Aug 24, 2022
By Katie Bennett
5 ways to inspire your team to learn on the job, even when they’re remote
The hybrid nature of the modern workplace presents a unique challenge to people managers. They have had to find new ways to engage with their team members, who work in increasingly flexible and virtual work environments, distributed across multiple time zones and from different cultural backgrounds. On top of that, the responsibility for training increasingly lies with people managers, who need to both find the time and the right way to train their people.
How can managers support on-the-job training?
As a people manager, you’re uniquely positioned to promote a learning culture within your team that drives enthusiasm and learning engagement. Company culture trickles down from the top, and almost everyone agrees that it’s important for managers to inspire learning and experimentation. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can do this.
1. Read. Watch. Share.
Suggesting learning content for your team to engage with is a great habit to get into. It demonstrates that you value personal development and encourages members of your team to do the same, especially if you explain why you believe it will be beneficial for them.
There are a plethora of resources to help your team members develop new skills and improve existing ones, from podcasts and webinars, to blog posts and books. The material doesn’t have to be circulated with a specific person in mind; sharing a podcast you listened to with great sales tips or an article that covers new developments in your industry could help generate new ideas and stimulate conversations, leading to additional development opportunities.
If you know a team member is working towards a specific goal, sharing instructional content could help them develop their knowledge or skill set as they work. For example, team members learning a new program or building a piece of hardware could benefit from YouTube videos or instructional blog posts. In-depth content, such as academic or informational books, could be a resource that accompanies a long-term project or the development of a new skill, such as writing and delivering proposals or learning a new coding language.
Choosing content can be tricky, especially when it is externally produced. Checking that the author is reputable is important. By watching, reading, or listening to the materials before sharing them with the rest of your team, you can make sure they are high quality. If the topic isn’t your specialism, you could always ask coworkers for their opinions on the resource before recommending it.
2. Chat about it
A successful learning culture encourages asking for support. Many companies have chat software like Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Yammer. These are perfectly placed to support informal, on-the-job learning, especially if you have a distributed workforce, whether someone needs to locate a resource, check a rule, or ask for help completing a task.
To encourage team members to ask for what they need, model the behavior you want to see. You can start small by asking questions about products you sell, systems you use, or topics that your team members have a lot of experience in. Seeking different perspectives for projects you’re working on, asking for proofreads, and sharing interesting content can all demonstrate your commitment to development.
It’s important to recognize that supporting the team through chat does not replace the need for more formal learning opportunities based on career aspirations and job performance, but rather supplements them. It is there for the whole team to support each other, and is not a place to call out developmental needs. If someone is struggling with larger aspects of their role, this should be discussed in one-to-one meetings.
3. Make time for it
Time can be a barrier to learning on the job. We’ve all had a book we’ve intended to read or a video we’ve wanted to watch get pushed aside by urgent calls, client work, and endless emails. To truly prioritize learning in your team, it's important to dedicate time to it.
Booking a weekly slot in your calendar can be particularly effective. Treat it like an important meeting and set your notifications to ‘do not disturb’. Let your team know what you’re doing and ask them to do the same. Giving them the flexibility to choose when they learn can help them to take ownership of their development.
An alternative to this approach could be to book a regular team meeting where the agenda is team development. Allocate responsibility for part or all of the meeting’s content to a different team member every time, and ask them to share a skill they have mastered or new knowledge they have been developing. This can help them to embed their own knowledge and develop facilitation skills.
4. Encourage peer-made resources
Sometimes the best people to help your team learn are their peers. More experienced coworkers can often identify the most challenging parts of the role that take the longest time to get to grips with, or that catch out even the most seasoned employee. They can also help create resources for the types of tasks that L&D teams don’t have much experience with.
The whole team can benefit from support with tricky processes, but asking a strong performer who is keen to take on additional responsibilities to create the resources contributes to their own skill development as well. The content could be as simple as a checklist, or a step-by-step set of instructions that team members can use during their work. People may have created them to help themselves, or you could request that someone who excels at a task creates a job aid for others.
To get the most out of peer-made resources, they should be hosted in an accessible location. At Quadmark, we have a community-created bank of resources on our internal employee portal that anyone can access and add to. It is segmented by category so people can filter by their area of interest and find content that is relevant to them. Check with your L&D team to see if your LMS has a place to share peer-made content. If not, ask your team where they most often look for helpful content and add it there. It should be reviewed for accuracy, legibility, and branding — professionally presented with company fonts, colors, and logos used appropriately.
5. Arrange coaching or mentoring
Inspiring long-term learning is be easier when people have a goal in mind. Coaching and mentoring relationships can provide tailored support to help people develop toward their goals. Goals could be skills focussed, or they could be about long-term career aspirations. Either way, coaching or mentoring could be the right way to help specific team members learn as they work.
To help you decide if coaching or mentoring is right for a team member, it is important to recognize the differences between them. The terms are often bunched together, yet they provide different types of support.
A mentor has experience in the area they advise on. This could be mastery of particular software or processes, or a high level of practical skill, such as mechanics or programming. Mentors often have solid people skills and a desire to help and support their co-workers. A mentoring relationship can benefit learners with a specific goal, as conversations will often be instructive.
Coaching is less directive than mentoring. Coaches often have professional qualifications and can be part of an organization’s Learning and Development (L&D) team or hired externally. During coaching conversations, members of the team will be encouraged to recognize their strengths, the challenges they face in their role, reflect on areas of their performance they could improve on, outlining their own strategies for development. Coaching can be very effective in refining soft skills, such as customer services or sales, or in working toward a larger aspiration.
Both coaching and mentoring can be informal and conversations can happen during the flow of work, as and when relevant situations arise. These conversations can be virtual or face-to-face. Once you’ve identified whether coaching or mentoring would suit a team member’s development, talk to them about why you think they’re a great candidate. If they’re open to the approach, go ahead and set up a partnership.
Inspiring your team to learn on the job will take time. Regular one-to-ones, conversations about career development, and planning to fill skills gaps within the team can help to identify the starting points for learning to take place. Taking an interest in what your team is working on, asking for and giving feedback on projects, and making time to praise achievements all demonstrate your interest in your team’s development, and build the foundations for a strong learning culture. You could even implement rewards, such as ‘learner of the month’ for team members who apply what they’ve learned, present relevant content to the rest of the team, or go above and beyond in promoting development.
As your team starts to embrace learning on-the-job, it’s important to measure the impact. Over several quarters, take a look at how KPIs are improving, measure boosts in engagement and morale, track team attrition, and record qualitative feedback. Once you have a set of robust metrics, you can share your findings with the rest of the organization so they can see the benefits of continuous learning.
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