Two keys to unlocking employee effectiveness: coaching and informal learning

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This article was co-authored by Christian Foerg, General Manager EMEA Region, Saba, and Donald Taylor, Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute.

For decades, traditional learning and development went a little something like this: Learning paths were created for employees, courses assigned, and boxes checked off when they were completed.

In today’s workplace, those traditional learning plans, by themselves, are inadequate. In fact, learning and development as a standalone function doesn’t cut it.

Employees are looking for more than just training – they want to part of a true learning culture that encourages and supports them in their individual approaches to learning. Individuals also want and expect ongoing coaching, feedback, and guidance on their performance and skills.

We know that when these practices are in place, employee performance improves.

People have a hunger to learn and improve at what they do. This new environment is one of the reasons why we hosted a webinar recently, “Is the LMS Dead?”

During our webinar, we talked about the link between employee learning and performance, and how to measure results. We’d like to expand further on these points in some more detail and offer some guidance on how HR and L&D professionals might be able to take a step in either direction.

It’s important to note that measurement should match the type of learning that has taken place.

Understanding what employees really want

The whole point of learning and development for employees is – in the short term – to improve performance and so productivity. In the longer term, it is to help people learn new skills or knowledge that will help them in the career.

While managerial support is a crucial part of doing this successfully, not all managers are prepared to coach, mentor, or meet the expectations of their employees around development. HR and L&D professionals can offer resources, training, and support to help managers effectively coach their teams.

For example, conversation prompts can guide these types of check-ins. Open-ended questions such as, “How have you applied what you’ve learned so far?” or “Is there an upcoming project where you can try out something you’ve learned recently?” help prompt and connect the link between learning and performance.

For some managers, this may be an uncomfortable shift.

But the payoff – greater employee satisfaction, better performance, increased employee engagement – is well worth it. When goals and development plans are set, managers and employees can together look for opportunities to develop competencies that will build certain strengths linked to business objectives.

Gallup found that strength-based development, for example, showed up to a 19% increase in sales and as much as a 15% increase in employee engagement.

These are real results that all start with understanding what employees want to develop, understanding how it supports skills development and professional growth, and making the connection to what the organisation wants to achieve.

Measuring learning for effective growth

It’s no secret that measuring the value of learning or training is a challenge. In Brandon Hall Group's 2016 Learning Measurement Study, just 54% of organisations said they were effective or very effective at measuring formal learning. The numbers sink even further when it comes to informal learning (13%) and experiential learning (22%).

It’s important to note that measurement should match the type of learning that has taken place. For example, formal instruction such as compliance training, will typically fall under the check-box type of tracking and reporting, and the contents of that type of training discussed further during manager-employee check-ins to ensure the material is understood and behavior reinforced.

One important way to extract more value from the informal is to cultivate a learner mindset in employees.

In an informal environment, those measurements should look beyond the basics and track stats such as top contributors, the value and relevance of the content being shared, social shares and hot spots for discussion and sharing.

One important way to extract more value from the informal is to cultivate a learner mindset in employees. When employees feel a deep sense of ownership in their learning activities, they feel more invested and take responsibility for their learning. They should be encouraged (by learning professionals or managers) to share insights and discoveries with their teams. In this way, learning becomes incredibly powerful and collaborative.

Meeting the expectations of today’s workforce

Just like the LMS has had to morph to keep up with all the L&D changes of recent years, so have learning professionals.

When we measure the results of learning programmes combined with the impact on individual performance, we’re able to get a more holistic view of our efforts. The best learning programmes are the ones where people have access to a blend of learning opportunities and where people are given the time and ability to apply the knowledge they have gained.

In addition, reporting and recognizing different ways of learning and making the connection to employee performance is where the rubber meets the road.

We can meet employees’ expectations and both provide learning experiences that are modern, collaborative, social, and also provide the required compliance-related training.

And we can make the connection between learning and performance, and report back on how progress is being made – for employees and for the business. It’s not just a win-win, it’s essential if we want to be taken seriously as a part of the business.

About Christian Foerg

Christian Foerg

As Saba’s General Manager in EMEA, Christian oversees all go-to-market operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Since joining Saba in 2011 as Regional Vice President in EMEA, Christian has lead programmes to drive customer success. An experienced HR leader himself, Christian has led HR systems teams in companies like HP, Compaq and Media-Saturn. He has a strong understanding of the market dynamics and business needs of customers.

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