Those of us in the learning industry focus on important issues like skills and capability development, continuous improvement, career progression and leadership development. Learning leaders are similar to teachers: We love to educate others, we thrive in a teaching environment, and we are always looking for new and better ways to learn.
This is all true and good, but today 86 percent of companies say they are worried about leadership gaps, 80 percent are concerned about skills gaps, and 40 percent say they are urgently concerned about the state of their learning and development organization.
Further, today’s workforce is younger, more mobile and more transient than any time in the past 15 years. Even with capability issues on the table, there are bigger reasons to focus on corporate learning: culture, engagement and retention. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015, which surveyed more than 3,300 organizations around the world, shows the No. 1 issue companies face now is employee engagement and retention.
Some 87 percent of study participants cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent say the problem is “very important” — double the 2014 percentage. In all the years I’ve done this kind of research, this is the first time I have ever seen this issue loom so large.
For any midsize or large company today, if you are not focused on building an attractive culture, improving your employment brand and making your company a great place to work, you are going to find it difficult to attract great people. If you’re trying to hire engineers, software professionals, life scientists or energy engineers, the problem is even harder. Yet, 60 percent of HR and business leaders do not have an adequate program to measure and improve engagement.
Well, I’m happy to say that one of the biggest weapons you have in this war for talent is your learning organization. The research data we’ve compiled on characteristics for some of the most highly engaged organizations shows one of the most important factors in a highly engaged company is the strength of its learning programs.
Yes, despite all the talk about work-life balance, flexibility, free lunch and open offices, a strong learning culture and set of learning offerings is still one of the top drivers of a highly desirable workplace.
I spoke recently with the Stephanie Demiris, director of global learning and engagement at Deckers Outdoor Corp., maker of Ugg boots. She has a unique set of responsibilities: She’s responsible for employee learning, employee engagement and employee communications, and sees the connection between the three, giving her some amazing insights.
For example, she said, “Learning is everything we do,” so the company’s learning program must be engaging, fun and easy to use. Deckers’ learning management system has been re-engineered for ease of use, and she uses fliers, communications programs, storytelling and marketing programs to make sure people know it matters.
Because she is responsible for employee engagement, she knows what might make people unhappy. She not only addresses these issues with management, but also puts in place fun or rigorous training programs for employees or managers to address the issues. Deckers’ employee retention and learning programs are among the best in the industry.
Of course, we also have to treat learning as a critical skills-development exercise, and we must make sure it is instructionally sound and rigorous in nature. Let’s not forget that one of the most valuable parts of learning is to excite and empower people, and to bring peopletogether and connect them to their peers. These are all powerful tools for employee engagement, and they can have a direct effect on employee passion and retention.
As you build your programs and strategies for 2015, think about your role not only as a learning executive but also as a “cheerleader” and “chief inspiration officer” for your company. You’ll be surprised how important this role is in today’s economy where people want skills more than almost anything else.