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How Can I Create a Willingness to Learn Among My Employees?

My company wants to enable employees and their reporting managers to take complete ownership of the learning process, from identifying learning objectives to figuring out the best way to learn. What are the ways I can create this 'willingness to learn' among employees so that they actually take ownership?

--Shared Responsibility, manufacturing production, Mumbai, India

June 17, 2014
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Dear Shared Responsibility:

Engaging employees and managers in taking personal accountability for learning and development requires a quality foundation that they see as relevant and valid. Changing the culture is a final outcome, not the opening argument. A quality foundation needs to be established around the purpose/mission/goals of the business unit, the goals of the job, the skill/performance requirements of the job and the current state of the individual relative to the requirements.

Benchmarking the job’s talent requirements using a role’s key accountabilities will go a long way to creating this quality foundation for individuals.

In manufacturing production, there are technical skill requirements across most of the jobs. There are also certain soft skills that enable high performance. Training for technical skill competency and ignoring the soft skill development needs for the job can greatly affect the expected outcome. Ensuring any initiative is seen as relevant and valid for the manager and employee will make the following strategy steps easier to implement.

To increase engagement in creating the foundation for training and development personal accountability, try using these steps:

·       Increase urgency for change by developing a change vision first. This requires creating a compare and contrast current and future state image (not data) that makes it personal. 

·       Share success stories/examples of what current state and a desired future state look like.

·       Based on that new sense of urgency from some, look for the early adopters from both managers and employees. Build “pilot teams” based on the individual interest to follow through with pursuit of the change vision – to take personal accountability for training and development.

·       Budget appropriately for development – don’t make it difficult for managers to cost-justify training budgets. Expect success stories to drive other, slower adopting managers to start budgeting for the same training for their employees. Low ROI on a training initiative won’t likely be repeated by others.

·       Enable the “pilot teams” to determine their own vision – to define what needs to change (that results in a learning and development objective) and the best way to make the vision a reality. This doesn’t replace a learning and development (L&D) function or staff. The pilot team members have their own job to do. They don’t have time to research the training options but they do have insight and opinions that can help an L&D staff member define, focus and compile relevant research. The L&D member can then report back to the pilot team what solutions they identified and empower the pilot team to evaluate and select the right L&D solution.

·       Keep in mind the 70percent-20percent-10percent training rule – 70percent of learning will be through experience, 20percent through exposure and 10percent through education. Create a L&D strategy with that formula in mind.

·       Communicate to the greater organization what is happening and share any success stories coming out of the initiative – do your homework prior to communicating, especially to understand what people are feeling.

·       Empower action by employees and managers. Recognition and reward systems are certainly part of this – they need to inspire, promote optimism and build self-confidence in program participants. You want to reward behaviors/efforts that you want repeated. But a great L&D solution is usually something participants will easily “recommend” to co-workers.  Rather than taking the success and rolling it out as a mandate to all, use “classes” or “cohorts” where the members of the new class or cohort are nominated by a manager or past participant. By creating a sense of “by invitation only” you create a natural interest by others and will create demand for the training. Be sure to watch for bosses who seriously disempower their subordinates.

·        Look for early wins from the training. Make those wins as visible as possible to as many people as possible – wins that are meaningful, unambiguous and speak to powerful players whose ongoing support you need.

·       If the training solution is applicable to a broad cross-section of the operation, don’t let up with a pilot. Once the pilot has been deemed a success, look for ways to improve it using participant feedback and immediately organize and implement the next offering of training. Limit the number of participants. If you need to be more aggressive, start offering the training program more frequently but only one class registration at a time to maintain a sense of demand for the program. Include training and development personal accountability as part of the performance review process.

·       Use training personal accountability success stories from employees to showcase in new hire orientation and use the promotions process to place people who are taking personal accountability for their own learning and development into influential and visible positions.

According to John Kotter at the Harvard Business School, “a culture truly changes only when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed over some minimum period of time.” Trying to shift the norms and values before you have created the new way of operating does not work. The vision can talk of a new culture for training and development personal accountability. You can create new behaviors that reflect personal accountability for training and development. But those new behaviors will not become norms and take hold until the very end of the process as I’ve outlined above.

SOURCE:Carl Nielson, The Nielson Group, Dallas

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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