Today’s employees often aren’t just motivated by a paycheck — they’re also seeking opportunities to learn and grow on the job and in their careers. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) of workers said they would leave their jobs because of a lack of growth (38%) and lack of training and development opportunities (26%), and 56% said they want their employers to offer more training and career development opportunities in 2022, according to software company Amdocs’s Workforce of 2022: Reskilling, Remote, and More Report.
What’s more, the “key to Gen Z’s heart,” according to LinkedIn Learning’s Workplace Learning Report 2021, is career growth. Some 76% of Gen Z workers, who are now just entering the workforce, said learning is critical to on-the-job success. And it’s worth noting that a majority of older workers value learning at work, too — 61% for Millennials and 56% for Gen X.
Employee training and development, however, isn’t just about motivating workers. It’s also about ensuring companies are “future-ready,” according to 2021 McKinsey research. The consulting firm listed “Accelerating learning as an organization” as one of nine imperatives for preparing organizations for the future.
But in today’s workforce, learning and development (L&D) must go beyond simply training workers how to navigate the newest software platform. To boost retention as workers quit at historic rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning opportunities need to focus on the development of individuals and their unique career paths, experts said.
“In order to retain top talent and even attract them in the first place, you need to offer personal or professional development programs,” said Carrie Missele, Learning and Development Director for management consultancy Inspirant Group.
Businesses benefit tremendously when they shift their learning culture to focus on the needs of each employee, said Missele. “A company’s bottom line — their profits — are actually affected because [employees are] happier when [companies] invest in them and give them the development they’re looking for to do better,” she noted.
That’s why effective learning and development programs in today’s workforce must include three key pillars: coaching, experiential learning, and career management. Taken separately, each pillar helps to ensure that the focus of any employee development program is on individual growth and development. Together, they provide a holistic approach to talent management. Here’s why each pillar is important, and how they work together.
The 3 Pillars of L&D
Individualized coaching helps employees take responsibility for their careers and identify their own strengths and development needs, so they can carve out a personalized career path, according to the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, the job of a manager isn’t just to supervise the day-to-day work of their team, but to play the role of career coach, too, guiding their direct reports on their individual next steps. Effective coaching requires both thoughtfulness and consistency. For coaching success, experts advise following these three best practices.
- Lead with compassion. Coaching should always be approached with empathy, Missele said, and requires thinking through what an individual needs to succeed. When giving difficult feedback, set aside time to deliver it in private and acknowledge an employee’s hard work in other areas. And be constructive and specific, pointing out specific examples of where an employee has done well and where they have room to grow.
- Provide continuous feedback. Don’t wait for the annual performance review to give employee feedback, cautioned Missele. That gives workers too much time to cultivate bad habits without the opportunity to fix them. Instead, feedback should be mixed into daily, spontaneous career conversations — and should be shared as close to the moment of a success or misstep as possible. Managers can jot down successes and areas for improvement in a notebook to mention to their direct reports soon after, advised Missele. A performance management platform can also provide a system to ensure that individuals get timely feedback.
“The majority of people want to behave in a way [in which] their colleagues enjoy working with them [and] they are somehow impacting the organization in a positive way,” said Missele. “As leaders, we can’t just use these formal performance review periods to give people thoughtful feedback.”
- Focus on soft skills. Employees, of course, need to bolster their competencies on the technical parts of their job. And there are plenty of ways for companies to facilitate this, including online classes, lunchtime workshops, and partnerships with local trade schools and continuing education programs. But coaching should center around soft skills, such as how to be a better communicator or leader, said Gary Mitchell, CEO and founder of OnTrac Coach, a company that specializes in business coaching for lawyers and legal firms. “Those [skills] are critical, and they are not taught anywhere,” he said.
Not sure where to start? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers some tips for teaching soft skills, including relying on coaching to bolster workers’ leadership capabilities.
2. Experiential Learning
Quite simply, people learn by doing, said Missele. Experiential learning offers employees a hands-on approach to reskilling (teaching employees new skills to tackle a new job or assignment) and upskilling (capitalizing on and extending workers’ existing skills).
“You can’t give your 16-year-old a book and say, ‘Read this and then we’re going to get your driver’s license,’” Missele noted. “It’s the same idea with any sort of professional development.”
According to global service organization the Institute for Experiential Learning, effective experiential learning involves concrete experiences followed by reflection, a period of abstract thinking to draw conclusions and make meaning of the experience, and lastly, action to try out what’s been learned. Throughout this process, students (or employees, in the context of corporate learning programs) are engaged, connected, and collaborative.
When a manager needs to learn to be a better coach, for example, role-playing, a form of experiential learning, is critical to building those skills. “We need to actually say the words out loud to be better at that thing,” said Missele. “You find someone you trust and you say, ‘I need to give someone feedback. Can I practice it with you?’”
What’s more, experiential learning provides the kinds of tailored educational opportunities that today’s workers crave as they chart their career paths. With the right program or platform in place, employees, excited about their new skills and expertise, might even be motivated to work on new training and eLearning opportunities on their own time.
“When you get people immersed in what they’re doing, they have their own individual experiences,” Missele said. “Their confidence level is higher. And they are more likely to engage in it longer term.”
3. Career Management
In previous generations, there was an obvious straight line to career success. Workers spent a lifetime at the same organization, mapping out their course based on an organizational chart and climbing the corporate ladder from entry-level employee to leader of a department or organization.
The modern workplace is less hierarchical, noted leadership coach Meredith Turney. “It’s more like a lattice where you weave back and forth. It’s not a straight ladder,” she said.
Career success can mean becoming a manager over a team, gaining every certification in a specific field as an employee moves from company to company, or even forgoing the managerial route altogether and opting instead to be an individual contributor. This shift away from the traditional corporate ladder is challenging our assumptions about the workplace, noted Turney. “It’s not about the title. It’s about ‘What am I contributing? How am I being compensated? And what am I getting out of this?’” she said.
When Turney works with clients, she advises them to not seek out a specific title, but to focus more on what they want to be doing, what responsibilities they want to take on, or what expertise they wish to gain. And Missele said that the key to career management is no longer helping employees fit into some prescribed path, but building a personalized plan for them.
“This is a major shift,” said Turney. “But I do think this is the future…A lot of young people don’t stay at a job more than a couple of years now. I don’t think they’re looking for a title — they’re looking for opportunities.”
Today’s managers must help their direct reports understand and define what motivates them so they can figure out what’s next, said Missele. Instead of asking employees what role they want in the future, managers should ask them what kind of coworker they want to be, she suggested.
If they say “helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly,” the manager can focus their employee feedback on behavior that helps the worker become those three things. For example, when giving feedback, the manager can point out ways the employee was helpful while working on a project, and instances where they could have been more supportive elsewhere.
“We don’t have to put [employees] in a box, but we can help them keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Missele said.
Holistic Talent Management
A holistic approach to learning and development in today’s workforce ties together these three pillars — coaching, experiential learning, and career management.
Effective and regular coaching provides one-on-one continuous feedback that helps workers identify where they want to go in their career.
In turn, coaching uncovers which experiential learning programs will provide employees with the hands-on, real-world experiences they need to dive into a topic of interest and bolster their job competencies, so they can tie those new learnings to career growth.
And that new knowledge can help them chart the individualized career management strategies that will determine their next steps.
According to Mitchell, these coaching and learning opportunities can boost employee engagement and retention and minimize the burnout that arises when companies don’t appropriately address the development needs of their people.
“Rather than try to make…employees the same to fit the old guard [and] the old model…focus on their strengths, [and] help them build those strengths with coaching [and] experiential learning,” said Mitchell. “You end up with a fully developed [employee] and a very, very strong team because you’re focused on each individual’s development. You’re going to improve happiness, engagement, [and] performance.”
Addressing the individual needs of employees and curating opportunities for self-reflection and learning takes work, Mitchell acknowledged. “But as a leader, it’s more fulfilling,” he said. “When you can see the results [and] growth…as something you had a part in, that’s really fulfilling.”
And as we look to the future of work and of the needs of workers, integrated growth and development programs that focus on accelerating the talent of an organization’s people are no longer nice ideas, but necessary ones that will translate into business impact.
“[Companies] that adapt and embrace this more forward-thinking HR policy and approach will be the winners at the end of the day,” said Mitchell. “The employees are going to be winners, no question. But the organizations will be winners as well.”
Employee development in today’s workforce requires more than annual reviews and one-off development programs. Today, organizations must address the demands of a workforce that expects to learn and grow on the job. Feedback must be continuous, and the approach must be personalized.
Employee development platforms can support that work — providing the individualized, real-time feedback that employees need to build new skills and grow in their careers, and the tools that make it easy for managers to be responsive to workers’ needs. Ready to learn how to revolutionize your employees’ learning, development, and growth? Schedule a Lattice demo today.