Among the many responsibilities that come with leadership, one that I’m particularly passionate about is facilitating the learning and growth of those you serve. This was also the focus of last week’s HCI Learning and Leadership Development conference where leaders from a wide range of industries and backgrounds offered their viewpoints and experiences on learning, leadership and fostering growth in your organization.
After attending this conference, I wanted to encapsulate some of the perspectives shared by these presenters, along with some of my own thoughts on what you can do to create a learning environment for your employees and with it, create conditions that will help your organization to evolve and grow in meeting the challenges and needs found in today’s global economy.
1. ‘Focus on behaviours to change culture. Behaviours turn into attitudes, and attitudes become the culture.’ – Bob Bennett, Vice President, Human Resources and CLO Global Organizational Learning Development and Services, FedEx Express
While we might rely on training programs to help inform our employees about what we want to accomplish and how, we have to be mindful of the reality that it’s the behaviours our employees see every day that help to shape their attitudes and understandings of what’s acceptable to those in charge. Although training programs are useful in imparting information and ideas, it’s our daily behaviours that provide the context for those ideas.
The behaviours we exemplify and evoke in others also serves to shape workplace attitudes and with it, the real culture and values found in your organization.
So while training programs are important for distributing information and ideas, it’s critical that you follow this up with an understanding of what behaviours are supported or tolerated in your organization and how they serve to educate your employees not just about your organization’s culture, but of what truly matters to those in charge.
2. ‘We have to meet our employees where they are at and with what they need.’ – Melissa Daimler, Head of Organizational Effectiveness & Learning, Twitter
One of the problems with most training programs is that they’re created based on what those in charge want and not on what your employees need.
To facilitate the learning and development of your employees, and with it the growth of your organization, you need to understand where your employees are presently in their career development and what tools and resources they’ll need to begin the next stage of their growth.
Building on Bob Bennett’s point above, that means recognizing that learning opportunities are not limited to time spent away in training sessions or classrooms, but can be found in every day activities and events in your organization. It means not just assigning tasks to your employees to keep them busy, but also giving them the tools to assess and evaluate where to go next and at times, why things went wrong.
This is the key to innovation and learning from failure – where we enable our employees to get things done while providing them with the time and resources to understand why some measures worked and others failed so that they can be better prepared the next time around.
To share another quote from Melissa Daimler’s talk, “we have to keep thinking in terms of our employees and what’s going to work”.
3. “If you are your best person when you come to work, we benefit.” – John Reid-Dodick, Chief People Officer, AOL
It’s easy to assume that putting all this focus on helping our employees to grow and develop provides mostly a benefit for them and not for our organization. The reality, though, is that how your employees approach their work and their roles within your team will have a tangible impact not only on their performance, but on their willingness to give their discretionary effort to your shared purpose.
By showing your employees that you care about what matters to them and want them to be successful in their efforts, it makes it easier for them to care and to be invested in what matters to you and your organization because they see that you’re not just a team or company, but a community gathered around a shared purpose.
4. “At the heart of social learning is connection.” – Liza Taylor, Director of Talent Development, Hulu
This particular statement stood out for me, in large part because of the two important meanings about learning that can be derived from it.
The first one is how learning is very much a social activity. Consider, for example how for most of us the fond memories we have of our school days are not just about what we learned, but of the teachers and friends who were a part of that learning journey. Being able to celebrate and commiserate with others as they share with us the process of learning about a new idea or technique is unquestionably important to the learning process and the sense of value and meaning we derive from it.
Also, if we look at some of the advice given by those who’ve successfully dealt with failure, one of the points they make is not to hide these moments, but to share them with others to help with the process of understanding how to frame and learn from those experiences.
Indeed, as Mike Barger, Chief Operating Officer at Corp U pointed out during his talk, creating a community around employee and leadership development initiatives helps to contextualize the learning process as well as improving the creative problem-solving competencies of your organization.
Consequently, as much as your organization should focus on what your employees need to learn to become better contributors to your shared purpose, you also need to provide them with opportunities to share that process with others, be it through in-person gatherings or through internal company social media portals.
The second meaning that we can derive from Liza Taylor’s statement is that whatever learning opportunities we do provide to our employees needs to be connected to what they do and what matters to them. Your employees should be able to see how these training and learning opportunities will help them to be more successful in their efforts, rather than simply viewing it as an add-on to their current understandings or knowledge.
This last point is particularly important when we consider that it’s through our employees’ efforts that our organization creates a product or service. As such, if you want to ensure that your organization remains at the forefront, you need to provide opportunities where your employees are encouraged to stretch themselves, celebrating their successes and facilitating their ability to learn from their failures. This way, your organization won’t just be doing what it’s always done, but will be driven to continually look for ways to do things better.
And that perhaps is the most important point – that if we want our organization to grow and thrive in today’s global market, we have to meet the needs of our employees by understanding what they require from us to continue to develop their skills and abilities so that they can become more productive and valued members of our team.
As Melissa Daimler pointed out during her presentation, when it comes to learning and growth in our organization, “it’s all about them, not us”.