Building diverse learning paths for your workforce is the most sustainable means of ensuring true change.
By Lisa Maxwell
Even in a sluggish economy, investments in human capital through employee programs are on the rise, and organizations with strong employee development initiatives are positioned to gain a critical competitive edge. In the September 2010 edition of HRO Today, I discussed the importance of corporate leaders’ attitudes on employee engagement and retention. When engaged through diversified employee development initiatives and customized training programs in skill development (i.e., personal, technical, time management), employees feel a part of the organization’s overall success. Enlightened organizations that offer a variety of employee development opportunities—such as peer-to-peer mentoring, attendance at events, seminars, online training, and instructor-led classes (so that employees can select the training they find most effective)—are organizations that have transformed their company culture into one that is not only super productive but also innovative and caring.
W. Edwards Deming in the 1950s shifted the Western management paradigm on a global scale by teaching Japan’s top corporate leaders how to improve service, product quality, product testing, and global sales. Deming’s main message: Transform company culture. Organizations are made up of people, so transformation of company culture starts with individuals who learn to perceive new meanings to life, events, numbers, and interactions between people. Deming argued that the basis for every kind of relationship both inside and outside of an organization were the same: 1) set an example; 2) be a good listener, but do not compromise; 3) continually teach others; and 4) enable others to rethink current practices while moving into new theoretical terrain.
Deming’s business philosophy is summarized in his famous “14 Points,” which pose a challenge for many organizations to apply them in a way that will result in continual improvement. Point 7, “Institute Leadership,” Point 8, “Drive out Fear,” and Point 9, “Break Down Barriers,” are particularly poignant for coaching not only executive teams but entire organizations to begin what Deming referred to as “the transformation.” He said that leadership at the top level is a “long-term commitment to new learning and that new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation.” The bottom line is that helping people do a better job is the responsibility of top quality managers who aim for greater employee camaraderie and improved knowledge retention.
HR organizations that have transformed company cultures display common characteristics for employee recruitment and retention that I call “diverse learning pathways” and “multiple intelligences learning.” Within diverse learning pathways, organizations should offer a variety of employee development opportunities that are customized in the ways mentioned previously. The benefits of offering diverse learning pathways can include increased retention, a positive effect on company culture and productivity, improved ability to recruit, enhanced quality of work, and increased organizational expertise. Reduced opportunity cost also occurs when employees are assimilated into an organization more quickly.
Multiple intelligences learning enables top HR organizations to recognize that people learn in different ways. Employees need a variety of learning opportunities that enable them to make connections and tap into their strongest learning styles—such as face-to-face classrooms, software, mentoring, coaching, one-on-one, seminars, and brown-bag lunches. Individuals’ strengths and weaknesses are assessed to provide benchmarks for career-long professional development activities, and they are provided with an instructive and interactive orientation in a variety of ways, such as instructor-led, computer-based, seminars, webinars, and on-the-job-training.
The key to cultural transformation is integrating corporate leadership into the learning processes and incorporating internal resources to host or participate in programs. The active and visible involvement of top executives signals the seriousness of the training and demonstrates that their efforts are valued. Deming’s points on instituting leadership, driving out fears, and breaking down barriers enable everyone in the organization to work at cultural transformation. These points require smart corporate leaders to continually stress constancy of purpose within middle-management and enable leaders to be both mobile and visible within the organization. By paying attention to long-range planning and setting examples rather than developing prescriptions, leaders grow their own leadership talent. This is imperative for senior HR executives involved in the selection, procurement, and delivery of services such as payroll, benefits administration, recruitment, relocation, screening, HRMS, talent management, and training. They are the ones charged with creating a company culture in which employees are seen as its greatest asset.
Lisa Maxwell is the founder and managing partner for Gerard Stewart, an executive search firm specializing in HRO. She can be reached at 404-949-0391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.