Capabilities thrive on culture, and not on learning interventions alone!
What is the recipe to successful learning & talent interventions? Most of us who have been living ‘learning & development’ would pick our sides as an answer to this question, and the most common answers would be: Blended Design, Leadership Buy-in, Accurate Diagnostics or Strategic Learning Partnerships. But are our own thoughts, efforts and ideas so powerful in itself that the success of capability development relies on that, or is there more to it? Before answering that, let me tell you a story first. When I was growing up, my father was quite a disciplinarian. We (my siblings & me) would go to school every day, keep our books in order, stayed out of trouble & studied religiously to stay on top of the class. We would score in top three or five every time and would keep trying to do better than the last time. The interesting thing is that our dad never asked us how much did we score in tests and exams. Neither did our mother. And yet all three of us (my siblings and me) felt that it was important to keep studying and score well. All he did was this: once in a while, he would ask us what we studied in school. When we would go with him for shopping, he would ask us to total the expenses and tell him the sum. During festivals, while fixing the lights, he would often call us and ask how electricity works. We would point out positive and negative charges for him. On weekends, he would read stories from our Literature Books and ask us to correctly translate for him. We felt the need to be prepared to answer his questions. And soon without us realising, we were competing to give the maximum number of correct answers. In hindsight, I believe that my father was trying to build a culture of learning & capability in our house where scores were not important but demonstrating that knowledge was. And hence we felt the need to consistently outperform ourselves.
It’s the same in business. In organizations where leaders ask each other, “What are they learning?”, or “What’s the new skill they have learnt in recent times”, they initiate a dialogue on skilling & intrinsically encourage employees to pick up new skills and strengthen their current ones. But it’s easier said than done. As per a research done by LinkedIn Learning in 2018, 94% of employees would prefer to stay in a company if it’s invested in their career. And yet the number one reason why employees feel held back from learning is because they don’t have enough time to learn as cited in the same report. Along with that, the greatest challenge in learning for an employee remains the lack of involvement from managers and leaders. A singular intervention or a bunch of technology-driven initiatives might be a short-term solution to capability gaps, but an organization truly becomes a learning organization when you actively build a culture that enables learning. How to do that? Let’s see.
Change the conversation:
As per an article published in Harvard Business Review a few years back, leadership is a conversation and the culture of the company is shaped largely by how leaders drive conversations. To be able to build an all-pervasive learning culture, we need to change organizational dialogue & initiate conversations around – what people are learning, what they have learnt in recent times, and what are the skills that they are planning to learn for future roles. If leaders & people managers bring this one tiny change in their conversations, it would only be a matter of time before they actually witness a positive shift in their company culture towards learning.
Encourage cross-pollination of skills:
More often than not, organizational departments work in silos, tightly holding on to what they have achieved, and how they have achieved it. This is probably what results into duplicity of resources and investments. Imagine a situation wherein functions in an organization could loan & borrow employees with select skillset for a fixed interval of time within the organization rather than buying it from outside. It would not only enable a constant pace of business but also encourage employees to leverage their skillsets & add real value. Such practices also propels the Capability Engine to run skilling & learning initiatives towards what the business needs.
To be able to encourage learning, incentivise the act. Many companies these days allocate Skill Coins/ Learning Currency that employees can accrue over a period of time, and spend in learning a new skill. Companies can also bundle it as part of their recognition policy and encourage employees to reward each other with learning currency, which could be spent on purchasing a learning program, certification or workshop for themselves. This could also be offered as part of annual appraisals, career milestones or life events. Say if an employee has taken an internal transfer, s/he is eligible for a fixed amount of ‘learning currency’ to invest in their reskilling efforts. In this way, you are transforming the outlook on learning as well as incentivising the act itself.
Merchandise your learning solutions:
What gets seen is what gets sold. Unless employees can see what’s available to their advantage, they won’t be properly motivated to take the leap. Showcase your learning solutions. Publish case-studies of employees who have reached where they have reached, and what skills have helped them. Merchandise your learning solutions and journeys to team’s basis their needs, preferences & interests. Change your learning merchandise every quarter depending on employee pulse & business requirements. And then show them where they can learn it from.
Build employee communities:
World’s greatest brands like Apply rely a lot on user-generated communities for problem-solving & experience sharing. Nothing stops us from leveraging that to promote learning. Let there be discussions around skills, experiences, behaviours and careers. And let those be driven by employees themselves. When your employees become learning ambassadors & guide fellow colleagues towards the best solutions available, you have started to influence the culture. Create groups based on hobbies, roles, skills and functions & make participation voluntary to drive organic growth.
Capability Development is just not about designing intelligent solutions & driving those full-throttle. To be able to truly take your organizational capability to the next level, start focusing your efforts towards building a learning culture. The first step of which is to change the conversation. And you can begin that NOW.
*Views expressed are personal.