It's no secret that learning aligns with performance. The more employees learn, the better they perform. But with pressing deadlines, non-stop meetings and ever-tightening budgets, what's the best way to help employees learn more?
The key is pretty simple: make the connection between learning and performance by placing the development of learning needs in the hands of the learner. In this case, that's the employee.
If organizations are brutally honest, they'll admit that managers do not have time to tell employees everything they need to learn. Organizations are flatter. Technology is moving quickly. Managers have a full plate and we're asking them to make activities like the one-on-one meeting their priority.
So, employees need to take responsibility for identifying their learning needs. But before they can do that, they need some guidance.
DIY Learning Needs: How Do They Learn?
What we need here is a three-step approach that employees can use to self-identify their learning needs. Employees can do this on their own or during one-on-one meetings with their manager. These steps could also be explained during a training session in a department meeting or orientation. And these steps could be briefly revisited during goal-setting or performance reviews. Show your employees this is an area of their career that they can have control over (when many things are out of our control).
Step 1: Figure out a preferred learning style
First things first. Here are three primary learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic.
- Auditory learning involves listening. It could be podcasts or lectures.
- Visual learning includes pictures, graphs or charts. PowerPoint and video fall into this category.
- Kinesthetic learning is tactile. Being able to practice or try the activity is common.
If you're looking for an activity to help employees identify their preferred learning style, look at the employee's last performance review or annual goals. With the employee, identify five achievements in the document. Then, ask the employee to explain how they learned the knowledge or skills needed to accomplish the goal. That will give you some sense of how the employee likes to learn.
You might be surprised to hear that your employee enjoys a mix of learning! For instance, an employee might prefer to learn a new software program by working hands-on with the program (kinesthetic). But when it comes to a new procedure for completing expense reports, the employee prefers an email with steps (visual). The purpose of this step is to heighten an employee's learning style awareness and start the conversation.
Step 2: Determine what needs to be learned
Now that employees are more aware of their preferred learning styles, it's time to discuss what needs to be learned. Ask employees to look at their current goals, and for each goal, identify 10 steps they can take to accomplish each goal. Be specific in each step. Do they need to learn any particular skills? Is so, what level? For example, let's say one of an employee's goals is to update the company policy on customer product returns. Part of the steps might include benchmarking the product return policies of the company's competitive set.
However, how much information an employee needs to understand about benchmarking could vary. If the employee will be tasked with conducting the research, then they need to know a lot about benchmarking. However, if the company is planning to hire an outside firm to do some of the research, and the employee will be supervising the firm, then they might only need to understand the process at a high-level versus at a hands-on level.
Step 3: Develop a personal action plan
Now, it's time to put it all together and align learning with performance. Employees have an understanding of their learning style (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). They also know how to identify the individual knowledge and skills to be learned by breaking down larger goals into smaller steps.
The final step: Employees can use the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, actionable, responsible and time-bound) to develop their personal action plans. Many organizations already use SMART in goal-setting. It's an acronym that has tremendous flexibility. Employees can learn how to use SMART in orientation or onboarding. Then they are equipped with a tool they can use throughout their career.
For an activity, ask employees to develop SMART plans for each of their goals. Managers can review the plans with the employee during one-on-one meetings.
Let Employees Manage Their Own Learning
It makes good business sense for organizations to give employees the methodology and tools to manage their own learning during orientation or onboarding. Put yourself into the shoes of a new employee. They want to make a great impression, they are excited, but also concerned about getting off to a good start with your organization. By helping this new employee figure out their personal learning style, you've increased their chances for success. Now, your new employee will start their job with a clear understanding of their role and expectations with goal setting, one-on-one meetings, and performance management.
Meanwhile, managers can spend their time coaching employees to use the process well. Ultimately, the company wins because managers and employees are using their resources and tools to perform at the highest level possible and accomplish their goals.