Empowering Employee Development Through a Culture of Learning

Employee Development & Learning

It's getting tough out there for employers.

As EdAssist's Mark Ward reported last week, the labor market is tightening and it's forcing companies to get creative with their recruitment and retention strategies. Increasingly, today's employers are going to have to fight for great hires, hire for potential, develop existing talent, and invest in their employees in a way that makes them want to stay with the organization over the long-term.

Given that, embedding continuous learning and development opportunities in the company - or creating what we call a learning culture - seems to be a no brainer. According to Bersin, the most mature learning organizations are the ones in which a learning culture exists. But as panelists discussed earlier this year at our Solutions at Work LIVE conference, creating a learning culture takes leadership and focus.

Employee Development: The Experts Weigh In

To that end, our panelists -- Career Services Director for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan's Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust Tom Rauch; BH VP of Learning Services and Organizational Development Helen Zarba; and well-known learning leader Anita Augustine (formerly of organizations including Rockwell Collins and Wal-Mart) -- gave the Solutions at Work LIVE audience solid advice about not just what learning offers in a company, but precisely how to demonstrate the value of learning across the organization.

Three of the highlights:

Get Your Leaders Personally Invested

It isn't easy to get leadership to see the value in employee learning. But Anita says it helps to get them personally invested. To do that, she'd often challenge reluctant corporate heads to become teachers or students themselves by advising them on their own professional development, or asking them to teach others about areas of their expertise. By putting executives in the role of teacher and/or student, she says, she was able to engender a new respect and appreciation for the influence education can have on individuals and organizations.

Show Don't Tell

Leaders often make statements like "our company needs to grow," or "our company needs to be more agile." But Anita pointed out that companies don't develop those abilities - people do. So it's up to learning professionals to show leadership that the ability to grow or transform the company is going to start with people expanding their skill sets.

How do you make that case? Tom stressed the importance of illustrating the straight line between educating employees and the achievement of strategic goals. He shared a compelling example:  he and a colleague took their company's 2015 strategic plan and identified what skills their employees would need to execute that plan. Then they showed how the company would have to support employees to develop those necessary skills. By tying the strategic goals to learning plans, you can illustrate the clear connection between the business' growth and employee development.

Engage Your Middle Managers

Middle managers are key to ensuring that employee development and learning programs are deeply rooted in the culture, said Helen. But their influence is often overlooked.

So Helen and her team have created leadership programs at Bright Horizons aimed specifically at these critical influencers. The curriculum helps managers become coaches who can foster continuous learning within their teams. Because they're early in their careers and so are willing to incorporate new management approaches, middle managers are often especially open to adopting these best practices. And there's another benefit: as more Millennials take on middle management positions, such professional development opportunities are likely to help retain young talent.

The Benefits of Learning Cultures

Trends in the employment market are creating urgency for employers to develop learning cultures. Millennials are actively seeking these types of opportunities, and learning and employee development should top the list of go-to-strategies to attract them.

Companies are challenged to transform and pivot to respond to market place shifts and disruptions. Providing employees with the support to also evolve their skill sets will be key for organizations to survive and thrive.

Written by: Jessica Kaplan

About the Author

Jessica Kaplan at Bright Horizons

As Director, Talent Management, Jessica is responsible for connecting employees and management to the most effective learning and development opportunities offered by Bright Horizons. She also helps facilitate internal collaboration for organizational success. Jessica brings nearly 20 years of experience in professional development and higher education administration to her role. Prior to this role she held key roles in the Client Relations and Academic Partnerships teams. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University, a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University and has completed PhD coursework in International Higher Education Policy at the University of Maryland.