Enable Employee Careers through Learning

There is no organisational strategy without the capability to execute it. The demands of a disruptive economy mean organisations need to create systemic approaches that scale learning through every role, Big Learning. However, organisations need to build employee capability in their interests and not just for the sake of the organisation.

Holding on to a Wooden Box

Imagine you asked a friend to hold a wooden box for you.  If they are a good friend, they might hold it for an hour or so. Some will give up and take it home to return it later.  A great friend might put it down and stay by for a little longer. Very few would bother with the box for more than that without some further instructions, some value to them or some better proof of the worth of the exercise. 

Yet organisations continue to ask employees to learn knowledge and skills for the sake of the organisation. Worse still, these approaches to learning are often rolled out with little communication as to the value of the learning for the organisation, let alone the employee. 

Consider mandatory role and compliance learning. To employees it is as mysterious as the box request and it is cannot be escaped. The signals sent remind employees that it is designed to protect the organisation as part of a compliance system, rather than helping the achievement of employee goals. 

The employee is left to complete the learning for the organisation and then forget it. There’s little surprise that much learning is wasted and is not applied to help organisations achieve strategic goals.

Enable Employee Careers & Purpose

Imagine you had a friend who shared that they wanted to develop a career as a public speaker. You might explain that practice & feedback is a critical part of developing as a public speaker and you could help them see that a wooden box would let them speak at a speaker’s corner whenever they want. There’s a far greater chance your friend is going to make an effort to carry their own box. 

Organisations can do more to make their key strategic learning a part of a process of creating greater career options for employees. Learning that advances employee goals first is more engaging, more effective and more likely to endure. Very few people will seek mastery in a skill that is imposed on them. Mastery requires purpose.

Working in this way begins with employees goals and enabling the employee learning journey through all their work. Learning in this approach means thinking beyond tasks & roles to lifetime needs and career lattices.  In addition to specific technical skills, learning must develop portable skills that increase the diversity of an employee’s career options. 

Designing first for the employee journey while still achieving the organisations strategic needs will improve the effectiveness of learning. Importantly it is a key part of creating an Big Learning environment where every employee contributes to the ability of the organisation to learn and improve

You Can’t Buy Employee Engagement

We sure have tried.

New workspaces. New technology. Changes to benefits, remuneration systems and more. Great systems to measure and track employee engagement. Generous community, pro bono and volunteer programs. Investments in training & other career support. Programs to improve compliance with HR processes, drive diversity & address key issues of engagement. Lots of expensive communication materials. No end of efforts to make employees feel better about work. 

Mostly, we still don’t have engagement. Some of the above helped, particularly to remove hygiene issues that get in the way. Usually, the impact of these initiatives is temporary. Employees respond only as long as misread the investments above as signalling real change. When the hoopla passes and the bills are paid, the culture of the organisation is still the same.

You can’t buy employee engagement. You lead it. It is not a program. It is work. Hard leadership work.

Engagement is not something your employees do. Engagement is something that they feel. It is a belief that arrives from and is reinforced daily by your culture, your decisions and your conversations. Just as you can’t buy a transformation, you cannot buy this change with a management decision to spend money or work harder.

Employee engagement comes when people feel that they will realise their purpose and potential better in their work. Helping people to experience that takes conversations, your visible actions and their daily progress in their work.

Before you sign off another employee engagement initiative, ask these three questions:

  • Do the organisations daily decisions value your employees’ purpose and potential? Before you reflexively answer yes, when was the last time you changed a management decision because of its impact on employee purpose or potential? How often is that even discussed as a genuine factor in decisions?
  • Do all individual leaders consistently have genuine 2-way conversations about purpose and potential with their teams, collectively and individually? Not speeches, IDP templates or emails. The hard personal conversations. All leaders. Every day.
  • What is the hard evidence that your leaders are advancing individual purpose and potential? Your employees don’t rely on feel good measures. They look for hard proof of your intent. So should you.

Leadership is the technology of human potential. How well you use leadership is what your employees are judging every day. Don’t wait for the next employee engagement survey to decide to do something about it.