these can be channelled into things that drive not only the business forward, but also its employees. Here are a few tips for achieving this.
1. Making the unconscious, conscious
Gone are the days where a calendar full of three-day courses set up by HR drove great learning by itself. While classroom training has a valuable place, it is most effective when supported by a more personalised approach in the workplace.
What many organisations fail to see is that companies that innovate and evolve all the time are full of people who are learning constantly, and not just in a classroom setting.
What many organisations fail to see is that companies that innovate and evolve all the time are full of people who are learning constantly.
Much of this learning takes place at an unconscious level - employees don’t always appreciate the fact that they are learning, it just happens as they take on new challenges.
This is often the case in fast-paced environments. There’s a common temptation to lurch from one experience to the next without taking time out to consider what has been learnt.
It is therefore important to teach employees to reflect on new projects and experiences, to discover what worked and what didn’t in order to bring them from the unconscious to the conscious.
2. Turn managers into coaches
Learning is fundamental to a thriving culture and companies need to support and encourage it, regardless of employees’ potential or learning abilities. After all, a company can only thrive if it continually renews itself faster than the competition.
For that reason, learning and development isn’t (or shouldn’t be) just the responsibility of HR departments. Managers play a more critical role. They are, or should be, the closest to their people. They should teach employees to realise that what they did is important but that the learning is in the ‘how it was done’ conversation.
They should set aside time to act as mentors, helping employees understand their strengths and development areas not only in the context of their current role but also taking into consideration their ambitions. They should also feel empowered to request and facilitate the learning process so that it actually happens, and doesn’t take a lifetime to do so!
As great as having exceptional employees might be, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need a guiding star too - one that notices their passions, shows them that they care, and encourages them to do things even better next time.
3. Allocate time and budget
Of course your learning and development budget will vary based on your specific business needs, size and revenue – some of us are luckier than others and can afford to do more in that respect. However, that budget will be wasted if there is no reflection time.
It’s not necessarily about the amount you have, but what you’re signalling by setting budget aside. By doing this, you are demonstrating that learning is no longer a ‘nice to have’, you are giving it the importance it deserves. What you are telling employees with this action is that ‘if we want to thrive as a company, we need you to thrive along with us as we learn together’.
Sharing knowledge across the organisation helps employees to stay motivated – it makes them want to contribute with their own insights and learn more.
It’s a bit like having a boss that complains about employees being late to work all the time whilst never being in on time themselves. How can they expect employees to take them seriously?
Remember that you’re constantly setting example to your staff through your behaviour, so what you do and how you act will inevitably have a direct impact on them. Invest in employee learning and in turn, they will invest themselves into making it a success.
4. Encourage them to share learning
Sharing knowledge across the organisation helps employees to stay motivated – it makes them want to contribute with their own insights and learn more. Ultimately, it makes them feel valued.
This positive reinforcement also has the advantage that it encourages repeat behaviour. Team members are more likely to take the time to learn new skills and knowledge if they know their efforts will be recognised and appreciated.
Initiatives such as ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where employees can host colleagues and explain what they’ve learnt from a course, can spark interest and conversation around the matter in hand.
With little action from your side, you’ll help to actively foster that learning culture you want within your organisation. You’ll be effectively training employees to be innovative.
Great companies thrive through innovation and learning and individuals want to learn and grow, so it makes sense to make learning a major part of the employee experience. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win strategy.
Want to read more on learning and innovation? Find out how to use learning as a perk and see your people and business grow.
About Shaun Bradley
I am the Director of People and Organisation Development at Perkbox. We create employee engagement and customer engagement platforms. My job includes all of HR, engagement, recruitment, L&D, and leadership development. Perkbox provides perks for about 600,000 employees across the U.K.