The key to keeping people motivated and engaged at work is simple: Give them opportunities to learn and grow on the job. It makes sense—it’s so much more enjoyable to work in a setting where you can expand your skill set and solve new challenges. Too much repetition and things get old fast.
According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would remain with an organization longer if it invested in their career development. Executives agree: 90% of them believe L&D is a necessary benefit for the company. And research by Bersin found that companies that effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period of time.
So we can see that everyone is more or less on the same page: Employees crave learning opportunities, executives see the value in investing in L&D, and research shows that committing to learning pays off in business returns. But it’s not enough to simply invest in an L&D program—real change relies on building a culture of learning throughout your organization and tapping into employees’ innate motivation to learn. Let’s look at a few ways to accomplish this.
1. Hire curious people
One of the easiest ways to support a culture of learning is to hire people who already value growth and development. They’ll arrive at your company with a predisposition to learn, minimizing the amount of time managers or other leaders will need to spend encouraging them to seek out learning opportunities. In a Harvard Business Review article, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Josh Bersin write, “If you hire people who are naturally curious, and maximize the fit between their interests and the role they are in, you will not have to worry so much about their willingness to learn or be on their case to unlock their curiosity.”
But how do you know someone is curious and open to learning? It turns out that there are a number of traits that increase a person’s propensity to learn and develop intellectually. Personality assessments that measure openness to new experience can help you determine whether a candidate is curious, imaginative, flexible, and interested in trying new things. And in case you didn’t know, openness to new experience is one of the Big 5 personality traits measured by Plum’s pre-employment assessment. Learn more about these traits and our assessment in The Big 5 Personality Traits and How They Apply to Hiring.
2. Start early
Beyond assessing and hiring candidates who are curious and open to learning new experiences, you can build learning into your new hire onboarding program. This sets the tone early on that your organization values learning and provides resources to encourage employee growth. You can include activities like asking new hires to complete a specific onboarding curriculum—perhaps they need to engage with team members from throughout the company to learn about their goals and projects or they might need to get up to speed on your customers, value proposition, or other aspect of your business. Managers might assign tasks as part of the 30/60/90 day plan that include meeting specific people for informational interviews or job shadowing. Or, you may simply prompt them to choose a topic that’s of interest to them (whether it relates specifically to their job or an outside interest) so they can become familiar with your L&D content.
Google’s Re:Work resource on learning explains, “Making it clear and explicit from day one that learning is expected and part of everyone’s job is an important opportunity. Consider how you can incorporate it directly into new hire orientation or encourage managers to bring it up with new team members.”
3. Look to your leaders
You’re probably already aware of the impact managers can have on their direct reports. Not only do managers impact how their direct reports feel about their jobs, but they have a significant effect on what their direct reports do on a regular basis. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 56% of employees would spend more time learning if their manager suggested a specific course. The same report found that increased manager involvement is the #2 challenge for talent developers.
Besides taking an active interest in their direct reports’ learning, managers can influence learning by setting a positive example. In the Harvard Business Review article mentioned earlier, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Josh Bersin write, “when managers are learning, they set an example to other employees that learning is valued: leaders’ behaviors — particularly what they routinely do — have a strong influence on the behavior and performance of their teams. And the more senior that leaders are, the more impactful their behaviors will be on the rest of the organization.”
Managers and leaders can communicate when they’re taking time to learn, whether they’re taking a course, working with a coach or mentor, or attending a conference. Besides noting these activities on their calendars, they can share some of the highlights with their teams, demonstrating that taking time to learn is encouraged and supported—and that they’re continuing to reflect on the experience and apply it to their lives.
4. Treat learning like a process, not an event
One of the keys to a successful professional development program is to support “continuous learning” rather than a one-off approach. This encourages employees to learn on an ongoing basis through application, reflection, and skills development.
For some organizations, this might mean shifting your focus away from one-off, hard skills development to continuous, talents-based development. Talents are transferable across the different roles and projects that are encountered during an employee’s career journey. In other words, it’s not just about taking a course to learn how to create pivot tables (although that may be necessary from time to time)—it’s about building skills that will help an employee succeed in this role, and the next one, and the one after that, and… well, you get the picture!
Adapting to the future of work requires talent acquisition and talent management to go beyond “one and done” processes, to instead take an active, ongoing approach to recruiting, hiring, growing, and advancing your talent. We cover learning and the future of work in much more detail in our eBook, Talent and the Future of Work. Download your free copy here.
You have two paths in front of you. One leads to building an organization full of engaged and productive employees. The other leads to a company full of people who are sleeping through their jobs and just watching the clock until the end of the day. Which path will you choose? And which steps will you take to help your organization come along with you?
Melissa Suzuno is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketer who enjoys exploring the intersection of people and work. Find Melissa on LinkedIn and Twitter.