We have an enormous opportunity right now to change the face of employee education. With so much unrest, uncertainty and rapid change, this is the time to reevaluate traditional systems and make them work for the betterment of our people.
At the core of all education is the ability to instill and amplify confidence. According to Don Moore of University of California, Berkeley, confidence can be more important than competence when it comes to getting the job done. Confidence is at the root of high performance. If people experience confidence in the workplace — this means experiencing a sense of belonging, the presence of respect, value, and a belief that they will be seen and be heard for their contributions and unique attributes — then it will lead to an overall feeling of happiness and satisfaction. This leads to greater team performance, employee engagement, and growth of executive and leadership presence.
Unfortunately, the traditional system of corporate learning and development does not always achieve this goal or work toward fostering this quality at every level of the organization. Authentic skill building, coaching and individualized learning is key to achieving this vision.
Here’s what we can do to shift the learning ecosystem to bring about significant change and ultimately achieve greater business outcomes.
1. Commit to embodied learning.
There was a huge uptick in e-learning from the start of the pandemic. LinkedIn Learning offered their platform for free. Consultants all over the world started making online courses. Apps such as Bravely allowed for on-demand virtual coaching for enterprise-level support. Necessity truly is the mother of innovation.
Where there is an opportunity to amplify the current learning landscape and create a foundation for all future learning models is to incorporate more intentionally embodied learning methods. This is also known as experiential learning. Learning retention is much greater when combined with experiential components. This can look like role-play for a sales pitch, creating radical transparency through facilitated challenging conversation models or allowing managers to practice the art of feedback. It allows the learner to not only intellectually understand the material or skills, but to have an opportunity to immediately apply the skills and work through the process of integration in real time.
Beyond the proven benefits of experiential learning methodologies, it is vital to consider how disconnected we have become from our bodies and the impact this has on our performance. Communicating through a screen all day, learning through clicking buttons, reading emails, presenting virtually — all are happening from the neck up. Not only is a tremendous amount of information transferred through engaging the body, but it leads to a greater sense of vitality and energetic sustainability. Engaging the body promotes play, creative thinking, mental agility and a deeper level of presence and increased effectiveness in communication. These benefits will be amplified to an even greater degree when experiential learning happens as a group. And yes, this can still happen virtually. Give your employees consistent access to embodied learning opportunities. They will learn better and be more engaged in the long run.
2. Rely on data as the decision maker.
More often than not, impacts of training initiatives are not tracked in regard to long-term impact and behavior change. In our training, we have to explicitly require our corporate partners to incorporate data collection. This benefits everyone involved but is not a consistently agreed-upon best practice.
An enormous amount of money is spent on L&D in the U.S. each year — $87.6 billion to be exact. Imagine spending that sum of money on anything and having even a modest level of certainty that it will be a worthwhile investment. We can anecdotally presume positive outcomes, but there is rarely proof. This is a massive oversight and lost opportunity on behalf of organizations to invest as wisely as possible in the development and empowerment of their people.
Data must be collected internally around development programming. This ensures that employees are getting credit for their growth or support where growth is still possible. It also assists in the creation of programming roadmaps and budget allocations.
The disruptive solution here is to also require consultants and vendors to have evidence-backed programs. This is in addition to robust testimonials, winning referrals and a compelling client list. Those factors are important and certainly necessary when selecting preferred vendors, but data will ultimately substantiate all of that anecdotal evidence. It will increase the integrity of the consulting industry, especially for boutique vendors and smaller firms, along with increasing the integrity of the overall pool of education resources available to the people within the organization.
3. Decide that learning retention matters.
There is a toxic pattern in employee development that needs to be addressed. The current approach is to have a one- or two-day training with a consultant or to offer an e-learning course and call it a day. It is a check-the-box approach to learning rather than an approach housed in a commitment to fostering lasting behavior change. Ensure that even if you only have a one- or two-day event, you have a plan to continue the education process in a meaningful way. We understand that most employee development initiatives see a meager 25 percent improvement on performance to any measurable degree and only 12 percent of employees actually apply new skills — presumably less for skills that they have already had exposure to. This happens because we don’t see consistent practice of reinforcement learning. This can happen through multiple series consulting engagements (this is our approach at Energize Your Voice) or through a clear coaching and mentorship plan for integrating the new skills.
Organizations need to think differently about how they consider the power of education. It is an employee perk and a requirement for all established companies. To make an investment in your people and for that investment to have real financial impact, education needs to be the goal and learning retention needs to be a conscious commitment. To promote high performance post training, there needs to be the simple process of Apply, Practice, Revise, Continue:
- Apply the learning.
- Put the learning into consistent and conscious practice.
- Revise behavior and approach to integrating the learning should any performance challenges present themselves.
- Continue to reinforce the learning and grow the learning over time.
This can happen as an internal commitment through manager engagement and leadership support, or this can happen by enrolling the consultant to be the resource for continued learning and retention.
What is at stake if retention is not a focus? It is the confidence of your people. Your people want to know you care about their success. By implementing sincere development programming, your people will know you have their best interest at heart. This will lead to greater employee engagement and directly impact their confidence in the process of learning and continuing to grow in their skills and knowledge.
Confidence can also be undermined if this is not the case. When an employee participates in a training, they may leave feeling proud and inspired. Over the course of the next few days and weeks, if that learning is not reinforced or applied consistently in an intentional way, the employee runs the risk of forgetting up to 75 percent of what was learned. This is known as the “forgetting curve.” This will not only demonstrate a poor investment in that training initiative, but the employee is now vulnerable to feeling shame or losing confidence as a result of not remembering. There is an opportunity to maintain a high level of confidence through a very deliberate shift in action.
4. Establish education as a cultural pillar.
I see so many organizations celebrate curiosity and innovation. They encourage failure and risk-taking as mechanisms for growth. These are such exciting evolutions from generations past, but there is something missing in this equation — built-in infrastructure to create resilience in these practices. When risk-taking is a driving value, it takes sincere resources to cultivate this behavior in a way that maintains confidence if or when failure is the outcome of that risk. Similarly with curiosity, if the minds of the curious are not guided through meaningful and continuous learning, that curiosity muscle will weaken or not be guided in a manner that results in powerful business outcomes. Education as a value is in service of the empowerment of your people and ultimately, without guilt, in service of building your bottom line.
Shifting the organizational mindset around value systems requires a change initiative and can seem somewhat intimidating to consider undergoing. It requires moving from a space where training is perfunctory to a space where it is met as inspired action. There are three immediate approaches to creating multi-level buy-in that will not only make learning outcomes more meaningful, but also considerably increase employee engagement:
- Make learning optional.
- Move from mandate to invitation.
- Modify education initiatives to become employee-designed.
When you make training an invitation rather than a mandate, there is greater likelihood for retained learning and authentic application of the learning. Opting in becomes a self-motivated process as opposed to one that is motivated by such drivers as competition, optics and obligation. Confidence within the learning process will increase because the alignment of desire and benefit is intrinsic.
From a broader organizational perspective, the implications here are tremendous. You will cultivate a more deeply engaged workforce. You will identify where your employees are placing their attention when it comes to learning and thereby be able to grow your business in accordance with their areas of expertise and interest, making it a truly collaborative model. You will also be able to very quickly identify those who are invested in personal development — and by association, the development of the organization as a whole — and those who are not. This will allow you to make decisions about who to retain or remove in an effort to create the most cohesive and committed workforce.
Employees will be more inspired to opt in to education initiatives when the programs available speak directly to their needs. You give your employees choices that are a direct reflection of their needs as determined by them. Even for the trainings that are requisite from an HR perspective, employees can have a hand in determining what that looks like and how those learnings are presented. This can be done with little friction through a series of surveys, audits and focus groups. Give your people what they want in regard to learning and you will reap enormous benefits.
5. Embed a commitment to your community.
Your employees and your consumers are becoming more insistent on corporate values reflecting their personal values. What we are seeing as a non-negotiable demand is a hyper-focused lens on equity. This looks like amplified DEI initiatives, development of stronger affinity group networks, evaluation of equity in hiring and promotion practices, and massive internal culture assessments. Where we see potential to amplify L&D practices is through democratized access to high-quality corporate development initiatives. Once you have shored up meaningful learning as an organization, it is time to bring those learnings to your community. Empowering your people without empowering the public is an old vision for employee development.
At Energize Your Voice, we have made this process possible for our corporate partners through our Buy1Give1: A Path Forward program. Every training purchased by one of our corporate partners will result in a gifted half-day training to one of our four nonprofit partners. Four new nonprofits will be selected every year, thereby expanding impact and access to skills training.
We are a boutique Brooklyn-based communications firm and we were able to implement this program for little to no additional resources beyond time and facilitator compensation. We are empowering the nonprofits to be more influential in fundraising efforts, create narratives around the organization that inspire action, and to build infrastructure for internal communication and pathways for leadership. Our nonprofit partners would not typically have access to or resources for this level of training. Through our B1G1 program, we are able to bring the high-quality training available to Fortune 500 companies directly to their community. The social, economic and political power of public speaking can change someone’s life. Through our corporate gift model, we have the opportunity to change the lives of so many individuals and increase equity through education.
An initiative like this amplifies the impact of your corporate training programs. Not only will the reputation of the company be elevated by such a small but meaningful integration, but the employees will be that much more inspired by their learnings knowing that they are not only empowering themselves, but they are empowering the communities they directly serve. It is imperative that you seek out vendors and training partners who reflect the values of your people and incorporate a layer of equity or amplified community impact. Taking cues from such disruptors as Toms Shoes or Warby Parker, the consulting industry has the opportunity to initiate a massive shift in expectation around the impact of their work. Organizations can create similar internal initiatives through direct giving or strategic partnerships. Now is the time to transform the notion of empowering human capital.
At the foundation of education is the power of choice. Through the process of meaningful learning, your employees and your community will be given the choice in how they engage in daily tasks, advance in their leadership, or have agency to promote their unique ideas and advocate for their individual value. Every proposal laid out in this article begins with making a choice.
- Choose to think human first.
- Choose to revisit old systems.
- Choose to challenge leadership on how they invest in their people and in the public.
People trust power that is generous, curious and likeable. Give your people what they need. Discover how you can best support their learning and development. Collaborate and co-create in this process. Let’s rise together.
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