You want your employees to learn and grow so that they can do their jobs more effectively, be ready to take on more challenging work, and move up into more responsible positions. But you know how it goes. Both you and they are absorbed with day-to-day work that leaves little time for study or self-improvement. They--and you--are stuck with the skills they have.
Gregg Pollack, founder of Code School, which has provided online programming courses to more than a million people in 237 countries, takes a different approach. All 51 Code School employees, whatever their jobs, are offered one day a month to spend learning and improving their job skills in any way they choose. This program, called "Betterment" has been in place for more than five years and the benefits it brings are well worth the lost work hours, he says.
Here's what makes Betterment so effective, and why you should try it too--for your work force and for yourself as well:
1. It's fair.
"Betterment allows us to be intentional about employee improvement," Pollack says. "Many companies tell employees they're expected to always be improving at their craft, but offer little means to help them execute on this goal." By giving employees not only the expectation that they will keep growing and learning, but also the time to do so, you turn an unreasonable expectation into an opportunity for both you and your employees to benefit.
2. It allows employees to learn in the way that works best for them.
There's plenty of research that shows that different people learn best in different ways. I, for instance, intake knowledge best by either attending a class, taking an online course, or reading. Instructional videos don't help me at all. Allowing people to choose how they want to learn gives everyone the chance to use the learning method that works best for them.
3. You'll have more engaged employees.
Most employees know that their own skills are the greatest asset they have and constantly want to improve those skills. That's why many list learning opportunities as a motivator to take a job along with compensation and perks. Allowing employees to work on the skills they most want to develop is a powerful motivator--and they may be reluctant to leave for another employer who doesn't offer that one-day-a-month learning opportunity.
4. Employees will use their new skills to your advantage.
That's how it works for Code School. "One of our marketing coordinators, Kristi Thomson, has been using Betterment days to study for her Google Analytics and Adwords certifications," Pollack reports. "She handles the advertising programs at Code School, so these certification programs have helped her better identify trends and traffic coming to create more relevant advertisements for potential customers."
5. They will share their knowledge, making all your employees smarter.
Employees at Code School are encouraged to share the knowledge they acquire on Betterment days with their peers. The company has a number of formal programs, such as "Tuesday Talks" that are built around employees teaching others what they've learned, but a lot of it happens informally over lunches as well.
6. They'll return to their jobs refreshed.
Taking a break and focusing your attention on something other than your work (even it relates to that work) always brings you back to your job with a clearer mind and a new perspective. So employees who've taken a day off for learning are likely to come back to their jobs with their energy and enthusiasm renewed.
7. You'll have more valuable employees.
That's the bottom line for both of you--it's a win-win where they get to grow their skills and you get a more skilled work force. The company also holds regular hack days-- typically three-day events during which employees use new skills to build something or create some innovation.
Put the two programs together and it's a powerful combination, Pollack says. "If you can create a culture at your company that encourages learning and innovation, good things will happen."