Getting ahead requires more than skilled employees. While providing eLearning on skills that employees use every day is one way to improve team performance, it’s not enough. It is also essential to take steps to build better people in ways that might be less obviously connected to their daily tasks or even to the bottom line.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Key to Adaptable Companies Is Relentlessly Developing People,” argues that focusing on the personal evolution of employees sets up companies to flourish, whatever challenges they may face in the future: “It turns out that relentless focus on people, on developing everyone in the organization, leads to an organizational culture designed for adaptive change.” The article continues, “In this sense, culture is strategy.”
The good news for managers is that eLearning can be a powerful ally in steering employees toward personal growth. While some eLearning focuses on teaching processes or conveying facts, excellent eLearning exists to teach more elusive skills and concepts, to develop people by feeding their innate drive to learn and grow. Try these strategies for people-building using eLearning:
Encourage training that develops employees’ potential. Sure, employees are encouraged—even required—to complete training on specific skills needed right now for specific company-dictated tasks. Try flipping the focus: Encourage employees to learn skills that might—or might not—be used in a current task but that build them. Identify their strengths and aspirations, and encourage them to stretch, learn related skills of interest, or improve their facility with tools they already use. Let employees take professional development training, or complete badges and nanodegrees. Don’t stifle the urge to learn anything that is even remotely connected to their current job—or their stated career path.
Facilitate learning networks. Learning networks encourage collaboration among employees. They also spread learning around. That employee whom you supported in his quest to learn a new tool? He’s now teaching three colleagues to use it, and they are exploring ways to apply it to improving performance on their biggest project. Facilitating informal exchanges of knowledge mostly means giving employees space to let learning networks develop. The space might be mostly metaphorical: If employees feel that the culture and management are supportive, learning communities will emerge organically.
Curate content. Provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow through knowledge. Let them explore relevant, quality content that you have selected and made available. Encourage employees to share additional content. Engagement with the curated content will spark discussions that can lead to collaboration, teaching, learning—adding up to personal development among employees as well as stronger collegial connections.
Encourage critical thinking. Telling employees what to do and how to do it might feel efficient. But encouraging them to sharpen the skills needed to figure things out on their own really sets them up to face future challenges. To teach critical thinking, says Poynter’s Jill Geisler, managers should invest in training that goes beyond process and emphasizes “how to think about” an issue. She also emphasizes the importance of supporting employees’ attempts to become independent decision makers—even when they err.Adopting these strategies does not mean neglecting efforts and training that will improve performance in the core business of the company. But on its own, that is not enough. Building people is essential to ensure that the company will not merely survive, but thrive and adapt to meet future challenges. A company cannot realize its potential without spurring the people who constitute it to reach theirs.