If more companies commit to creating a lifelong learning culture within their organisations, we will see happier employees and make the world a better place in which to work and play, says Miika Mäkitalo
When it comes to establishing what makes a successful manager, there’s a saying, ‘good leaders are good learners’. Unfortunately, for many of us, learning is a word we associate almost exclusively with early education and universities, but in truth, schooling should be seen as a warm-up rather than the finish line.
Over the last two years, businesses have been forced to adapt in the most dramatic fashion. Switching to remote working has been a learning curve for most, but despite widespread concern initially, we have seen how quickly teams can pick up new systems and ways of working.
While employees have proven their commitment and abilities during the pandemic, companies themselves have been stretched. Naturally, with budgets tight and all the focus on productivity, investment in employee progression has gone from a run to a crawl. Ultimately, this comes down to companies investing in training and education when they are doing well, and withdrawing the budget when things are pointing south. Research from Soffos.ai illustrated this trend by revealing that 46% of employees have received no professional training from their employer during the pandemic.
Given that employee development has slipped down the list of priorities for many businesses, I wanted to share several reasons why companies should endeavour to support initiatives that encourage learning within their organisation.
As the CEO of customer and employee feedback company HappyOrNot, I am conscious that in order to practice what we preach, we must maintain a culture where employees are continually given the opportunity to learn and develop their skills.
Recruitment and loyalty
In today’s market, attracting new talent is a constant fight between companies. Generally, the winners of these battles are the companies that can offer applicants and graduates the company culture that they are looking for, as well as suitable roles and road-mapped career progression, rather than just financial reward.
The beauty of becoming a company that delivers career progression and offers a positive company culture to the next generation, is that this builds reputation. Take Glassdoor for example, this is the place where everyone can share how they feel about their workplace, and importantly, inspire and attract new recruits.
Often, when leaders talk about their key decisions or successes, they might refer to a mentor or teacher who was able to help them learn and develop. The power of this cannot be understated, and when done well within the company, a mentor can help a new joiner to learn rapidly and bestow years worth of experience in a matter of days or even hours. While it’s true that the mentee benefits greatly from mentoring, it’s worth mentioning that there is significant value for the mentor too, in particular the opportunity to test new management styles and develop one’s communication skills.
Encouraging teams to set aside time for mentoring, increases the belief and confidence of employees that their skills, wellbeing and success is cared about. Additionally, by building bonds between senior, mid and junior level staff, mentoring supports relationships that help cultivate an inclusive company culture, loyalty amongst employees and lifelong friendships too.
As I mentioned earlier, to achieve greater productivity, many businesses have removed the time and resources previously reserved for training, such as workshops, courses and one-to-one sessions. And while in the short-term this may appear necessary; I would argue that nurturing a workforce of cross-skilled employees will in the long run prove to be a much more sustainable strategy.
As a company, HappyOrNot believes that workplace culture and collaboration is the route to efficiency, and that to achieve this, employees need to be given the time and space to learn. So, as a solution, we implemented a half-day policy, whereby every employee is entitled to take half a working day per week, to learn a new skill that they believe will help them do their job more effectively.
Giving employees the autonomy to choose what area or skill they would benefit from learning, means that they can control the direction of their professional progression. Subsequently, by then having each individual share what they have learned with the group, our departments can join forces and problem solve with multi-skilled members of other teams.
Improving the bottom line
Due to the pandemic, few have had the luxury of not thinking about their bottom line. But when it comes to the topic of training and development, not only is it a good way to maintain employee morale and activity, but it is also proven to help boost profits too. Like a well-oiled machine, a well-trained workforce with purpose and clear direction, is unstoppable. By filling knowledge gaps and upskilling employees, companies can go from good to great in a matter of months. Additionally, increasing employee learning opportunities provides businesses with a way to use and build on the personal strengths of every employee, which according to a study by Harvard Business Review, is said to increase profits by up to 29%. Along with pleasing the shareholders, this link between higher profits and employee learning, also signals to employees that their personal success is directly linked to the success of their company.
Despite what some say, work should not be boring. In fact, it should actually be quite the opposite, work should be the place that allows you to express the best version of yourself, it should make you feel motivated, and most of all, fulfilled.
Learning is one of the fundamental parts of making this positive experience a reality. The moment an employee feels like they are no longer learning, the clock is ticking. When we learn, we share and we grow, it sounds like an advertisement, but it’s true. The sensation of gaining knowledge that we can then distribute, and put into action, is exciting and is what drives ambition.
Develop future leaders
Sometimes it can be hard to look ahead, but when it comes to business management, investing in strategies that increase longevity is the game. Without training future leaders, companies risk a significant stall on growth and innovation. Look back a decade and the landscape looks almost unrecognisable such is the speed at which business and technology now move. In order to keep up, companies must train the next generation of leaders and empower them to provide a new perspective through which innovation and success can flourish.
Finally, while much of learning and training is directed by companies at juniors, I would encourage everyone at all levels to explore how they can develop their expertise. As an avid podcast listener, I am constantly reminded of how endless the pit of knowledge is. As an optimist, I too am convinced that if more companies commit to creating a lifelong learning culture within their organisations, we will see happier employees and, in turn, make the world a better place in which to work and play.
Miika Mäkitalo is Chief Executive Officer of HappyOrNot