Fewer than half of all employees are satisfied with their current job — yet 70 percent or more say they do not plan to look for another job in the near future. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but it's safe to assume that when the economy turns around, many of those unsatisfied employees will seek work elsewhere, leaving an enormous skill and experience gap in many organizations. We all know that's bad — so what role does learning and development play in preventing this potential exodus of talented employees?
In Chief Learning Officer, Mike Prokopeak recently argued that by giving employees what they want — more development — an organization can retain more employees and better position themselves for future growth, as fewer top people will leave when the economy turns around. But how do learning professionals provide the development opportunities demanded by employees with limited budgets and resources? The first thing to consider is breaking out of the mindset that the learning and development department must provide training programs in order to develop people. Instead of creating training programs as a primary offering, learning professionals should be in the business of creating a culture of learning in which people want to learn. Although this strategy will be no less work, it can be done with limited budgets. Here are some examples of initiatives that can foster a learning culture and provide plenty of development opportunities for people who want to grow their careers.
Promote Tuition Reimbursement Programs
A Spherion study showed that the average employee tenure is three years and the average tenure of employees who use Tuition Reimbursement Programs is five years. During downturns on the economy, enrollment in degree and certification programs increases at colleges and universities as people want to enhance their current skills or learn new ones to position themselves as more valuable when the economy turns around. Help your people consider this option by not just having a tuition reimbursement program, but by actively promoting it. Share examples of people who are using it, how they are using it, and what benefits they have attained from it.
Start a Company Library
Zappos does it. And doesn't Zappos do everything right? A library will take a little budget, but books aren't that expensive. If you don't want to do a full-blown Zappos giving library (yes, those books are freely available to Zappos employees), then do a lending library. By starting a library, you can fill it with books that have influenced you. When your people read these books, they are learning what influenced you and what you think is important in the business.
Promote the Use of the Public Library
You would be amazed at the number of contemporary books on business, management, leadership, customer service, marketing, sales, etc that your local library has on the shelf. One could become an expert in just about any field by simply checking out (and reading it, of course) one book a week from the local library. Who wouldn't want to do that? Make a list of books that people can check out from the local library and promote it throughout the company. Send out a picture of you holding your library card to everyone in your organization. Lead by example.
Set Up a Mentoring Program
This one takes a lot of work, but the best way to start is to start small. Find a select group of forward-looking leaders in the organization and ask them to volunteer to be mentors. Then find some of your high-potential employees or “at-risk” employees and ask them if they would participate in a mentoring program, if you could help them find the right mentor. Start informally and track successes. Share those successes and grow the program slowly. The trick is not to get overwhelmed with a big initiative. Get some small wins to gain traction.
Set Smart Goals
Help people set goals and create action and motivation plans for achieving those goals. Do it for both personal and professional goals in order to develop the whole person. Research shows that when people set goals and then set personal rewards, they are more likely to achieve those goals.
There are many ways to help people in your organization develop, but the key is to tap into people's motivation to want to develop. Don't force people to participate. Create an environment in which people want to learn and grow. Find the people who want to develop and encourage them. Others may follow, but in the mean time, work with those who already want this. Collect success stories and promote them throughout the organization. By spending more time focused on enabling people to grow, you can increase the chances that they will stick around because they find fulfillment in their work.
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.