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Employee Development: 5 Flexible Approaches That Work

Over the last three years, flexible and agile work models have been at the forefront of workplace disruption. Emboldened by work-from-home standards enforced during the pandemic, companies across numerous industries stopped requiring employees to be present at the office everyday. Now, many of these organizations are enjoying improved productivity and performance. But how does employee development fit into these new work scenarios?

Recognizing it’s time for large-scale change, more business leaders are willing to try new work methods, tools and solutions. With agility and flexibility at the heart of this ongoing workplace transformation, an increasing number of firms are now turning to flexible development strategies, so they can help members of their workforce realize their full potential.

With widespread talent shortages still posing recruitment obstacles, personal and professional development has become a strategic priority. But organizations that embed flexibility and adaptability into their development process will fare better at retaining people and equipping them for the future.

The Case for Flexible Development

Flexible employee development makes it possible to combine diverse learning methods that meet individual and organizational needs. This is gaining traction for several reasons:

1. More organizations are embracing inclusion as a core value. As a result, respect for individual needs and preferences is being reflected in business practices of all types. For development, this translates into personalized training and resources that accommodate diverse learning habits, skill requirements, and professional interests.

2. Key characteristics of the Industry 4.0 era include broader skill gaps, increasing automation, shifting workforce demographics, hybrid jobs and the rise of non-linear careers. A one-size-fits-all approach to employee development doesn’t address these factors.

Indeed, within modern work environments, rigid development paths are counterintuitive. They leave people feeling bored, disengaged, and ultimately excluded. In contrast, flexible learning options are the most effective way to enhance the value of every employee.

Ideas for Implementing Flexible Development

Over the last 12 months, we have been watching the various ways companies in different sectors are implementing flexible employee development, as well as its impact on talent acquisition, retention, and performance. Below are several noteworthy examples:

1. Design an EVP for Every Discipline

It’s easy to find companies that rely on a generic Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to recruit and retain top talent. But smart employers know this isn’t sufficient. Instead, define compelling career pathways and clearly communicate how employees actually grow and progress within your organization. Also, keep in mind that employee motivations often vary across different professional disciplines.

This was the strategy of Atom Bank – the UK’s first digital bank – during its campaign to hire more senior engineers to deliver core services. In the highly competitive tech talent market, a unique EVP enabled the business to stand out from the crowd and attract highly qualified people.

2. Build Depth Across Functional Roles

The ideal way to expand anyone’s capabilities is to challenge them to complete tasks and projects outside of their standard responsibilities. The objectives are twofold:

  • Offer experiences that help individuals add desired skills that align with their career aspirations.
  • Fill organizational talent gaps and ensure operational continuity.

In the beverage manufacturing industry, for example, Coca-Cola identified an HR staff member’s interest in manufacturing operations and created a hybrid HR/plant management role in response. The outcome was so successful, it became a catalyst for broader implementation. The company began moving more employees into different roles and establishing lines of progression for other career opportunities across the local business unit.

3. Offer Job Rotations and Stretch Assignments

Employees in similar functional areas can learn new skills by rotating jobs and tasks. This method is popular in food manufacturing. For instance, at Nomad Foods, plant managers encourage production workers to gain engineering skills so they can perform basic machine maintenance. Nomad says it not only helps people build new skills, but also improves cross-functional teamwork.

At more senior levels, stretch assignments are a highly effective way to help employees push the boundaries of their current role, so they can improve and expand their professional skills and become better prepared for next steps. In the tech industry, for example, organizations are challenging developers to step out of their comfort zone and take on project management and other client-facing responsibilities.

4. Support Academic Learning

Often, employers lose strong talent when younger workers resign to continue academic studies on a full-time basis. Employers are responding with a variety of attractive alternatives. For instance, some companies pay educational expenses for people who remain onboard. They may also reduce an employee’s work hours. And some employers are offering these options even if people are seeking qualifications that don’t directly relate to their current role.

Here’s how this is working at consumer goods retailer, Iceland. A recent job share arrangement made it possible for two staff members to work reduced hours, so one could return from maternity leave and another could continue university studies. Building flexibility like this into the employee experience demonstrates a serious commitment to employee wellbeing and ongoing development.

5. Emphasize Shared Leadership and Mutual Accountability

Shared leadership and accountability can help different divisions work together more effectively. With this approach, organizations assign common objectives to separate functions or business units, and then measure their collective impact. This enables division heads to gain important skills, knowledge, and experiences that help them become more agile leaders.

Nomad Foods firmly believes in encouraging different division heads to work together, while giving them flexibility in how they achieve mutual objectives. According to Nomad, expanding a leader’s influence in this way tends to drive employees’ overall willingness to take ownership and accountability for outcomes.

Conclusion

These examples are only some of the ways organizations are successfully introducing more flexibility into their employee development strategies. If you’re just starting to implement these methods, first try a limited test case or pilot program and evaluate its impact before committing to wide-scale change.

Regardless, it’s important to recognize that organizations are moving aggressively in this direction. So, the sooner you can identify flexible alternatives that will enhance your classic development offerings, the better.

How to Build a Learning Culture From the Ground Up

The great resignation, the rise of hybrid work, and the fear of recession are making one thing certain — today’s talent must be agile and adapt quickly. A culture of learning is vital now because it helps organizations thrive when moving through change. But this kind of culture doesn’t happen spontaneously. It requires intentional effort. This article offers guidance for leaders who need to build a culture of learning that will stand the test of time.

What is a Learning Culture?

Culture is the combination of beliefs and values that drive organizational behavior. In other words, “how stuff gets done around here.” When you center beliefs and values on behaviors that encourage continuous growth and development, you can create a foundation for ongoing innovation and improvement.

A strong learning culture encourages and rewards both individual and organizational growth. It takes time and dedication to build a learning culture, but the outcomes can be transformational. What else does this process require? Focus on these factors:

8 Steps to Build a Learning Culture

1. Plan Effectively

Start by assessing your organization’s recruiting and hiring practices to be sure you’re attracting talent with a growth mindset. This should include a careful analysis of your onboarding process. Do you emphasize the importance of learning? Onboarding often focuses on what employees need to learn. But new employees also need to know who they should learn from and with.

Also, examine your approach to upskilling, reskilling, and cross-skilling current employees. This will give you better insight into how prepared your organization is to support future needs. 

Use these findings to plan for retention. Keeping employees onboard is critical now. According to The New York Times, “The rise in turnover since the pandemic started has a cost in productivity: It’s taking longer to get stuff out the door.”

Meanwhile, the talent pool remains limited. Currently, for every person seeking a job, 1.7  positions are available. In today’s competitive environment, employers can’t afford to lose top talent. And one of the most powerful ways to keep people committed is through a culture that supports learning and growth.

In a recent report about what we call Work 3.0, we explain how some talent models are more effective than others at achieving these outcomes. For example, organizations with remote and hybrid work models must be careful to ensure that learning opportunities are inclusive and equitable.

Smart leaders rely on the planning process to guide their decisions about learning priorities. This includes careful data gathering and analysis to verify the organization’s current state, define its future goals, and establish a strategic roadmap to bridge this gap. 

2. Ensure a Receptive Environment

Successful learning cultures begin with psychological safety. In a workplace where this is high, people feel comfortable asking questions, voicing their opinions, and taking responsibility for their mistakes.

In fact, after studying nearly 300 leaders over 2.5 years, we found that teams with high degrees of psychological safety had higher performance outcomes and lower interpersonal conflict. This kind of environment encourages employees to learn more fully from their mistakes and from one another.

3. Align Learning With Business Imperatives

What matters most to your organization? This should inform your culture. The most effective learning strategies align with business priorities. Alignment helps scale learning while keeping it relevant, meaningful, and applicable.

Environments that welcome open, honest discussions (including respectful disagreements) are more likely to align learning with the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.

You’ll want to emphasize opportunities to develop mindsets and behaviors that move your agenda forward. This should include incentives and rewards for employees who embrace desired growth.

4. Model the Change You Want to See

It’s essential to recognize continuous learning as a key to better business results. Because culture is shaped by leadership behavior, it’s critical to exhibit the actions you want to see in others. Leaders who exhibit an interest in learning and in rewarding others for their growth will inspire employees to focus on these activities.

Leaders play a significant role here by communicating expectations and modeling behaviors they want to see. For example, it’s important to regularly express curiosity, offer feedback, admit mistakes, and share knowledge.

Effective communication and storytelling by leaders can also help your workforce understand what’s expected and why it’s important for everyone in your culture. This includes engaging in authentic conversations, sharing personal learning experiences, and proactively seeking feedback.

5. Integrate Accessibility Into the Process

It’s vital to scale development opportunities so learning is accessible to everyone, not just high-potential individuals. This is particularly important in today’s environment, where employees don’t necessarily work onsite in a central location.

To improve accessibility, offer development through a variety of modalities. This can include a mix of formal in-person training, virtual courses, asynchronous informal learning, micro-learning, experiential learning, self-paced e-learning content, as well as social and collaborative learning options.

Offering a library of resources can also help keep workforce knowledge and skills up-to-date. For example, you can provide resources such as books, articles, podcasts, and videos through a central digital repository.

A learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP) with enterprise licensing can help you scale this kind of learning content. This also makes it possible to track consumption and tie learning to individual and team performance.

6. Invest in the Right Tools and Support

A strong learning culture naturally emerges when development becomes integrated into daily work habits. Leaders can play an important role here, by regularly encouraging staff to devote sufficient time to absorb, practice, share, and apply whatever they learn.

One standard is based on the 70-20-10 rule: This approach suggests that 70% of learning comes from working through challenging assignments and experiences, while 20% comes from developmental relationships, and 10% from formal training and coursework. The process is reinforced when employees take time to reflect on their learning endeavors. You can support this reinforcement phase through mentoring as well as “reverse mentoring.

7. Customize Appropriately

Today’s employees — especially those in remote and hybrid work settings — prefer development opportunities tailored to their needs. When considering how to elevate your learning culture, be sure to ask employees what they want to learn and how they prefer to engage in learning. Then consider how to provide “core” learning opportunities for all, combined with various options that any individual can pursue. 

Ideally, a customized approach delivers learning experiences that address each employee’s unique needs and interests over time. Research shows that offering various delivery methods tends to boost learner engagement and knowledge retention. Ultimately, that can improve job performance, satisfaction, and commitment.

8. Measure Effectively

Finally, plan to measure your progress and use that intelligence to improve on a continuous basis. 

Formal evaluations can help you track trends, learn from the data, and adjust accordingly. Less formal options, such as the agile review methodology of, “Liked, Lacked, Learned, Longed For” can give you immediate feedback while also changing mindsets.

Strive to make after-action reviews a natural part of work routines. Regularly ask for feedback and use pulse surveys. Also, don’t forget to establish metrics that help you determine how well leaders are advancing the overall learning agenda.

Conclusion

When you build a learning culture, you’ll see how all of these elements are interconnected. If the atmosphere is hostile or complacent, or if content isn’t accessible to all, your mission is likely to fail. If you don’t understand your objectives, measuring progress will be impossible.

Recognize that changing any aspect of an organization’s culture is easier said than done. Progress takes time, patience, support, and persistence — especially from leaders and managers. To secure buy-in, tie improvement metrics to each leader’s performance objectives. Also, to keep learning top-of-mind, publicly celebrate early wins, and keep the cadence rolling.

Eventually, any organization can lead with learning. But it won’t happen until you invest in thoughtful planning and consistent implementation. Remember, it’s a process.

Should You Cut Your Learning Budget in a Downturn?

At some point, every organization will face an economic downturn. It could be a global recession or a serious slump in one of the industries you serve. Regardless, too many organizations jump to the wrong conclusions too quickly. They slash investment in employee development to save on variable expenses. But cutting a learning budget in haste can lead to much more severe business damage over time.

That’s why smart leaders embrace a long-term growth mindset before, during, and after a downturn. It’s why they double down on developing their people, even when times are tough. And as a result, these organizations don’t just survive. They thrive.

Learning: Strength in a Downturn

Wondering how some businesses actually flourish during difficult economic times? Take a look at the research. During the recessions of 1980, 1990, and 2000, a small minority of companies (9%) showed strong performance. In fact, they outperformed competitors by at least 10% in sales and profit growth.

What was their secret? In part, they invested in helping employees make better-informed decisions, improve their responsiveness, and adapt more quickly. What was the common denominator beneath these improvements? Learning. People needed the right knowledge and skills to pursue new roles, embrace new tasks, work more resourcefully, and make more effective decisions.

That’s why organizational learning is critical during a downturn. Yet ironically, L&D is often among the first departments that suffer when budgets are cut. It’s time for learning leaders to challenge this practice. Because employee development is not just a nice-to-have option when times are good. It is actually a powerful way to increase productivity, retention, and competitiveness — especially during uncertain economic times.

Flip Your Perspective

A downturn often brings uncertainty and fear. But seeing it instead as an opportunity for growth and differentiation can help your organization position itself as a market leader when recovery eventually comes. Preserving your learning investment can help your people do exactly that. If you cut back your learning budget now, you will hinder your future success.

I might be preaching to the L&D choir. But this is a vital message to spread far and wide across your senior stakeholders. Why? Chances are, the learning budget has already been slashed in each of your competitors’ organizations. If so, you can plant seeds now that can eventually grow into a competitive advantage.

Build the Case for a Sustained Learning Budget

To communicate effectively with executive stakeholders and colleagues, focus on understanding their unique priorities, fears, and challenges. For example, issues that matter to your CFO won’t necessarily be what keeps your CHRO up at night.

Department heads can be a goldmine of insight into high-priority projects, as well as the skills needed for successful outcomes. Partnering with these leaders increases buy-in. And with more voices supporting you, the less likely your learning budget will be cut.

Internal partners can also help you define learning programs that will have a deeper impact on your business. For example, when Capital One implemented a new cloud-based digital transformation, senior learning leadership worked closely with the CIO to define and develop required skills, assignments, and content.

Align Learning With Business Success Metrics

During a downturn, leaders are laser-focused on return on investment (ROI). To avoid seeing your budget hit the cutting room floor, L&D should focus on business metrics that show how learning contributes to the top and bottom line. When you show evidence that learning boosts performance, productivity, and operational efficiency, your C-Suite will think twice about trimming your funding.

Again, partnering with other departments can help uncover relevant data that may not be available in your learning system. For instance, you could link learning behavior with business data such as sales leads, onboarding time, or customer satisfaction scores.

The more directly you tie learning content and consumption patterns with business readiness and productivity metrics, the better. It’s even better if you can prove your learning strategy delivers a tangible business impact at a lower cost than a legacy learning system or process.

Make Every Dollar Count

Ericsson is a good example of this strategy in action. When investing in a new online learning system, the L&D team found that course completions rose by 62%, while the cost of operating the learning technology ecosystem fell by half.

At the same time, business units saw a 41% increase in ethical practices, with 97% of employees completing new anti-corruption training within two months of launch. This was a month faster than previous campaigns with higher completion rates.

In addition, the L&D team discovered that the number of workers who learned Ericsson’s five company-critical skills (5G, artificial intelligence and machine learning, collaboration, sales, and automation) increased by 14%.

Address Employee Uncertainty

A final point you can make to your C-Suite involves the human aspect of thriving in a recession. Make no mistake, your people are feeling very vulnerable right now. If they think their jobs and livelihoods are at risk, they cannot do their best work.

People may need to expand their workload in the wake of hiring freezes or layoffs. They may need to switch to another role, team, or project to keep your business operating smoothly. Or, they may have extra capacity when a project is canceled or delayed.

All of these situations affect employee wellbeing and performance, especially if people don’t feel equipped to perform well. In fact, nearly 60% of workers say a lack of confidence in their skills makes their job more stressful, and nearly 40% believe their mental health suffers as a result.

Offering a tailored learning plan with clear career growth opportunities that extend beyond the immediate downturn can have a huge influence on an employee’s perception of job security.

The Marketplace Values Skilled People

Companies that treat their people well during a downturn are building lasting loyalty and a strong employer brand that can pay off over time. For L&D, actions you take now to preserve your learning budget can directly influence your organization’s ability to attract and retain talent in the future.

This is also a strong confidence signal to those outside of your company. It shows prospective customers, analysts, influencers, and investors that you understand this is just a moment in your business lifecycle, and that you’re preparing your workforce for the inevitable upturn.

After all, if your people aren’t prepared with the right skills when the opportunity arises, your business won’t be able to seize the day. In fact, if you wait to upskill your people when a recovery begins, you’ll be too late. Others who invested in learning during the downturn will lead.

Grow Now, Lead Later

Historically, some of the most innovative and inspiring businesses continued to grow during downturns because their leaders understood that opportunities don’t necessarily come during good times. Tough times present challenges that can force you to rethink processes, reskill your people, and develop a competitive edge while other companies may pause.

Learning is crucial in all economic climates, but especially in uncertainty. Skills are the building blocks for your future. You don’t want to cut back on them and find yourself without a springboard to success when the going gets better. For the kind of business impact that will stand the test of time, resist the temptation to cut your learning budget. Instead, double down — the sooner the better.

Building a Culture of Learning

We hear a lot from the thousands of candidates we speak to every year.  One of the top items on a candidate’s wish list is a culture of continued learning.  Recent human resources trends have even come up with a new form of this learning called symbiotic learning.  Symbiotic learning has at its core a commitment to continued learning.  The difference is that symbiotic learning focuses on a two- way exchange of information.  This means that new and current employees, senior and junior, learn from one another.  But how does an organization build a culture of learning to promote this kind of exchange of information?

Creating a Culture of Learning

Many human resources teams struggle with ways to improve company culture.  One of the easiest ways to improve this culture is by creating a culture of learning that encourages employee development.  This can be easier said than done, but there are some important tips your human resources team can do to create this kind of environment:

  • Start from the beginning. A culture of learning should be instilled in employees from the very beginning. This means during the hiring process, hiring managers can nurture a culture of learning.  Introducing candidates to this concept doesn’t need to be difficult, though.  Human resources can structure job postings to specifically attract candidates that seek a culture of learning.  While interviewing, the hiring manager can use video interviews to introduce candidates to stimulating videos that offer deeper insights into their industry and company.  The human resources department can encourage a culture of learning that persists throughout an employee’s career.
  • Introduce training into employee onboarding. Believe it or not, many businesses don’t actually train their employees when they join the company.  In many cases, onboarding ends at the signing of hiring documents and the office tour.  A great way to instill a culture of learning is to start the new employees off with opportunities to learn new skills and enhance skills they already possess.  Consider how this simple step can help build a culture of learning that helps set an employee up for success and engender good feelings about the organization.
  • Partner senior and junior employees together for mentorship.  Many junior employees are very eager to learn new skills and grow within their career.  And many senior employees have years of experience and knowledge that could be lost if they were to retire. A great way to build a culture of learning is to pair these two types of employees together.  The junior employee feels they’re gaining valuable information to propel their career. The senior employee gains satisfaction from passing on knowledge. This is a great way to also build a team and enhance the company culture.
  • Offer employees opportunities to attend classes, symposiums, and other learning opportunities. It can be difficult for employees to learn more skills when there’s so much work to be done.  But human resources can build a program that offers employees opportunities to take a day away from the office to enhance their knowledge.  Employees often value these opportunities to focus on themselves instead of the work.  One day away from the office won’t mean an employee falls way behind.  But it could mean they gain valuable skills and knowledge that increase job satisfaction and enhance their work product. These kinds of opportunities support a culture of learning that endures beyond one employee’s experience.
  • Offer tuition reimbursement. It’s no secret that a better educated workforce can help a company produce better work overall.  Many companies that offer tuition reimbursement find that their employees stay longer than employees who don’t take advantage of this benefit. Human resources can use this to build a culture of learning that strengthens the health of the company overall.

Creating a culture of learning does not have to be difficult.  And it doesn’t have to be expensive when companies have limited budgets.  Try some of the ideas listed herein and find out how creating a culture of learning can support your company today.

Photo credit: Bigstock

With the Warming Heart of People Pools

“And I don’t care, go on and tear me apart
And I don’t care if you do
‘Cause in a sky, ‘cause in a sky full of stars
I think I see you…”
—Coldplay, “Sky Full of Stars

The statement’s context bummed me out. Not because my father-in-law and his wife didn’t know what I did for a living, people from outside the HR technology space always think I work literally in HR. No, it was because once they realized I worked for an HR software company that provided applicant tracking software, they immediately referenced the ATS black hole from whence no job applicant is supposedly ever seen again once he or she applies online.

We ended up discussing all the other ways applicants can gain visibility with a prospective employer – their online presence and their networking acumen. But no matter how good the recruiting software is (and PeopleFluent’s is pretty damn good), managing the candidate experience along the way hasn’t been easy for companies.

In fact, for the past few years, companies on the average receive an excessive number of resumes per every open full-time permanent position. This according to Talent Board’s 2014 Candidate Award Experience Awards Report released earlier this year (the 2015 data collection is in process). The CandE data from the past two years alone that shows open requisitions for all levels of positions are tracking over 200 resumes each.

While at the same time, more than half of job applicants are applying for up to four jobs per week, while nearly a third applying to up to nine jobs per week. Though applicant tracking systems and automation has helped companies funnel these resumes into their respective job “buckets” to be reviewed by overtaxed recruiters and hiring managers, the application process has not changed much for job seekers and employers.

But one of the biggest problem with the post-and-pray reactive recruiting approach and online application process is that it’s req-based – every time a new job is posted recruiters have to review a huge volume all new applicants on the average (most of whom aren’t qualified and many they may already have in their database) instead of leveraging their existing database where potential matches lie.

What if a company’s applicant database could be used to generate proactive sourcing pipelines? With better access to their own data, knowing how to set up the applicant pipelines, and how to communicate with the candidates can make the marketing investments pay off with great return and less near-term churn.

I recommend that companies get outside their own reqs and generate their own qualified candidates by creating and maintaining people pools based on skills and competencies needed for the work at hand. Being proactive with sourcing and screening doesn’t have to be aspirational – companies can do it with their own applicant databases and they way they capture new applicants via their career sites.

Because if it takes 45 minutes to complete an online application, then it’s 40 minutes too long. Attract applicants based on skills and experience needed, not just the literal requisition (especially for non-technical repetitive hiring), and collect just enough information to screen and create qualified talent pools for your recruiters and hiring managers. This allows companies to create proactive people pools based on skills need and not the job itself, which can and will maximize their recruitment dollar.

Given the time and resources it takes to find the right people why should companies start the process from scratch each and every time? By building these people pools (again, who cares what we call it as long as we’re hiring), employers can develop them around job types, skills and competencies to which they can turn to fill key roles without having to restart the processes from the beginning.

Creating repositories and automatically updated saved searches of qualified candidates in your talent acquisition system, such as those who were qualified but ultimately not selected for the position for which they applied, provides employers with a short list of individuals already engaged and interested in working for the company. This saves time and money and can help improve the relationships with hiring managers.

Along these lines, people pools can help improve the candidate experience and employer brand. For instance, informing candidates who weren’t selected that they will be kept in a pool and considered for future positions will not only let them avoid having to reapply, but also create a more positive impression of the company. It also keeps those individuals warm and engaged and interested in future openings. As a result, when a new positions becomes available, the company can fill it much more quickly by turning to those who have previously expressed interest.

A people pool strategy also can enhance talent mobility. Understanding the talent already in the organization and identifying who can be called upon to fill key gaps is another key advantage. Using employee data stored in the HR system can illuminate the talent already in place and their unique skills and strengths. As a result, the company can further streamline the process of filling positions with internal talent, while helping to retain their best employers by giving them the opportunity to advance through the ranks.

Of course, the “black hole” application experience hasn’t completely gone away and nearly 50 percent of the CandE winners still only received 3 out of 5 stars of less on their application process. The conundrum is that because of the great recruiting technology equalization happening in the world it just will not be enough to be an employer of choice long-term.

Remember, every person is a perpetual candidate no matter how happily employed or engaged they become over time, something we discussed more than once with Talent Board co-founders Elaine Orler and Gerry Crispin on the TalentCulture #TChat Show.

They agreed that at any given time they may find another role more appealing inside organization, or elsewhere. All of these candidate and employee phases combined with empowering technologies and continuous “customer” service from those who employ and woo candidates are what will give organizations the unfair advantage in the 21st century.

This doesn’t mean the effectual stretch and learning new skills will guarantee jobs for everyone, but these will be the benchmarks for many CandEs to come, with the warming heart of people pools ultimately eclipsing the black hole.

The Benefits Of Success Measured By The Effectual Stretch

It wasn’t exactly the romanticized version of backpacking through an exotic land, especially if you consider a cheap roller suitcase a backpack, which unfortunately I did. But that was me then in 1998, when my then girlfriend (now wife) had bitten me with the travel bug. Prior to that my travel was limited to North America. When I was 13 I went to Hawaii, which I actually thought was another country.

My wife had traveled extensively prior to us meeting, including the romanticized version of backpacking through Europe after college, only to get most of her belongings stolen in Prague after only two days into her trip. She could’ve got home after that, wanted to go home after that, but regrouped, bought a few new things, and went on to travel for another few weeks.

Mama and Me Costa RicaAnd so our first big journey together was to Costa Rica. A lovely country, it was the first time I had been to such an exotic land, and to travel with someone else who lived boldly, to experience such visceral sensations I had never before experienced was amazing in and of itself. But the meeting of people I had never met before, some of whom had alien worldviews compared to mine, and exchanging those worldviews with one another, was the epitome of the “effectual stretch.”

The “effectual stretch” meaning pushing oneself to learn and expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in a way that’s produces desired yet diverse effective results, whatever those results may mean to each person. It could mean the literal extremes of success or failure, or that fatty layer in between that gives sustenance to our tenuous journey of sinew and bone.

We’ve attempted to impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to be bold yet aware, to protect themselves but not live in fear, to keep getting back on the bull like they own the beast, horns held tightly in hands. This includes exposing them to travel, new locales and people, experiences that we hope will shape their adult lives and those they interact with for the better.

Listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast about empowering a better workplace and the cities where those workplaces are, I had to smile when I heard American economist and Harvard University professor Edward Glaeser talk about how he was taking a sabbatical while “…attempting to civilize my children by taking them to a variety of different cities.”

Glaeser believes that encouraging industrial diversity would contribute more to economic growth. Cities that embrace a people-centric view of community (around infrastructure, education, services, etc.) means that businesses are more likely to thrive in said communities. The same podcast includes commentary from Glaeser on Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s ambitious Downtown Project, which is primarily an urban revitalization effort, but also an effectual stretch project on a grander community scale due to the emphasis on business and workforce diversity. It’s a “collision” strategy that encourages others to live and work together, continually exchanging ideas in order to create positive and effectual change while powering sustainable business.

Which brings me to the live TalentCulture #TChat Show we did from Cork, Ireland for the IT@Cork European Technology Summit of over 400 attendees, as well as the tech talent diversity panel session that Meghan and I moderated at the summit. The panelists and guests included a diverse group of business leaders, an academic and one inspirational young student: David Parry Jones, VP UK and Ireland VMWare; Noelle Burke Head of HR Microsoft Ireland; Michael Loftus, Head of Faculty of Engineering and Science CIT; student Ciara Judge, one of the Kinsale winners of the 2013 Google Science Award; and Caroline O’Driscoll, Tax Partner at KPMG, and Vice Chair of IT@cork.

ITCork Diversity panel

Not only is the city of Cork (and much of the Republic of Ireland for that matter) investing in business-friendly infrastructure and creating competitive tax codes, they embrace the above collision strategy. The not-for-profit IT@cork European Tech Cluster, the organization behind the European Tech Summit, represents the interests of the IT industry in Ireland. This includes indigenous and international IT professionals, executives, multinationals, government leaders, public sector, academia, entrepreneurs, investors and the legal and financial professional services community joining together to drive thought leadership, collaboration and global strategic alliances.

ITCork15 TChat Show

Amen. The good news is that IT@Cork is being replicated in various iterations throughout communities worldwide. Even less formal, but no less impactful, events take place, including the likes of Event Santa Cruz in my own backyard, founded by Matthew Swinnerton, brings together local entrepreneurs and the community every month, again to facilitate the effectual stretch and diversity of ideas.

Although our core theme of the IT@Cork panel session and #TChat Show was gender diversity, what became crystal clear was the theme of broader diversity and inclusion. It’s all about attracting a wider array of backgrounds and worldviews of both women and men who support one another. This is what can lead to a competitive advantage in business and an equitable advantage for cities and communities around the world.

According to PwC’s 2015 CEO Survey, talent diversity and inclusiveness are not just the softer issues only given lip service, but instead are now considered crucial to being competitive. Of the CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy, 85% think it’s improved their bottom line. They also see such strategies as benefiting innovation, collaboration, customer satisfaction, emerging customer needs and the ability to benefit technology.

So it’s clear for me and many others today that the best business outcomes for organizations today can only be achieved through diversity and inclusion growth collisions. However, it’s also important to note that no matter progressive and elevated organizations are, complex regulatory changes and an increase in Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) audit frequency and intensity abound. This means many organizations need assistance to ensure diversity programs and Affirmative Action plans are documented and compliant, while at the same time magnifying their overall diversity impact.

Ever since my wife and I had met one day at the beach nearly 18 years ago, it’s been one growth opportunity after another. Not always travel related, and certainly not always successful, it’s been more about having an explorer’s mentality and approach to mindful and agile living both at home and at work. Business and community leaders who invest and sustain this approach will reap the benefits of success measured by the effectual stretch.

What You Need To Impact Training the Right Way

Opportunities for growth can really make or break employee retention ratings. It’s the reason why 76 percent of employees choose to stay with an organization. So, organizations throw overwhelming amounts of money at formal training programs — $164 billion in 2012, according to ATD. Unfortunately, research suggests they’re seeing very little ROI.

Formal initiatives do not impact employee development the same way social learning does. Eighty percent of learning takes place through on-the-job interactions with peers, experts and managers, according to Bersin and Associates, as opposed to a formal environment.

If managers aim to retain employees through development opportunities, they should invest in initiatives that make a difference, like social learning.

The infographic below — compiled by showd.me, an enterprise peer-to-peer learning platform — shares new trends impacting learning and development.

Some stats to note:

  • 70 percent of people forget what they learn in formal training in just one week

  • 66 percent of people don’t see opportunities for professional growth in their organization

  • 86 percent of employees are learning what they need to know for work by collaborating with others

  • Trainees increased their performance by 22 percent through deliberate reflection and sharing lessons learned with others

Check out the full infographic below to discover how social learning can make a positive impact within your organization.

showdme_Social-Learning-Everything-You-Need-to-Know_550px

What do you think? How might social learning improve training at your organization?

Image Credit: Confused by Jean-Rene Vauzelle, IMCreator, cc

5 Skills Gaps Employers Need To Address

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest challenges hiring managers face is finding well-rounded candidates with strong skill sets.

Over recent years, multiple studies have addressed the growing skills gap and how to fix it. However, this has caused many employers and job seekers to think that the “skills gap” is a single catch-all for any employee or job seeker who lacks a needed skill.

What’s important to understand, though, is every field faces its own unique skills gap.

Instead of looking at the skills gap as a single, large issue, let’s break it down into five prominent skills gaps employers need to address:

1. Digital media skills

Research shows that 77 percent of companies believe their lack of digital skills is the reason their business hasn’t been able to adapt to new digital trends. When more than 90 percent of companies don’t have skills in social media, mobile media, and internal social networks, it can be difficult to keep your business moving forward.

Employers can address this skills gap by investing time and money into the development of digital skills. Employers can offer training programs for employees in order to teach them about the company’s digital strategy and give them the tools they need to be successful in the digital world.

2. Soft skills

Although hard skills are important for employees to have, soft skills are more likely to help employees increase their performance in the workplace.

Despite the importance of soft skills, 44 percent of senior executives believe this is a weakness for employees. Many employees lack strong skills in communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.

To address this skills gap, employers should provide continuous learning opportunities for their employees. Workshops, seminars, and team-building activities can boost the aforementioned soft skills.

3. Marketing skills

The marketing field is constantly evolving, and marketing professionals need to keep up with the latest trends and strategies.

Marketing professionals need to understand various content marketing skills including analytics, SEO, marketing automation, and e-commerce. Employers can provide training in these areas, which will help them develop stronger marketing professionals and tighten the skills gap.

4. Skilled trades and retiring Baby Boomers

In 2012, more than half of skilled-trade workers were 45 years of age or older. According to Adecco, one-third of senior executives believe the manufacturing industry will be most affected by the skills gap.

To address this change in the workforce, employers must actively recruit younger employees and provide training. This will help employers maintain a streamline of skilled talent, even after Baby Boomers retire.

5. STEM skills

STEM careers are expected to grow 17 percent by 2018. Unfortunately, employers believe 12 percent of workers lack software skills and 22 percent lack technical skills.

One way employers can improve this skills gap is to provide on-the-job training and certification for different softwares and technologies. This will allow employees to continuously learn new technologies and keep up with the latest trends in their industry.

The skills gap is a growing issue for employers and it can only be resolved if employers take action. By taking note of these skills gaps, employers will improve their training programs and develop more skilled employees.

What do you believe are some prominent skills gaps employers must address?

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video interview solution used by more than 2,000 companies across the globe. Learn more about using video interviewing to jump the skills gap and connect with Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

photo credit: only alice via photopin cc