Employees today expect employers to provide opportunities for continuous education. According to Harvard Business Research, workers across every generation, from boomers to Gen Z, state "becoming an expert in my field" as one of the requirements for employment.
Fortunately, there are endless options to provide learning opportunities. From online MBAs and certifications to weekend bootcamps, employees can often find a format and time frame that works for them.
Ideally, the concept of continuous education should be woven into the fabric of every company, rather than viewed as a benefit, afterthought, or extra activity. This mindset starts at the top of the organization.
Informal training opportunities are just as pervasive as formal programs. According to training and development expert Halelly Azulay, who authored "Employee Development on a Shoestring," 70% of employee development in organizations happens through informal programs.
When I was leading my first company Information Experts, establishing a culture of continuous learning was a top priority. Given that our mission was to help other organizations achieve their goals and missions through the design and development of exceptional training & development solutions, it would have been hypocritical to not cultivate a culture of continuous learning.
Here are 5 inexpensive yet highly effective strategies we employed to foster a culture of personal and professional development.
- Book clubs. To encourage collaboration and communication across the organization, employees launched an internal book club.
- Lunch & learns. Our company held a lot of lunch & learns, often around TED Talks or articles one of the employees discovered.
- Completions & wins events. This initiative is something that many of my Successful Culture clients have adapted. Our company provided a wide range of services, and was project-centric. This meant that many project teams weren't aware of what other project teams were doing. They were unaware of the customers we were serving, the problems we were solving, and the solutions we were providing.
Each quarter, we selected a project team to present on a recently completed project. They had full creative license to present however they chose. Not only did this educate the rest of the company on our skill sets and achievements, it empowered the project managers to look for similar opportunities in their own customer environments.
- Strategic sharing sessions. Our company had a strategic education policy. When an employee wanted to attend a training program outside the office, they had to complete a continuous education request form.
Part of this form required them to present a business case explaining how the desired training aligned to the company's overall mission and how it would enhance the employee's ability to do their job. In addition, they had to agree to schedule a sharing session with the rest of the company so that the knowledge they acquired didn't reside only with them. This allowed the information to cascade through the company, and benefit everyone.
- Field trips. Our company also hosted field trips. For example, when we were working with Wegmans, we took the project team on a scheduled field trip to one of their stores to meet with the executives and get a behind-the scenes look at their operations. For companies that work in industries such as hospitality, higher education, or healthcare, field trips provide an extra layer of knowledge that employees can't get from documents and office meetings.
There are many other ways to educate employees on a creative, shoestring budget that will cultivate a culture of continuous learning without stressing an employee's schedule or the company finances.
A mindset of personal and professional development will help to position a company as a leader in its field and attract & retain the very best talent.