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      You've got to show up - Why effective learning needs employees to step up to the plate

      by Eoin McDonnell

      Employee engagement , Learning platforms , Learning and development strategies , elearning design

      This might be a little contentious.

      We read a lot in the press right now about "the Great Resignation". A massive rise in the number of people leaving their jobs.

      An article from McKinsey last year describes "More than 19 million US workers—and counting—have quit their jobs" between April and September 2021. The article is well worth a read and addresses a very real issue around motivation; how increases in salary or similar (once a certain point of financial security has been reached) can actually serve to degrade rather than strengthen the engagement of an employee with their employer (I recommend reading some Dan Pink to look more at this phenomenon).

      I see this as the culmination of a trend over the years where a 'job for life' has become the 'gig economy.

      When jobs were scarce during the last recession, employers eroded long-held social contracts like job security. Workers found themselves moving more frequently following regular re-org's or on successive short-term contracts. Additional benefits – like professional development – were often cut in tight budgeting. When employers held the most valuable commodity -a job – this practice worked to their benefit.

      Ironically, the apparent result of a slow erosion of job security is a loss of control of the situation by the employer. It has naturally led workers to reconsider their own natural loyalty to a company. Years of being told to 'build your own brand and your own career path' has resulted in people doing just that. In a market where talent is scarce, the individual rather than the organisation has the upper hand.

      Now, when I talk with clients about their learning offering and their learning culture, there is a focus on what the organisation offers. That's important because organisations should provide environments in which their employees can learn contrive and develop. Not only to be more attractive to new talent and boost performance but also because it is the right thing to do.

      So we do talk a lot about what employers can do.

      But… When I am talking with clients about learning culture, I often describe compelling learning offerings available to employees in modern organisations as akin to a really great gym.

      (Now, I'm a runner and I don't go to the gym so bear with me!)

      There are two sides to a great gym.

      The gym is an inviting space with top-of-the-range equipment, resources, opportunities to engage with other gym users to share advice and tips, and great trainers and coaches ready to work with you.

      A great learning organisation offers to its workforce on-demand learning content accessed easily at the point-of-need, expert trainers and coaches available to plan personalised journeys for you, peer networks and learning plans that bring you up through levels of mastery and help you get to the next stage in your career. Also – perhaps most importantly – time in your day to avail of these things. We expect this when paying top dollar for a great gym and we expect this when evaluating a new role with a new employer.

      People are less comfortable talking about what we have to expect from ourselves... That the other side of this equation is us, the employee.

      Like with the gym, the employee has to 'show up'.

      We often see one of the barriers to uptake of some of the great learning offerings available from organisations is not the quality of that learning offering but rather the willingness of the workforce to avail of it and the skill in doing so. When I talk about this, I talk about 'Learning Fitness'. For me, there are two aspects to this: 'showing up' and 'skill building'.

      Often learning is not recognised as a skill in itself. With rapidly changing knowledge and new roles emerging frequently, this perception is changing. The ability to learn is, in itself, a key skill. 

      For me, I am becoming a distance runner. That means a) that I need to get up and run six days a week; every week. That means I need to 'show up'. That gets me to the starting plate, as it were. It also means that b) I need to build my skill. I need to invest time in studying resources (running books), talking with experts (other runners), using performance support tools (my Garmin watch), understanding ancillary skills (nutrition) and maintaining a training plan (that evolves constantly as I do).

      Learning at work is a bit like this. You set goals, assess your starting point and find the support you need (people, tools and resources) to help you to where you want to be.

      We look at the individual's ability to assess their own capability and identify growth opportunities. Many people will need help with this first time and again at key points in their development. As they build expertise, their self-assessment will grow more accurate. They will help also to map out their own learning plans.

      They may need guidance to navigate a sizeable learning offering (like Skillsoft's Percipio or LinkedIn Learning) to use it well. AI will help here; a supportive manager will help more.

      They will need to build skills in recognising the learning moments that appear each day and reflecting on them to see everyday growth opportunities. When I run, I follow a plan and that helps. What really gets me to the next level in my skill is being open to learning moments along the way. I watch the form of runners that I pass, experiment with nutrition, and play with variations in my own running form (which led me to change from a heel strike to a midfoot strike – goodbye impact injuries!).

      Someone who is learning fit, much like an individual who is undertaking a physical goal like a couch to 5K programme, knows what the longer journey looks like, has put a training plan in place and can build everyday habits to help him or her get there. 

      An organisation that shares its employees' ambition for growth will partner with them to give them the resources and support they need to get that bit further, that bit faster. That organisation – the one that invests in the growth of their employees and builds that great learning environment – is the one that employees will stay with ‘for the long run’.

      For more information about our learning solutions, please contact us.

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