Is your workplace geared towards education and development? If not, it should be.
Education, training, and development programs are some of the most attractive benefits to top performers. Millennials in particular crave a working environment where they can learn and develop new skills to further their career. People don’t just want to show up and do their work each day; they also want opportunities to learn and grow, to better themselves.
A workplace environment that centers on education and career development—and creates a learning mindset (more on this below)—has a profound impact on productivity, leadership, and employee satisfaction. But what does that look like and how does an employer go about cultivating this mindset in the workplace?
How to create a training and development focused workplace
If you’re not doing regular, preferably employee-led lunch-and-learns, you’re missing out on an excellent way to cultivate a learning mindset in the workplace. Never heard of a lunch-and-learn? It’s exactly what it sounds like: a person presents on a topic they’re interested in (or an experience they’ve had) as their colleagues listen, eat, and occasionally ask questions.
The topics don’t have to be completely innovative or mind-blowing, either. The presenter could talk about their passionate interest in Star Trek, or their experience and takeaways from a business conference they recently attended. The point is to emphasize the importance of learning, whether that be a new skill, an interesting story, or a not-that-interesting-to-all glimpse into the socio-political intricacies of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
The significance of getting people who are open to new ideas into a common space, and actively participating in an informal discussion, is not to be underestimated. During a recent lunch and learn at Jostle, for example, one of my colleagues shared his experience as a juror on a criminal trial, complete with slides detailing the jury process. This session led to an interesting and even productive group conversation about all kinds of aspects about our legal system. Plus, we all got to learn a little bit more about our colleague.
By creating learning opportunities for your people, you’re also creating teaching opportunities: people can share their expertise, skills, stories, and backgrounds with their colleagues. One of the side effects of a culture where learning and development is front and center is that you’ll discover so many interesting new things about your people that you otherwise wouldn’t have learned. And they get to hone their public speaking skills, too.
2. In-depth education programs
At Jostle, we recently concluded a 12-month leadership program that was open to all employees. Facilitated by an external leadership consultant, the program was designed to teach people the skills necessary to become leaders through the lens of different topics and concepts that we feel are vital to good leadership. A lot of the topics and concepts you’ve probably encountered on this very blog: values, communication, feedback, conflict, and coaching.
During the program, participants worked in groups on projects in addition to their normal workload. These groups were assembled to ensure that participants had the opportunity to work with others not usually in their day-to-day teams. Creating cross-functional teams was a very healthy way for everyone to learn and practice their new skills in a safe environment.
Now, a full year later, each group is presenting on one of the topics listed above to the rest of the organization as part of our ongoing “Grow@Jostle” development series. It’s yet another chance for them to further improve their leadership skills, by guiding their coworkers through nuanced, complicated concepts.
The effects of this program are multiple and wide-ranging:
Each member of the leadership program has gained both a theoretical understanding and practical experience of what it takes to be a leader, which not only gives them a leg up in their own career, but also creates more capable, confident employees.
Secondly, for those who didn’t take part in the program, the leadership program presentations have taught them valuable skills and concepts that can help them in their own growth as a future leader.
Lastly (and most importantly), these programs help create a culture where learning and development is encouraged and celebrated, valued and sought out. This is what I mean when I talk about the learning mindset.
A program like this can cover virtually any career-oriented topic and can be endlessly reimagined or redesigned as you see fit. The big takeaway from this program is that learning and development in the workplace isn’t a solitary project. It’s not only about improving one person’s abilities or skill set, but embracing a growth mindset and creating an environment in which learning opportunities are abundant and ongoing. At Jostle we’re always learning because this type of mindset is part of who we are.
3. An annual learning stipend
Conferences, conventions, trade shows, hackathons, and courses—each of these is potentially a great learning opportunity for people, but can be costly. Sometimes very costly. Although most departments allocate a portion of their budget towards a conference fund (to be used by the team), few companies include a personal learning stipend in their compensation packages.
This is a very simple way to promote a culture of learning and development that finally seems to be catching on at some modern workplaces. The stipend typically works like this: each employee is given a yearly personal learning credit in the amount of $300 to $500 (or more if possible) which is to be used outside of work to learn a skill, take a course, attend a workshop, you name it. For instance, I’ve used a learning stipend before to take a creative writing class.
What’s the point of these? Annual learning credits encourage extracurricular learning and emphasize the importance of learning and development across organizations in a real, material way. And cultivating a learning mindset among your people, even outside of work, leads to a workforce that’s always curious and willing to learn, which is a quality that every employer wants in its people.
Fostering a culture where learning and development are key attributes might not be as easy as adding it to your company’s list of core values. Rather, it’s about planning and developing real growth opportunities: informal lunch-and-learns, more involved leadership courses, and an incentive to better yourself. Because when your people grow, so does your organization.