How to Support Employees’ Learning Goals While Getting Day-to-Day Stuff Done

Many of the most successful people have to fight tooth and nail for opportunities to learn new skills. That’s often because what they want to achieve isn’t in sync with what their bosses want. For their part, managers are often under tremendous pressure to generate results. With annual quotas and quarterly goals, managers have little time to let employees learn skills that may not serve their unit at all?

It’s a tough balancing act, but a few key actions can help you ensure your employees’ growth without losing sight of your goals as a manager:

▶ Get top-level guidance and metrics: Executives’ broad statements about the importance of learning are all well and good, but as a manager you need clear marching orders that include data and expectations. Ask the bosses to tell you: How much time do they expect employees to spend learning during work hours? What metrics will be used to determine how well your unit is doing?

▶ Hire to train: Learning allows you to save money in hiring. With the right amount of attention and mentoring, entry-level employees who demonstrate potential and ambition can turn into an important talent resource. The idea of using on-the-job training to build a loyal workforce at a low cost has proved successful around the world: Hiring people right out of college and workers looking to pivot from an existing career can prove to be a solid investment in the future.

▶ Treat learning as a shared responsibility: The onus is not entirely on you. Learning and development are also a responsibility of the employee. If a worker wants to transition into a whole other department, there’s nothing wrong with you expecting some of that learning to take place on his own time. The best way to handle this situation is through open communication. Discuss with your direct reports what kinds of learning they want to do. Discuss what your expectations are. Listen with an open mind.

▶ Speak at the skill level, not the role level: If an employee wants to explore a new role in the company, break down the skills necessary to do it. For example, tell the employee: “You would need to develop expertise with Tableau,” or Excel, or giving presentations. As employees embark on learning paths, offer them honest feedback. By having these conversations at the skill level rather than the role level, you’ll alter the work environment. People will feel freer to tell you that they’d like to learn new skills. And you’ll be able to offer positive, encouraging steps forward.

Inside your unit, you may have a future star — someone with the skills and the ability to learn, someone who can lead the company. By taking these steps to make learning feasible and real, you are giving yourself, the employee and the entire company a stronger future.

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