New data from the Open University shows that over a third (39%) of 18-34 year-olds stated that they would personally pay for development opportunities as concerns over employability in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic increase. However, unless employers provide guidance about which skills and experiences are valuable, this willingness to invest in personal development may not pay off in terms of increased job performance or employability.
Here are three easy and effective ways for managers to support their employees' desire to develop in the current crisis:
1. Provide context Before choosing an online training course, a learner needs context. Skills are important aspects to our performance but if we choose in isolation, we may choose the wrong course and get little benefit from it. When providing context, think ‘experience’. Experiences are bigger and more meaningful units of development than stand-alone competencies or skills. As a manager, it is worthwhile spending a little bit of time articulating what experiences employees are expected to have gained: managing a large-scale project, working in an operational role or leading a change project? While many organisations have not defined these experiences explicitly, leaders tend to be fairly clear about what types of challenges they expect their emerging leaders to have mastered. We call these leadership experiences. They tend to be fairly similar across organisations, irrespective of industry sector. The leadership experiences that pack the most developmental punch and that help employees to develop into well-rounded leaders are:
leading a turnaround project
working in a different part of the organisation
Understanding which experiences are valued by a manager, or better still, the organisation as a whole, will help an employee assess which experiences they are still lacking and with this in mind they can choose online skills training courses that will be helpful to successfully mastering a stretch assignment in the missing area.
And being able to point to a change management project that was completed successfully due to better communication skills is a significantly more effective career enhancer than a certificate for an online course that may have sounded interesting at the time of choosing.
2. Identify opportunities to practice Without active practice, most new knowledge is lost again within 1-2 weeks. Encouraging team members to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills at work within one week of course completion will reduce such loss of new learning. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen as the completion of an online course will have taken time away from the day job which now has to be recouped through extra effort.
It is a good idea to define a task or small project that will require the application of the new skill. Managers can help their team members define such a task or projects, ideally before the course is booked. Only if newly learned skills turn into new behaviours will performance improve and the development investment pay off.
3. Encourage reflection It's not the situation or event itself that leads to development, but the learning we extract from it through reflection. Reflection encourages us to explore what went well, what went less well, and what we should do differently next time. Regular reflection can increase performance in several ways, such as making us less likely to make the same mistake again and allowing us to see connections between seemingly unconnected events. While reflection is a powerful development accelerator, it is not a behaviour that organisations tend to embrace easily. Most organisations are focused on next quarter's results rather than the learning from last month’s projects. Senior leaders can act as powerful role models for reflection and give this important behaviour the currency it deserves in an organisation. Sharing personal reflections, encouraging team members to reflect, or building reflection into regular team meetings can encourage employees to reflect. It is also important for individuals to find ways to reflect that fit their own preferences: reflecting with others or on their own, by writing everything down in a diary or by logging it all in an app.