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Playing for keeps

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The evidence shows that employee loyalty is a thing of the past. If you want to attract and retain talent in your business, and thereby build a productive workforce and compete effectively, learning and development are key, says Michelle Parry-Slater

The fundamental question when considering why talent leaves an organisation is: what can prevent it?

My recommendation is to adopt what I call ‘the whole 100’. This approach is designed to address a learning need through the best possible blend of face-to-face, digital and social learning

But first, we need to understand why people leave. They are not always just chasing more money. There is a combination of push-and-pull factors. And many of these are related to development.

In a 2012 article on the Forbes website (tinyurl.com/forbesmyatt), US leadership adviser Mike Myatt presented the theory that people leave their bosses, not their organisations. Managers may fail to unleash their passion, challenge their intellect, engage their creativity, develop their skills, or give them a voice. Mercer’s 2016 Global Talent Trends Survey (tinyurl.com/mercer-talent) highlights the importance of this lack of development: 28 per cent of satisfied employees are planning to leave their organisations in the next 12 months, as they do not see compelling career opportunities. Even happy people are leaving if they are not developed. And with younger people, the additional social shift of a move away from loyalty to their employer has an even more stark effect: in 2014 research by the London Business School (tinyurl.com/lbs2014research), 37 per cent of high potential employees born in the 1980s-90s said they’d stay no more than two years at one firm, and 90 per cent said that they’d stay no more than five years.

The modern model of learning and development

So how can you respond to this clear mandate to prioritise the development of your people?

My recommendation is to adopt what I call ‘the whole 100’ – though you may have heard it expressed as ‘70:20:10’. This approach is designed to address a learning need through the best possible blend of face-to-face, digital and social learning. Around 10 per cent of workplace learning should be completed formally with books, research, and courses, 20 per cent via networks and social interactions, and 70 per cent via experiential, on-the-job learning. This approach does not mean ditching formal learning and making all development experiential. Modern learning is about adding to formal development with informal via an effective blend, not taking it away.

Another key aspect of this approach is time for reflection. Without that, informal learning is simply that: informal, casual, fleeting, and not always useful or accurate. The significance of social learning comes from application and reflection. Reflection is where real personal development takes place. Do you offer time for thinking and reflecting? Many organisations would see that as wasted time. They are wrong, in my opinion.

If we look at our private lives, we realise that we live 70:20:10 every day. You don’t go on a course to learn how to buy a car. You ask your friends, family and car dealers (your network), you read car magazines or watch car TV shows and YouTube reviews (research), and make your decision based on all the knowledge and information you have acquired. And we actually also do this at work: use our network, research and experiences to make decisions every day. But in your organisation, would anyone ever think of this as learning? Talent leaves because they do not feel developed, yet actually, we develop every day through doing our jobs.

However, informal learning is not recognised as having value, neither by organisations nor staff, even though both may acknowledge it goes on.

The role of the learning and development team

This is where a firm’s learning and development department can help: by building an approach to development which encompasses informal learning, they can encourage organisations to embrace it and use its value for continual development of staff. The 70:20:10 framework is essentially a change framework for future learning and development strategy.

Classroom, book-based learning has been the norm for many years, and combining formal and informal learning into structured learning programmes is not typical for many organisations, so the switch to this new approach won’t happen overnight. But it is clear that if we want to win the so-called ‘war on talent’, we cannot keep doing what we have always done.

In order to achieve this change, a learning and development function must move from transactional to consultative, to become a more useful function which lies closer to the heart of business needs.

The role of the line manager

The other essential component in switching to the whole 100 approach is a shift in the role of line manager towards being a people developer. While managers are focusing on fee-earning and climbing the ladder, those below them are not being developed.

This is a substantial shift in many organisations. Leaders need to better balance the needs of their employees against the needs of shareholders and clients. People managers need to be measured on people-based as well as non-people-based metrics and objectives – otherwise, it becomes very difficult to justify people development, even if a manager wants to.

Building staff engagement through learning and development

So, your line managers and the learning and development team are now set up to deliver effective learning and development to retain talent in your business. The next step is to use learning and development to build an engaged, committed staff group.

Engagement develops and embeds organisational loyalty; in other words, engaged staff stay put. Engagement also, when combined with the upskilling of managers and a shift away from hierarchy, builds more effective and productive workplaces. And learning and development play a key role in supporting engagement.

The first step in this is to address three key areas – environment, permission and culture – which support the overall ability for people to learn within an organisation.

Environment

An organisation needs to ensure that its environment is right to advance new strategies to engage, develop and retain talent.

Environment covers both physical space – where someone sits, where they can learn, what a good learning space encompasses – and the access to learning environments – the hardware to connect to curated content, stopping firewalls from preventing learning, providing data packages for mobile learning and so on. Try following an approach similar to how people interact with others in their private lives. Provide checklist tools, enable walking meetings, use mobile technology, use peer networks.

Both line managers and the learning and development team can only be responsible for the environment being right so people who want to learn can do so; the actual learning and its implementation is down to the individual.

Permission

Permission is a big topic which raises wider organisational development questions in moving to modern learning. In essence, people need to feel free to learn, free to be themselves, free to perform.

Consider the following aspects of permission to learn within your business.

Permission culture

Is there permission for good performance in your organisation? Are people allowed to learn, in order to perform well? Is permission to learn only a day out of the office on a course, or is the expectation that learning is an everyday event?

Recognition of learning

Is time spent not fee-earning considered as not working? Are key performance indicators skewed towards or away from learning? Are people better off learning, either financially or in terms of gaining respect within the business? If someone were watching a YouTube video to learn in your workplace, would they be publicly praised or humiliated?

Knowledge-sharing

Is knowledge retained as power, or it is freely shared for the good of the whole organisation?

Leadership

Are senior staff showing their learning? Are they leading by example? Are they demonstrating the importance of continued learning by showing vulnerability – showing that they are continuing to learn, because they do not already know everything?

Line managers

Are line managers allowing their reports time for learning? Are they asking questions about learning? Are they encouraging their reports, even coaching them, or not really interested at all? Or are managers expecting learning and development to provide cure-all courses, while they themselves play no part in people development?

Culture

We work with many clients to implement social and digital learning strategies to build impressive, engaging talent programmes. Very quickly, they realise that modern learning, or even traditional face-to-face learning, are only tools, which will ultimately fail if they do not first build a learning culture.

In order to do many of the things I described above – engendering learning as everyday, moving away from hierarchies, stopping transactional courses and putting energy into people – there must be a shift in culture in the business.

If this shift feels monumental in terms of how your business operates now, start by gathering evidence about your own business, the sector and other sectors, so you can understand how you benchmark, and identify steps you can take to address the situation in your own firm.

Gather data internally from exit interviews to see why talent leaves your business. Look at competitor firms – how are they addressing the developmental needs of their people? Find out who is doing good work in your sector and chat to them. Look more widely at awards for learning and development, and review the winners’ case studies – what are other businesses, in and outside the legal sector, doing with their talent strategies and learning?

Now benchmark yourself – you could use the tool provided by Towards Maturity, an independent not-for-profit which works to help business to improve the impact of learning and learning technologies (tinyurl.com/towardsmaturity-benchmark).

From all of this, you will identify changes you can make to build a culture which supports learning and development in your business. Trial small changes, and build an evidence base for their success, including going through the benchmarking process again, and getting qualitative feedback from trial groups.

Why it matters

What I’ve presented here is a high level argument as to the role of learning and development in retaining talent, and some hints and tips as to how to build a business which supports learning and development, and thereby builds staff loyalty.

But the question is: how much of your firm’s time and resources are you prepared to invest in developing your learning and development capabilities, and how much will you continue to concentrate on business as usual? If you want to retain talent and build a more effective and productive business, it is essential to raise learning and development higher up your agenda. 

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