When a young Marine officer becomes a company commanding officer, it is his first experience with leadership. Being responsible for the lives of more than 200 Marines in times of peace and, more importantly, during war is a heavy weight to bear. The consequences of failure are staggering. That's why a young Marine officer's most crucial task is ensuring that those under his command have the knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to succeed.
This resonates with me and my role as a learning professional. I understand the critical importance of learning as it relates to knowledge, skills and behaviors, and I see the value in having a safe environment in which to practice these skills. But today, many companies are missing a key element of leadership—taking responsibility for the development of employees both as individuals, and as members of a team.
Talent development is a new buzz word, and we talk about it all the time. What's unclear is who is responsible for developing employees? Is it the Learning and Development department? Is it HR? Or might it be the manager of the team or department? I am inclined to go with the latter. After all, the leader is closest to the team, has a thorough understanding of the capability and capacity of team members and always has skin in the game.
But this scenario doesn't make the learning and development department obsolete. L&D professionals are subject matter experts on how adults learn, and managers are subject matter experts on the missions of their respective teams. Working together, they can develop scenarios, plan activities, identify competencies, build motivation and deliver learning content in the most expedient and lasting ways. To maximize this partnership, the managers should follow this five-step approach as part of the talent development process.
Team leaders know which skills will be crucial to the success of the team, and talent development process. For example, a team focused on receiving and classifying new inventory has to work together to achieve accuracy and efficiency—this task requires key organizational skills, and managers should make it clear why organization is essential for team success.
With this context, team leaders can motivate their employees to learn. They can also help them connect the dots between a newly learned skill, and the increased success of the team. After gaining insight into the context of a learning experience, employees will likely be more attentive and be able to better relate learning content to their jobs.
2)Prepare the Learner
Team leaders can prepare their employees for a learning experience, whether formal or informal. Before diving into the learning experience, set it up. Explaining what to expect and how the new knowledge or skill will benefit the team and the employee creates interest and curiosity. By generating curiosity, the manager says, "This is important—here's why you should pay attention and learn."
As the learner embarks on a journey to gain new knowledge, check in regularly. Answer questions and ask questions to ensure that the process is working. Track progress using your Learning Management System as well as regular evaluations related to the new knowledge and skills they are learning.
A simple yet effective question mangers should pose after an employee has gained new knowledge is, "What did you learn, and how will that help you to do your job more effectively or efficiently?" With that question, the manager emphasizes the relevance and importance of the learning content.
If the leader cannot connect the dots back to the employee's work, it may be time to question the need for the learning experience.
Everyone needs practice to improve and perfect a skill. Feedback is important here, and doesn't necessarily mean a critique. Rather, it means discussing the employee's confidence level, identifying ways to increase confidence and coming up with different scenarios that might challenge the employee in the future.
Keep the dialogue going until both you and the employee believe that the appropriate confidence level has been reached.
Managers aren't the only ones that have to guide employees through a learning experience. L&D teams play a crucial role as well—look out for the next post in this two-part series, which will explore L&D's role in the partnership between managers and learning professionals.
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