If your employees aren’t continuously learning, your organization is failing to reach its full potential. A Deloitte report found that companies with a strong learning culture experience greater success because their employees are:
- 92% more likely to innovate
- 37% more productive
- 58% more prepared to meet future demands
To achieve those benefits, you have to create systems that motivate your employees to engage in continuous learning. Here’s how.
Constantly Ask Your Employees “Why?”
The first step in motivating employees to learn is making them realize that they don’t have all of the answers. One of the easiest ways to do that is to ask lots of “why” questions to see if they fully understand what they’re working on or if they’re just acting based on what they assume is right.
Here are some examples:
- Why did campaign A produce a successful result but campaign B did not?
- Why did you make that decision?
- Why did you choose to use the information that you did?
- Why x outcome occur?
- Why didn’t x outcome occur?
- Why did those results change over time?
- Why did you do A in scenario one and B in scenario 2?
Asking probing questions about why certain outcomes occurred and why certain decisions were made forces employees to think deeper about their projects and recognize that there’s a lot more they can learn about their approaches.
Often, employees will give vague answers in an effort to appear as if they have information that they don’t because they’re afraid that there will be negative repercussions if they don’t have all the answers.
As a leader, you need to make it clear that it’s okay to not know everything as long as they are committed to learning what the answers are. Here are a few ways to do that:
Lead by example. Openly acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers and letting employees know that you’ll follow-up with them once you’ve learned more information shows them that it’s okay to have to gather more info before providing final responses.
Tell employees to do more research if they provide vague responses. If they can’t give specific answers to your questions, then they need to learn more about what they’re working on to ensure they’re taking the best path forward.
Never reprimand employees for not knowing all the answers the first time. Instead, give them constructive feedback if time goes by and they’ve failed to invest appropriate effort into finding a solution. By making failure to learn, not failure to have answers, an unacceptable behavior you set expectations that your team must be constantly learning.
Creating a culture where your team feels comfortable admitting that they don’t have all the answers immediately ensures that everyone is focused on generating the most successful solutions as opposed to the ones they can create the quickest.
Create Learning Paths that Enable Employees to Achieve Their Career Goals
According to Kelly Palmer, the Chief Learning and Talent Officer at Degreed, creating learning paths that help employees achieve their career goals is an effective way to boost their engagement and commitment since it shows that you’re investing in their success.
There are three basic steps for creating personalized learning paths:
- Discuss their goals. Have one-on-one meetings with each of your employees to find out their goals for the next year, three years, and five years. You should also ask them what they’re interested in learning about since that may vary from their professional goals.
- Understand their learning style. To create learning paths that employees enjoy, you need to have a conversation with them about how they want to learn. Some may want to take online courses while others want to tackle challenging projects or get cross-trained by other members of your organization. To the greatest extent possible, create learning opportunities that accommodate their preferences.
- Create a plan that’s tied to organizational objectives. Once you’ve gathered your employees’ preferences the next step is to determine which company objectives they’re most aligned with. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your organization’s analytics capabilities, then you can create a learning path for an employee who’s interested in data science. Or if you’re forming a new team and have an employee who’s interested in taking on a leadership role, then you can give them the training they’ll need to be successful.
According to the LinkedIn Learning Report, 94% of employees are willing to stay at their organizations longer if their employers invest in their development. Since the turnover of mid and senior-level employees can cost upwards of 150% of their salary, any actions you can take to prolong their time at your organization is worth the investment.
Empower Your Team to Learn Via Data-Driven Experiments
If you lead a team that often encounters unique challenges, creating structured learning initiatives can be extremely difficult since there isn’t enough existing knowledge on the subjects that your employees deal with.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t facilitate learning. Empowering your team to run data-driven experiments enables them to create knowledge that’s highly specific to your organization and discover lots of unexpected insights.
For experimental learning to be successful, you need to instill a balance of free thinking and constraints.
Encourage your team to always be pondering experiment ideas that they’d like to pursue. This free thinking enables them brainstorm without any pressure and see which ideas are important enough to stick with them.
Once they’re convinced that an idea will yield interesting results, give them a specific time limit, budget and other constraints that are relevant to you profession. Not only does this prevent them from wasting too many resources on an experiment that may fail to produce significant results, it also strengthens their creativity.
According to leading creativity expert, Scott Barry Kaufman, people’s brains are most creative when we’re faced with constraints. Constraints force them to think outside of the box and test solutions that aren’t easy. In the process, they discover insights that they wouldn’t have if they took an easier approach.
At the end of every experiment, sync with your employees to discover what they learned and look for ways to apply their insights.
Take Actions to Ensure that Learning is Applied
Online courses and seminars are easy methods to teach groups of employees lots of information. However, of the biggest issues with them is that research shows the majority of people forget the information within a few weeks. This is because our brains prioritize remembering information that is associated with strong emotions and/or that we use within a short period of time after learning.
To ensure your employees benefit from your learning initiatives, you need to take actions to help them apply what they’ve learned. Here are a few effective ways to do that:
- Debrief after employees engage in learning activities. Whether your employees are independently taking courses or participating in a seminar together, debrief with them individually to gather their takeaways and brainstorm a few actionable ways they can apply what they’ve learned to their work.
- Assign them projects that are tied to their learning. If they learned a new skill that doesn’t fit into their current workload, give them a new project to test what they’ve learned. For example, if an employee took an analytics course, have them improve your team’s metrics tracking or strategize ways to clean up your database.
- Make it a topic in your one-on-ones. If your employees are taking online courses, testing out new tools/methods, or engaging in other learning initiatives that take a few weeks or longer, ask them about their progress during your one-on-ones. Doing this ensures that learning projects stay top-of-mind and enables you to resolve any challenges and/or confusion they face.
Keep in mind that the key to sustaining a continuous learning culture is creating an abundance of opportunities for your team to use what they learn so the more you can incorporate these kinds of activities into your normal workflows, the more engaged your team will be with your initiatives.
Create Systems for Knowledge-Sharing
The best way to capitalize on a continuous learning culture is to create systems to encourage knowledge-sharing. Not only does this stretch your learning investment by allowing more employees to benefit from the same initiatives but research shows it has several other benefits including it:
- Improves communication and relationships among employees - even those in different departments.
- Enables teams to solve problems faster since they’re able to leverage knowledge from other teams.
- Reduces the impact of turnover since when employees leave the majority of their knowledge is documented instead of lost.
Here are three ways to encourage knowledge-sharing:
1) Create an internal wiki for employees to share their knowledge.
Creating spaces where employees can document their knowledge is key to ensuring that when one person on a team learns something new so will everyone else.
For example, at Prialto, every team at our company has a space in our wiki where we document all of our processes, best practices and other information that’s relevant to the team. As employees learn new things, they’re expected to revise existing wiki pages on the topic or create a page if they’re working on a new project. Every time someone publishes changes, they’re team is notified so that everyone is aware of the new knowledge.
If you’re introducing a knowledge-sharing system for the first time, your team may forget to use it so, whenever someone learns something new, remind them to add it to the wiki.
2) Assign employees to train one another
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to get your team up to speed on new tasks. Whenever an employee starts a project that requires learning skills that another employee has, instruct their team member to train them. Not only does this enable your team to complete new projects faster, it also encourages employees to build a habit of asking others for help. Your goal should be creating a team culture where peer-training occurs regularly without a leader having to suggest it.
3) Prioritize team - not individual - performance
Researchers have found that many employees are reluctant to share knowledge because they fear that doing so will enable their coworkers to become more successful than they are. To prevent competitiveness from driving people to hoard information, you need to focus on team success. Doing so reinforces with ambitious employees that helping their colleagues benefits them.
Overtime, emphasizing continuous learning and knowledge-sharing will create a culture where employees are learning and teaching each other new things every day. This will enable your team to be innovative, resilient and future-ready.
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.