In HR circles, we talk a lot about employee development. Often, we focus on its role in improving workforce engagement and retention. But strategic learning is about much more than that.
No question, when employees have an opportunity to add new work skills to their portfolio, they become more motivated and involved in their professional growth. It may well spark a desire to stick around, earn a certificate, and aim for further advancement.
Research certainly supports this assumption. For instance, 76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training, according to a recent survey by TalentLMS and The Society for Human Resource Management. But these days, we need to recognize the power of learning and development as a strategic business move.
The Value of Strategic Learning
Certainly, employees need the right knowledge and skills to perform well in their current roles. But are you preparing them for tomorrow? Strategic learning looks ahead and introduces new practices, approaches, technologies, and solutions that will drive business success, going forward.
The future of work is unquestionably complex. It will be transformed by automation and furthered by machine learning and AI. If people don’t have the means to evolve and expand their capabilities, we’ll all be held back as the workplace enters uncharted territory.
More Than Just New Skills
Effective learning and development is not just about helping employees acquire new skills. It’s also about embracing learning as a strategic imperative. Over the years, I’ve discussed the importance of this perspective with numerous experts. In particular, one previous conversation stands out.
In 2020, I invited Dickens Aubourg to join me for a #WorkTrends podcast interview. Dickens is a learning and development expert who, at the time, was Director of Client Learning at Paycom:
9 Ways to Elevate Your Learning Agenda
In this interview, we explored Dickens’ perspective on strategic learning — and the 9 points we covered still resonate:
1. Treat employee training as a key business strategy that integrates retraining, reskilling, and upskilling. Ultimately, the goal should be to gain and sustain a competitive advantage through workforce readiness, competence and innovation.
2. In most organizations, learning and development isn’t sufficiently supported. Nor is it defined correctly. Learning isn’t an isolated act of class attendance or content consumption. It’s actually part of the daily employee experience. A mix of ongoing formal and informal learning is essential for effective professional development and performance support — including opportunities for social and collaborative learning.
3. We need to value informal learning for bringing context and relevance to work. It’s a way to improve connection and collaboration within teams and across the workforce, in general.
4. Quantifying and recognizing both formal and informal learning creates experiences that help leaders drive meaningful business impact and results.
5. The shift to remote and hybrid work enables organizations to more easily develop people from within. This is critical in modern work environments.
6. HR products and platforms that focus on learning will be an increasingly important component of the HR tech ecosystem. We won’t be separating learning from other people functions, nor should we.
7. It’s important to remember that, while training is not the only form of learning, it is central to employee development. Training on new tools and processes can be woven into an overall learning program that offers other development opportunities, giving employees a sense of growth and accomplishment, as well as the potential to reach new horizons.
8. Leaders will benefit from a better understanding of upskilling. The best way to do that? Start upskilling high-level managers and others in leadership positions. Ask them to identify gaps in their capabilities and offer pathways for professional growth. Targeting only lower-level employees for upskilling isn’t fair, and it’s actually short-sighted.
9. Continuous learning breeds a more nimble, agile workforce, which is what the new world of work requires. Organizations are constantly incorporating new technology and tools. We saw it during the pandemic, but it’s accelerating now. Individuals and teams must keep pace. A culture of learning supports this.
Top Takeaway: Strategic Learning is About Optimism
Employers can no longer afford to hold back on training, development, educational resources, and a commitment to workforce learning. Not only does strategic learning contribute to HR goals, but it also is essential in helping organizations achieve key business objectives. So, for individuals and employers, alike, this means learning is an act of optimism.
I’ve witnessed this firsthand recently at partner companies that are turning to new approaches and processes for growth and improvement. And as a result, they’re thriving.
So here’s the lesson: Tapping into everyone’s potential for growth is not just wishful thinking. It’s an opportunity to strengthen the employee experience and improve performance, while advancing your business agenda. The sum total? We all win.