Whose job is it to develop talent?

We all know the research.  Gallup says that people leave their leader, not the organization.  Harvard Business Review says that, above all, top talent wants the opportunity to grow.  The American Society for Training & Development estimates that U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee learning and development in 2010.

Learning drives performance in innumerable ways.  Employees are better skilled to do their jobs.  They are more committed because they are more productive and engaged.  So how do employees really learn?

Attending a class to learn important content is a good way to learn a new skill or gain knowledge.  The more concrete and relevant the skill or knowledge, the more the employee is likely to use it, so the more your training investment pays off.  But in today’s knowledge-based environment, skills and knowledge is complex, and often difficult to use right away, and without practice, may be lost.

Leaders are in a unique position to facilitate, support and embed learning for their teams.  What is the leader’s role in learning and development?  What better way to engage employees than becoming their teacher.  As leaders assume the role of teacher, learning tends to be a two-way and highly interactive process….think of Jack Welch and his leaders at GE – learning went both ways.

Being a teacher does not mean standing in front of a class, necessarily, although that may be a great opportunity to reach a group of learners.  Typically, however, each learner has different needs, different levels of skill and a different context to relate the content.

Being a teacher means being a learning coach.  Let’s explore the role of a learning coach.

  • Inspire.  Generate a thirst for learning; teach them how to learn.
  • Help narrow the focus.  What area of learning holds the most value to the employee’s current or future role?
  • Facilitate reflection.  There is very little in business today that is black or white.  Nuances abound, and leaders can help employees reflect on what they learn, and how it is relevant to their role.
  • Encourage practice.  Keep the learning fresh and alive.  Don’t go back to “business as usual”.
  • Support.  Learning, particularly where there is a challenge to stretch, can be hard, and the learning coach can listen and encourage.  The more difficult and complex the learning, the more the learning coach can support.

Sometimes the unexpected may happen along the way.  The teacher may very well become the learner.  And the dialogue generated by the learning experience may impact the whole team, as more and more relevant conversations occur.

So what constitutes learning?  Ah, that’s a dialogue for another day….

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