3 Ways to Create a Flexible Learning Culture

Jason Corsello

SVP of Strategy and Corporate Development, Cornerstone

The modern career is no longer defined by a vertical ascension of titles. Today, we rarely see a resume with a gradual move from "Junior Sales Associate" to "VP of Sales" over a ten-year period in the same industry. Instead, people move from one industry to another, and one department to the next, gathering a variety of skills and diverse knowledge as they grow. The career "ladder" has essentially become a career "chutes and ladders"—where there are multiple paths to success, and opportunities around every corner.

The new definition of careers means employees have new learning and development expectations from their employers. While people desire more independence at work, they also crave more personalization. Sure, people want to carve their own path—but they also want mentorship and guidance along the way.

Here are three ways HR leaders can meet these dual needs, and create a workplace culture that is both flexible and supportive.

Offer 24/7 Access to Resources

People working across different departments and schedules make it difficult to meet everyone's interests and availability. Instead of offering infrequent, mandatory training sessions, develop a learning hub that covers multiple topics and can be accessed 24/7 on multiple platforms.

Consistent access to resources enables employees to learn on their own terms and test out different interests—for example, a sales associate might be interested in taking a marketing class, or vice versa. Learning and development opportunities should always be readily available to those who want them.

At Cornerstone, our learning management system is pre-loaded with content from our content partners like TED, Skillsoft and Harvard Business Publishing. In addition to covering a variety of skills and interests, the content is available in different formats—from a 2-hour course from Harvard on management to a 2-minute video on how to give a great presentation. Everything online is mobile-ready, and we also offer in-person learning sessions.

Provide Ongoing Feedback

Recently, there has been substantial backlash against the annual review in favor of ongoing feedback. In my opinion, both forms of performance evaluations can be valuable—learning isn't measured by whenyou give feedback, but by how people feel about reviews. A true learning culture is an environment where people feel comfortable about asking for feedback and receiving it at any time.

An annual review is only harmful if it's a surprise—and it should never be a surprise. People should always have an understanding of where they stand, and the review should be an opportunity to spend a couple hours reflecting more deeply on where they stand now, and where they want to go.

A motto we use at Cornerstone is "Always be developing." We recently rolled out a course for employees on situational leadership, which encourages employee-led feedback. We're trying to teach people to be proactive about performance conversations, so we can identify their career goals and help them get there earlier.

Align Employee Goals with Organizational Needs

After defining an employee's goals through feedback sessions, focus on how those goals align with your organization's needs. Career paths need to support both vertical and horizontal movement, and matching an employee's goals with organizational gaps will allow you to identify unique opportunities for him or her across the company. In addition, aligning these goals and gaps will help your employees understand how they are making a difference in your company.

The complexity of today's career paths also means people are shying away from simply defining goals by "core competencies," or a defined set of skills. At Cornerstone, goals are defined by three things: knowledge, behavior and attitude. This triumvirate is our guiding light when we evaluate employee performance, when we ask employees about their aspirations and when we think about new opportunities for our employees. We want our employees to know that we support their personal and professional growth.

With the notion of a career becoming more and more fluid, it's crucial for organizations to see individuals as partners in learning and development. Learning is about empowering people to reach their full potential—and subsequently, empowering your organization to do the same.

Photo: Creative Commons

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