When it comes to talent development, bridging the gap between learning and performance is really the proverbial "dot on the wall." Learning and HR departments in all sorts of organizations have different ideas of how to make that link.
But many organizations struggle with where to start. Learning and development efforts often end up disjointed and out-of-touch with what's really moving the needle for the business. If the outcome of learning is meant to be increased performance, then learning efforts need to be focused in a thoughtful way and aligned to what the business actually needs.
With this in mind, we have a great starting point for any organization looking to strengthen the link between learning and performance: bring skills development into the goal-setting process. Tying learning directly to the goals that employees are pursuing makes is easy to find connections between learning efforts and what moves the business forward, and can help your people exceed expectations and meet their full potential.
So how do we bring skills development into the goal-setting process?
Step 1: Have your people set great goals
Make your goals SMART
Of course, the most impactful goals meet a certain set of requirements to make them SMART.
Step 2: Identify skills needed to achieve the goal
Once the goal has been set, employees (and their managers) should reflect on how well-equipped they are to achieve that goal. This could be a matter of filling a skill gap, but it could also mean upgrading a skill set to more proficiently complete their goal. In other words, while someone may already have the skills required to complete a task, they may be able to acquire additional skills to complete that task at a higher level of quality or more quickly. Or, they could acquire skills to achieve a "stretch" element of their goal.
These can be either hard or soft skills. The important thing in this stage is for employees to consider what they need to not only achieve their goal but think about how they could reach their full potential and exceed expectations.
Step 3: Proactively develop skills
Chart a performance plan with learning
Now is not the time to wait and see what will happen. It's important to get the ball rolling right away and start identifying learning opportunities.
Based on what skills were identified as important to the goal, employees can find content in their LMS that will help support the development of that skill. The learning team may have built some learning content specific to the organization or industry, or they may have bought them from a learning content provider.
Employees should be thoughtful about selecting learning content that is relevant to their specific role. If the desired skill is an increased customer focus, that could mean a very different thing for a support employee vs. a product developer.
Note: If your organization's LMS doesn't have the content you need, you can always look to external sources as well. Hopefully, your LMS will still have a way of recording learning from external sources.
Experiential learning and learning from your peers
Taking courses is not the only way to develop a skill. Developing through experience is equally, and sometimes more valuable!
This is not simply "learning by doing" but happens through a wide variety of experiences. Employees can leverage the expertise of others in the organization to gain better understanding of particular subject matter, spend time reflecting on how they do their work, practice skills in low-risk settings, build a mentor or mentee relationship, or try and develop new ways of doing things they're already doing. These experiences are invaluable not only in learning, but in terms of helping people feel more engaged and have greater ownership of their work.
Step 4: Track employee goal progress
Milestones and skills development
Assuming the goal in question is SMART, then it's time to start using the M element of the goal: measurement. Tracking goal progress is often overlooked, but it's a critically important element of goal achievement. Tracking helps to show what efforts are working (and which ones are not), identifies areas that need additional attention and serves as a way of ensuring that your goal still makes sense in the first place.
And associated skill development should be tracked right alongside employee goal progress. You want to keep your people moving towards success, which not only means achieving their goals but "leveling up" their ability to do so efficiently and proficiently.
During every manager-employee 1:1 check-in meeting, at least some time should be devoted to discussions around goal progress. These meetings not only give the manager visibility into how the employee is progressing towards completing their goal, but they can also see that the employee is developing a very important skill set along the way. The meetings also serve to surface obstacles to goal completion, whether they be tactical or based on a skill gap - giving the manager an opportunity to recommend additional learning or development to help the employee get back on track.
Build the learning-performance bridge
It bears repeating - the outcome of learning and development is not knowledge. We are not learning for learning's sake; we want to increase performance, the kind that helps your people achieve (and exceed) their goals and move the needle forward for the organization. With goals being such a crucial element of the performance management picture, it's no wonder that they're effective jump-off points for skills development. Bringing learning and skill development into that picture helps your employees exceed expectations, meet their full potential, and drive your business forward.