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Creating the right conditions for your staff to have long and happy careers has become more challenging than ever before. And digitalisation has made the future of some positions highly unpredictable. According to Jill Everaert, Manager SD Worx Academy at SD Worx Belgium, your best bet is to create an employee-driven learning culture, look for passion and talent in your team and foster it with a customised offering.
“Leveraging a learning culture to boost employability is nothing new. Companies have been trying to find the secret formula for years. What has changed is the sense of urgency. In that respect, Covid was a real eye-opener. Both employers and employees have realised that from now on, all bets are off. Organisations need to be able to retrain and redeploy employees quickly. Have they already mastered that ability? About half the European companies claim they have. Mainly British, Polish and Italian companies seem confident on this front, while Belgian companies appear to have quite some catching up to do. But even for the frontrunners, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.”
“Reskilling and upskilling employees is heavily intertwined with lifelong learning – a concept many people dread. Learning reminds them of school and obligations, while it’s often conceived as a one-way street. Moreover, if you urge someone to sign up for a program, you imply that he or she is lacking skills, which can undermine morale.”
“Long story short, traditional top-down models for learning and development don’t work. Employees will only be fully committed if they clearly see where they’re heading and why. Consequently, a learning culture is most effective if the initiative comes from your team. So, that’s exactly what you need to stimulate and facilitate.”
The first and most important step in bringing out the best in your staff: talk to them. Not once a year, but every week. You need to continually support their growth as employees – and as people. Ask what their strengths are, how they see their current job, and where they want to be in 5 years. You could even discuss spare-time activities to spot hidden talent.
The most common mistake in these conversations is that line managers take the lead with their own aspirations for the employee. But when you tell them what you think they should do, you make it harder for them to share what they truly want. The trick is to provide structure and expectations, and to allow employees to define success for themselves within those boundaries.
A line manager’s role in learning and development goes far beyond pinpointing aspirations and catering to learning needs. Together with HR, they also need to work out personalised career plans, in which an employee’s larger goals are broken down into small, manageable steps. On top of that, line managers should create an environment that allows for trial and error, open communication and close follow-up.
In short, line managers carry a heavy weight on their shoulders. They need to look out for their team members and the company, while they also have needs and aspirations of their own. The problem: we don’t always train our managers enough to deal with their multi-layered roles.
An additional issue to deal with is learning preferences. Some are used to watching videos online, while others prefer in-person instruction. Some feel comfortable in groups; others are lone wolfs. And so on. The most attractive employers offer a buffet from which employees can choose their preferred options.
However, no matter the learning preferences, your employees will always need time. Digital formats, such as podcasts your employees could listen to on their way to work, have offered some relief. Still, a lack of dedicated learning time remains a major obstacle in many companies. Why would you invest in cutting-edge L&D tools and platforms if you don’t plan to provide the opportunity to work with them
To summarise, the basics of an effective learning culture are simple. A first principle is that employees are eager to learn (Want). This can be achieved by sharing success stories and creating ambassadors in the workspace. Next to this positive inspiration, it can also be valuable to discuss the risks in case someone refuses to grow in his career. The idea is to trigger curiosity or a sense of urgency.
Eager employees should then be provided with an adapted learning offering (Can), a safe environment (Dare) and sufficient time (May). Following these basic principles, however, appears to be quite a task. Less than half the employees feel that they have easy access to training and development.