An organisation with employees who are all eager to learn and develop is a vision which appeals to us all. But that organisation should be clear that, in order to achieve this, it requires employee engagement to be an integral part of its strategic plan.
You can recruit the right people, create a good management structure, foster a positive team ethic and implement the right systems. But if you neglect to nurture your talent, you could still risk losing staff commitment, productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability.
Around 50 years ago American psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, first wrote about ‘motivation factors at work’. He differentiated between ‘hygiene’ or ‘maintenance factors’, such as salary, work conditions and work-life balance, which can cause dissatisfaction if missing, but do not necessarily motivate employees if increased, and true motivation factors – such as achievement, recognition and advancement.
His central theory is still relevant to employer/employee relationships today. Certain factors in the workplace cause job satisfaction, and a completely separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction, the two acting quite independently of each other.
One of the key factors in employee engagement is the opportunity for employees to grow and develop job and career enhancing skills through training and development. Daniel Pink wrote recently that gaining a sense of mastery is a key intrinsic motivator for knowledge workers. Employers looking to maximise the value of their employees, who want to promote loyalty and retention, will find a culture of training can prove successful in reaching out to their workforce, as well as encourage levels of creativity.
But training must be structured and delivered so that it is wanted, valued and appreciated by employees. It must be aligned to strategy, well thought-through, and linked in with business requirements.
If an organisation is to succeed, good training is a vital differentiator for engagement, as well as for delivering ROI and positive feedback. The objective of any workshop or training programme should be to leave delegates with the ability to take practical steps immediately. It should be principle-centred and practice-oriented.
Delegates will gain more value from trainers and workshop leaders who free them to practice various techniques and exercises. This can be achieved by devoting the majority of training time to individual and group work, making it a deeply practical experience, rather than a dull, lecture-style presentation.
Ideally, a training company should discuss the training it is being asked to deliver with a client organisation, to ensure that it is relevant to what the organisation does. Standard, off-the-peg training may often not be the answer, but a programme which is tailored for an individual person or individual organisation’s needs.
Of course training and development goes much further than just the training delivery. It is important to measure the depth and extent to which a person’s individual or team performance is improved after training. They may have learnt the theory, but can they put that knowledge into practice? A competent corporate trainer should work alongside an organisation and its managers to help engage employees through repetitive skill practice to help them apply what they have newly learnt into their job role.
Training analysis can go even further, comparing a person’s behaviour after training, to assess the relevance and sustainability of their behavioural change at different stages over an agreed period of time. Organisations need to be asking whether they are seeing benefits, to what extent has the training had an impact in terms of productivity, quality, expenditure and time and what are the wider goals and objectives?
Engagement at a management level is equally as important as employee engagement. It can be a complete waste of time if managers lack the right people skills, mindset and understanding to fully engage the hearts and minds of the employees. People often respond better to ‘leadership’ than ‘control’ and managers may themselves require training in how to engage with and bring out the best in their people.
Some believe, when offering training as a means of engagement, that employees should be allowed to select their own training courses. This can work well, as long as organisations are not solely allowing employees to choose their own training modules as a means of encouraging loyalty, increased motivation and engagement. They need to ensure that the training will provide the right skillset and that the organisation, as well as the employee, will benefit afterwards from the newly-learnt skills.
Different people prefer to learn in different ways; some need to listen, then talk things out, visual learners watch and see through the use of charts, illustrations or videos, others don’t respond well to long periods of sitting but need movement and stimulation to learn. An individual may not be aware of how they learn best, and so if left to choose their training completely on their own, they may not derive maximum benefit and potential.
Employees do need choice, but there has to be a balance in order to benefit both parties. There always needs to be some sort of training strategy in place for personal and company development to thrive. But there is something to be said for allowing employees to pursue training and development in directions they choose, not just in company-assigned and needed directions.
Ultimately, an engaged workforce, whether achieved through a specific driver, such as training and development, through other incentives, or simply through improved communication, can only help to lead an organisation towards a secure future.
Patrick Mayfield is a director of pearcemayfield, a learning and development company he founded in 2001. He is the author of Practical People Engagement, published in September 2013, a book which provides leaders with a rich reference of practices and techniques on how to influence and lead people to new solutions, especially during change. www.pearcemayfield.com