4 ways companies can drive employee learning & development

Companies and HR teams have been in crisis mode for a long time. With so much in flux, it’s tempting to put perceived “nice-to-haves” like employee learning and development (L&D) programs on the backburner. You might even think that employees want you to ease off until things stabilize.

But with so many worried about job security right now, this is actually the best time to double down on those programs.

We’ve all read about some of the creative ways companies are keeping morale high — like Zoom happy hours, weekly yoga, and movie nights. Showing that you’re still invested in employees’ long-term careers might be the most effective “engagement hack” of all.

1. Partner with managers to drive L&D

Leadership can say that they’re making development a priority, but you need managers’ help to actually see results. The manager-employee relationship is central in driving adoption for any HR program, let alone L&D.

Managers should already be meeting with their reports every week. Those one-on-one meetings are great for discussing career development and encouraging employees to leverage your L&D budget. Dedicate at least one one-on-one per quarter to career and growth conversations — the day-to-day minutiae you might have discussed otherwise can wait.

There are other ways managers can get employees thinking about development on an ongoing basis. Have managers regularly challenge reports to come to the table with a virtual course or conference they’d like to attend. You can also give them a platform to share what they’ve learned via a company-sponsored lunch and learn. This isn’t just a way to educate the rest of your team — it’s actually a great way to recognize the presenter’s expertise in a public, meaningful way.

2. Make growth part of your goal-setting culture

Companies usually think of goal-setting in the context of traditional business targets, like revenue or growth. But development is just as important in the long-term, and lending it “goal status” gives it legitimacy in employees’ eyes.

Ask everyone at your company to set at least one development-related goal every quarter. If that means deprioritizing another goal because the employee would otherwise be overwhelmed, that’s fine — a philosophy that should be broadcast by your C-suite. If you don’t do that, employees and their managers are going to treat L&D goals like an afterthought rather something they need to dedicate time to.

L&D goals aren’t so different than the ones you’re already accustomed to. They should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based). For example, “complete 40 hours of coaching and management training before Q4” is a clear, actionable goal for an employee aspiring to lead. Likewise, “Enroll in a copywriting course this month” is a great goal for someone in a marketing or communications position.

3. Add variety to your offerings

Ask any teacher — everyone learns differently. Traditional webinars might resonate with some employees but fall flat for others. The best way to get employees to participate in your L&D program, remote or not, is to give them plenty of options and mediums to choose from.

In addition to sponsoring training courses or virtual conference tickets, consider things like book reimbursement policies or even weekly “master class” viewings that your team can opt into. Though we often think of learning as solitary, there are ways you can make it an interactive, shared activity. Asking employees to participate in virtual book clubs, for example, can help generate discussion (and maybe some healthy debate) on the business topics they care most about.

4. Make soft skills part of the curriculum

Take a broader view of what programs and skills are “fair game” for your L&D budget. Now that most of us are remote, soft skills like listening and collaboration are just as (if not more) important than ever. Encourage employees to think beyond their tactical, day-to-day skillsets and expand their understanding of what professional development really means. By giving them more options, your employees will spend less time laboring over which course they think will get approved and more time actually learning something new.

Remember, this includes your managers. Now is a great time for them to work on more nuanced leadership skills, like coaching, delegating, and active listening. Your managers shouldn’t have to worry that their request to enroll in an unconscious bias or mediation course might be denied. These are absolutely the skills you would want your leaders to exemplify today.

Learning and development aren’t any less important just because most of us are remote right now. With everyone anxious about job security, now is the time to reinvest in your L&D offerings and demonstrate that you’re still committed to their growth. Use these tips, in lockstep with your HR team and managers, to build a culture that always prioritizes and celebrates “what’s next.”

Jack Altman is the co-founder and chief executive officer at Lattice. Prior to launching Lattice, Jack was the VP of Business and Corporate Development at Teespring, an e-commerce platform. Jack was also an early-stage venture capital investor in companies like Opendoor, Flexport, and PlanGrid. Jack earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics from Princeton.

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