The Democratization of Employee Training

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Learning

The Democratization of Employee Training

Despite an improving economy, training and development budgets in most companies remain lean. And increasingly, the responsibility for employee learning is being pushed out to the line organization. Now managers must play a greater role in increasing their staff's skills; and employees must take greater ownership for their own development.

Welcome to the democratization of training.

Control over and choices about how training will happen are increasingly being distributed and placed in the hands of the people… people who are already maxed out doing the ever-growing laundry list of tasks before them.

As a result, there’s a need for simple yet effective training solutions — solutions that cost little and can be quickly developed and deployed by nearly anyone in the organization.

Since necessity is the mother of invention, leaders everywhere are finding solutions and experimenting with a range of innovative ways to build skill and capacity. Here are some of my favorites:

The video advantage

The manager of a local retailer struggled with getting key messages out to her staff with fidelity. Months of trying a ‘cascading’ method of communicating through layers of supervisors looked less like training and more like a child’s game of telephone.

So, she took to her webcam and recorded video messages along with the instructions for training activities that her direct reports would run with their staff. This ‘plug and play’ solution cost nearly nothing and has improved engagement and customer satisfaction.

Listen while you learn

A distributed sales organization required ongoing instruction around selling techniques, products, and changing customer demands. But the training department was under-resourced and unable to provide the prompt and ongoing support required.

Thankfully for the sales executives, recording a podcast is as easy as scheduling a conference call. Leaders and even frontline reps now take turns recording 10-15 minute updates featuring strategies, tips, success stories and more.

The product development group has gotten in on it too, recording and posting product update podcasts.

Now sales professionals — who are always on the go — can use small pockets of travel time to listen and learn.

Experience plus

With the popularity of the 70/20/10 approach to training, organizations and their leaders are increasingly gravitating toward experience-based learning. And it makes sense: it’s cost-effective, always accessible, customizable, and can even handle real work that needs to get done.

The only problem is that an experience in isolation is not learning. So, savvy leaders are beginning to provide the structure and support required for development to be extracted from the development activity.

For example, a line manager in a consumer products company has created a simple two-sided worksheet that accompanies all on-the-job development experiences. He holds a brief pre-meeting to set learning objectives, link the experience to broader career or performance improvement goals, and focus the employee’s effort.

The employee uses this worksheet as a journal throughout the experience, noting insights, challenges, and questions.

Then, upon conclusion, the worksheet guides a follow-up conversation designed to debrief the experience, extract learnings, and plan how to put them into broader practice.

Book it

Does every new or enhanced skill demand a training event? (Asks the woman who makes her living developing them!)

So much of the content employees need already exists. There are hundreds — if not thousands — of books on nearly any topic of interest. And many organizations are taking advantage of this.

Order a book for each employee, give them an appropriate amount of time to read it, then schedule a discussion session… or add it to an existing meeting agenda. (Many publishers' websites include book discussion guides with questions and other activities to support bestselling titles.)

Some departments and organizations I work with have instituted books clubs, with monthly selections and meetings to discuss and apply key concepts.

Democratization brings freedom

The democratization of employee training — and the expanded role of line leaders and employees in the construction of their own learning — represents a powerful opportunity.

And with democracy comes freedom. Freedom from waiting for a class on someone else’s training schedule. Freedom from having to translate how generic courses relate to your business. Freedom to meet employees where they are (literally through mobile means and figuratively by offering the just-in-time, just-for-them information required).

So, let’s salute (and continue to support) line-leader-led learning!

Your turn: How are your managers and employees fostering learning at the grass-roots?

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