This is the second post in a three-part series for Learning at Work Week taking place May 16-20, 2016.Be sure to read Teala's first post about the benefits of building a culture of learning.
Learning at work can yield many benefits for businesses - especially if it's done properly. The key word here is properly. Unfortunately, far too often learning and development isn't managed well, negating any return on investment. This leads to organizations asking, "Why should we even bother?"
But the question really should be, "How can we turn learning and development into the business benefits we want?"
Get strategic with learning and development
For learning programs to be truly effective and drive desired business outcomes, your organization needs to align workplace learning with strategic priorities and focus learning content on business-critical skills.
Admittedly, achieving this kind of focus takes a dedicated investment in terms of time, money and resources. But making the investment is a must if you want to develop and retain the top talent that's crucial to your business success and longevity. When employees learn and expand their skills, they become more engaged, inspired and productive - and more inclined to drive the innovation needed for that competitive advantage.
But, the "investment" doesn't always have to cost your organization a lot of money. In fact, there are some fairly cheap ways to develop talent by leveraging the technical and leadership skills within your own workforce.
Here are some cost effective ways to develop your organization's talent.
Create a mentorship program
One of the most effective tools for building bench strength is a mentoring program, where high-potential employees are paired with a more senior and experienced staff member who acts as their mentor.
Through sustained, strong and consistent mentoring, junior employees develop their potential and become ready to take on increasingly higher responsibilities within your company. Mentoring is a proven method of preparing employees to assume more senior roles. The best mentors go beyond helping employees develop their potential by reinforcing their organization's business strategy, culture and values.
Make tuition reimbursement programs work
It also pays to be selective when it comes to strategic talent development. Case in point: Tuition reimbursement programs.
While popular in many companies, tuition reimbursement programs have often fallen short when delivering any significant ROI. One of the main reasons for this shortcoming is that employees take (and are approved to take) courses that aren't aligned with core competencies or strategic business priorities.
The bottom line: These courses can miss the mark in closing skill and knowledge gaps. To avoid this issue, it's important to be clear and selective when developing guidelines for identifying tuition reimbursement program eligibility.
Consider creating business partnerships with learning institutions, including colleges, universities, professional associations and community-based education centers. Joining forces with these learning partners can lead to reduced tuition costs and drive greater alignment with your talent strategy through more targeted courses. Managers and employees can then put together a plan to ensure training is transferred to day-to-day work.
Tailor learning programs for new and entry-level employees
Entry-level employees may need special consideration when it comes to learning at work, particularly if they lack experience in a certain area. For example, could they use support in developing soft skills or understanding a new technology?
In these cases, consider a group-learning format in which employees with similar skill challenges are brought together to learn. Allow them to create resource groups based on topics relevant to the overall business, or in an area of common interest such as charity, wellness and other corporate social responsibility initiatives.
This approach facilitates autonomous engagement and can create informal leadership opportunities for people who are interested in practicing those skills. It can also help employees see learning and development as part of their total rewards at work.
Support organizational goals with learning and development
Taking the right approach to learning can yield many business benefits, especially if your managers, HR department, and learning and development professionals take the time to implement learning and development practices that align with your business strategy. A one-size-fits-all approach simply won't cut it in today's workplace.
What will work is focusing on the individual learning needs, reinforcing core competencies and supporting organizational goals through strategic talent development. If you do this, I'm fairly sure there's one thing you won't hear about your learning programs and that's ... "Why bother?"