Any organization is really the sum of its parts. As Zig Ziglar once said, "You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build your business.”
That's why each and every employee should be seen as a critical part in a larger machine. When each part operates at its highest level, the machine does too.
While that's a somewhat generic reason to focus on training employees for the greater benefit of the organization, there's also a more pressing one. Never in history has there been a more important time to invest in employee learning and development programs. Technology innovations are making everything in the broader culture (and every job function within businesses across industries) change so quickly that not leveraging a learning platform to educate staff at every level means falling behind.
Stagnation is not an option. Continual learning is a must.
According to Deloitte in its Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, "...more than eight in 10 executives (84 percent) view learning as an important (40 percent) or very important (44 percent) issue." This is due to several connections that have become crystal clear in recent years (both in research and by individual observation). There are clear connections: 1) between a highly skilled staff and the performance of the company; 2) between an informed, happy staff and satisfied customers; and 3) between an engaged staff and the financial benefits of employee retention.
With all of that said, there are countless ways to create programs aimed at driving individual performance, knowing its direct effect on the success of the organization, but also depending on the unique structure and culture of that company. To speak in broader terms and to get your wheels turning on how you might do this in your own environment, here are four ways to leverage learning to accelerate employee performance:
1. Train leaders for trickle-down performance improvement.
Stellar leadership supports and enhances employee performance. The value of leadership training then, essentially delivers double ROI. You gain the benefits of investing in managers who will head-up great teams and are more likely to stay with the company for the long haul, and you strengthen employee performance by giving them the types of bosses who have the skills needed to increase engagement, satisfaction, company commitment, and retention. Simply put, most people do better work for bosses whom they like and respect, so train your leaders accordingly.
2. Create a gateway between learning and communication.
As a segue-way from the point above, one of the less-talked-about benefits of a great training program is that it can open the lines of dialogue between people and their bosses. This improves performance in a number of profound (but, again, rarely discussed, ways). In a culture of learning, people can approach their manager and express the need to take a certain course or develop a particular skill that's causing them to lag behind in their roles.
Similarly, if they struggled through a required course, they may be able to share these shortcomings with their team and ask for coaching or mentoring to improve performance. These conversations may extend even further, in authentically supportive environments, where employees feel safe to say that they aren't sure of what's expected or where the trajectory of the role could take them long-term. Progressive managers should ask questions like, "What new skills would help you exceed performance goals?" and "Do your peers have proficiencies that you'd like to develop?" The answers to those questions are worth their weight in gold to the company.
3. Develop very specific and sought-after skills.
It's a fact; highly skilled people are extremely valuable to your organization. This statement is not at all meant to slight the inherent human value and real contributions of less "skilled" workers, but the more education and training required to fill certain positions means longer hiring processes, higher salaries, and generally more effort and expense to the company to get the next people on board. Some companies still offer only one-size-fits-all course offerings, but with highly skilled workers, this likely isn't enough. Consider allowing them to create their own learning paths that include even esoteric selections. By offering very specific learning and development to this subset of workers, you not only continue to keep them at the cutting edge of their competencies, you also prove that you acknowledge and appreciate their knowledge and expertise. On both fronts, performance may improve as a result.
4. Train to support employees under pressure.
An overly stressed staff is synonymous with low customer satisfaction (not to point out the obvious low employee satisfaction). Whether offering conflict resolution courses for service agents or negotiation skills to sales people, keep in mind the pressure that some of your staff are under and that training is the direct line to diffusing that stress. When you teach the skills and knowledge needed to perform well under pressure, you'll see significantly better outcomes in performance. For already-maxed-out people in higher stress roles, however, do keep in mind that micro-learning should be your go-to. They're already short on time (and energy), so to reduce further anxiety and improve information retention, stick with short and sweet for that crew.
In summary, there's never been a better time to commit to employee learning and development, but despite the effort and investment, doing so means reaping serious rewards. Some of the benefits are tougher to quantify than others, but you can't argue with the fact that higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement contribute to higher productivity and reduction in employee churn. Empowering employees with the learning they need to perform better will propel the organization forward and is a notable competitive advantage.