Traditionally speaking, people manage performance rather than manifest it. This includes setting business and competency-based goals, ensuring employees understand what is expected of them and holding them accountable for achieving results. When a gap surfaces, it is typically addressed through coaching, training or, when warranted, corrective measures. While taking a traditional, training-as-mitigation approach may produce short-term results, it is not likely to inspire drastically different energy, effort or long-term improvements.
To manifest strong performance, a greater investment of time and thought are required on the front end. By incorporating each employee’s unique skills, aptitudes and interests into the goal-setting equation, a higher degree of success can be achieved. The best managers learn to leverage training as a dynamic catalyst and succession planning tool for the benefit of the workforce and the business. They replace stale, cookie-cutter learning delivery mechanisms with adaptable, pivot-with-purpose techniques that spark interest in the hearts and minds of their workforce, while also preparing them to deliver excellent performance.
Throughout my career, I’ve led various business and human resources functions, ranging from training to organizational change management to communications. Along the way, common themes emerged that undoubtedly fueled workforce and business success. Internalizing and applying these five keys can serve as a catalyst for transforming your learning organization or business.
Key #1 – Cultivate a Three C’s Culture (Organizational Readiness)
The first piece of the transformation puzzle involves taking an honest and below-the-surface look into the organization as it stands today. Ask yourself, “Is my organization well-positioned to transform learning into legacy?” Consider how short-term decisions today may impact long-term results.
To drive lasting change requires data-informed, values-based decision-making, and the presence of three cultural traits: curiosity, collaboration and continuous improvement. Employees must feel comfortable being curious, asking questions, and sharing brave new ideas. Teams should be encouraged to work across lines, optimizing diverse perspectives and partnering to solve problems and build sustainable solutions. Without a continuous improvement culture and mindset, organizations may produce suboptimal results, or fail to pursue ideas that could take their holistic performance and capabilities to a whole new level.
President Harry S. Truman once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Cultivating a three C’s culture will increase employee trust and enable them to learn and work from a place of courage, rather than fear. It will position them to leave a lasting mark on the organization, regardless of how long they choose to stay, by contributing their very best today.
Key #2 – Foundation First (Employee Readiness)
The genius of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was laying out a pathway for personal growth. The first step focuses on ensuring a person’s primary physiological needs are met. Maslow emphasized the importance of building a solid foundation before advancing toward more complex arenas such as self-esteem, belonging and the realization of full potential. In the same vein, before new learning is introduced, a solid work foundation must be in place. Three essentials to consider before new learning plans are implemented: core, chore and ready for more.
Core: Employees must have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities, as well as how their contributions serve the greater good of the organization. When a role is not clearly defined or understood, it is difficult for employees to map to a targeted learning goal that both inspires them and gives them confidence they’ll advance their capabilities, as well as contribute to the success of the company.
Chore: Just like life outside of work, daily chores must be tended to. Managers play a vital role in removing roadblocks to training readiness. This may take the form of deferring existing work or delegating superfluous tasks to another employee for the duration of the training. These steps are vital to ensure the employee can fully engage and benefit from the training experience.
Ready for More: Managers must partner with employees to ensure they are truly ready for more learning and development. Is the purpose of learning clear and compelling? Will it benefit the employee and the company? With dwindling learning budgets, it’s more important than ever to ensure learners are ready and willing to invest in their growth and apply what they have learned to meet increasingly complex organizational challenges.
Key #3 – ConnectAbility (Intersection of Workforce and Business)
ConnectAbility lives at the intersection of workforce and business strengths. A recent Association of Training and Development study revealed that the most essential element of a learning culture is close alignment between learning and business strategies. To that, add a third leg of employee potential and possibilities. To inspire legacy performance requires employees to see and experience themselves at the intersection, or sweet spot, where they can fulfill their own career growth goals, while at the same time adding increasing value to the organization.
As a learning leader, you have a unique vantage point to shine a light on this opportunity to pair passions with productivity. By experiencing robust and future-minded learning, employees become more confident, capable and ready to navigate business challenges now and into the future.
Key #4 – Pivots and Ping Pong (Innovate to Make Learning Great)
The pandemic made it clear that organizations would need to quickly innovate and pivot with purpose to survive. Many organizations surprised themselves with how quickly they were able to respond to ping-pong-pace challenges brought forth during this unprecedented time. Entire workforces were sent home and became teleworkers overnight. Training was virtualized at an astonishing rate.
As we move toward the next iteration, it is important to resist the urge to backtrack to the traditional training strategies of yesteryear. We must look forward with creativity, flexibility and heart to design the future of learning. Seek feedback from all levels of the organization. Ask them which virtual tools were effective, and what training or tools were most compelling or effective in boosting their ability to thrive in a remote work environment. Build on the momentum by celebrating employee success in adopting new technology and tools. Remind employees how far they have come. Encourage them to keep going, growing and testing new learning pathways.
William Arthur Ward, an American motivational writer, said, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” Do everything you can to spark continued curiosity and thirst for learning. Inspire employees of all levels to become change champions in learning, creating a legacy of openness, adaptability and resilience. Celebrate forward-thinking pioneers who embrace new ways of thinking, learning and thriving in the workplace. Instead of focusing on the teachability of a particular generation, celebrate examples of multiple generations coming together to test and learn, as they build strong relationships and results that will stand the test of time.
Key #5 – It’s Not About the Certification (Mindset and Momentum)
It’s not about the certification. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that we forget about 75% of what we learned after just six days. While the moment we achieve a certification or pass a virtual exam is important, it is just the beginning. What’s most essential is what happens next. What we do with the knowledge we acquire — and how we bring that learning to life.
Let employees know before training even begins what they can look forward to, and how they will be able to immediately apply what they learn on the job. If framed appropriately, employees will tune in to not only the short-term outcomes achieved, but how what they learned planted a seed to bear fruit in the months and years to come.
For sustained success, learning leaders can partner across disciplines to sync up these five keys in their respective organizations. In a company that visibly values learning, employees will be able to appreciate the beauty of living at the intersection of business and employee learning. They will be inspired to measure M’s beyond baseline metrics, expanding to measurements of momentum, meaning and making an impact.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, said, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” The same can be said for Learning. You have a front row seat to the future. You can be a catalyst for transforming learning into legacy in your organization. Ignite and cultivate a three C’s culture, with curiosity, collaboration and continuous improvement. Help employees build a strong foundation for learning success. Live at the intersection of business and employee learning. Embrace the beauty of ongoing discovery and the power of the pivot. Finally, remember that it’s not about the certification. It’s about how you bring learning to life and transform that learning into legacy: One day, even one employee at a time.
Tracey Lorraine, M. Ed., is the director of workforce development at the Virginia Department of Transportation, as well as a heart-inspired, results-wired success coach. Her passions are leadership, learning and organizational change. Email Tracey.