Growing up in a tiny town in Jamaica, I never imagined I would one day work as a chief people officer at a startup in Dallas. My hometown has a population of just 400 people. I was the first in my family of nine to earn a college degree, but I dedicated myself to gaining an education. I first hoped to go to medical school. When that proved too expensive, I tested into a more affordable journalism program. I later settled into a public relations role at one of the Caribbean’s largest telecom companies before leaving Jamaica to pursue a Master of Business Administration in the United States.
This winding path would eventually bring me to my current role as a chief people officer at a skills training startup. Along the way, I learned the value and power of supporting and coaching people on their journey. And, I learned just how important it is to take ownership of your learning and development.
This personal experience of professional growth — and the twists and turns it brought with it — is what motivates me as a learning and development (L&D) professional. It also inspires me to take steps that can support my colleagues on winding journeys all their own.
That task has never been more complex than it is in today’s workplace. Employees are balancing remote work and other COVID-19 challenges, alongside the renewed urgency we all feel to promote a more inclusive and equitable workplace. As leaders work to help their increasingly diverse workforce hone the skills they need for a rapidly evolving economy, building a team of employee “owners” has never been more important. Here’s how to do it:
Shift From Compliance to Ownership
As a financial services business, compliance will always be a critical component of the work that we do — and it flows into the models we use to promote a strong internal culture, manage human resources (HR) and support learning in the workplace. But we can’t stop at asking employees to do what’s required of them.
A modern and inclusive approach to learning and development should look more like developmental and ongoing coaching and encouraging workers to find their voice and to deepen and develop their passions. Unfortunately, organizations do not always provide this type of learning, with many offering only a basic slate of training options for workers to choose from.
Companies must go beyond doing the bare minimum and develop a people-centric approach to learning and development that demonstrates that they are fully invested in their employees’ interests and aspirations. A common concern among business leaders is a lack of shared ownership for business success among middle managers and individual contributors. In fact, only a little over one-third of U.S. workers are engaged at work.
This challenge is a two-way street. It requires leaders to signal that the company’s growth — and the development of its talent — is everyone’s business, not just the province of a select few. In an ownership culture, employees find pride in their work and relish their responsibilities. They’re passionate about the company’s success and their role within it.
Learning and development is key to building this culture, demonstrating to employees that the company values them enough to help them enhance their skills and grow their role within the organization. This type of culture shows workers that the company has a stake in their success. Managers should feel ownership over the accomplishments of their employees, and employees should feel ownership over their place within the company and the learning opportunities they can leverage to advance.
Engage Employees as Educators
According to a 2016 survey, only 32% of employees believe their company offers “adequate skills training.” Effective and impactful learning and development is rooted in a deep understanding of what employees want to learn and how they want to learn it. The talent function and senior levels of management don’t have a monopoly on insights into the skills, knowledge and beliefs that can drive value within the organization. Employees are, in many ways, a vast and underused asset for unlocking the potential of the entire organization.
Companies should work to transform high-potential, high-performing employees into teachers and mentors in their own right, building a pipeline of knowledgeable trainers from the inside who can better connect what L&D offers to the desires and needs of employees. This approach not only can help cultivate the skills and attributes needed and expected by management, but it can also create a more inclusive and sustainable approach to development that engages a broader base of employees in the process of organization-wide training.
Offer Bite-sized Learning
In today’s fast-paced workplace, employees may not have a day or a week to devote to professional development or continuing education. A Deloitte study found that the average employee can only devote 1% of the workweek to professional development: less than five minutes per day in a 40-hour workweek.
Fortunately, learning can, in some cases, be accelerated and delivered in formats that are faster to consume and easier to digest. These formats help workers quickly master content and skills that they can apply right away in their daily lives. Experts say that today’s workers increasingly value this type of “bite-sized” learning — simple, focused and easy to digest learning that can take up only a few minutes of an employee’s day. Companies can also make these options more easily accessible by offering them across devices.
When an organization empowers its people — when it helps them figure out what drives and excites them — it sees high returns in workplace satisfaction and performance. Taking the time to create training that reflects employees’ needs will create a sense of ownership around learning and development that will move the whole organization forward.