Organizational knowledge is one of the most valuable resources at a company’s disposal. Training modules packed with instructions and best practices help educate new hires. Official policies and codes of conduct help establish ideal working conditions and prevent undesirable behaviors. Company histories and internal cultural norms help inform decision making and turn collections of individuals into cohesive units working toward the same shared goals.
All of that organically cultivated knowledge, all the trade secrets and proprietary processes, all the unspoken customs — they’re worth preserving. Companies that don’t formalize or cultivate their organizational knowledge are forced to reinvent the wheel every time key personnel leave or move to different divisions, while those that do are able to leverage their earned insights to reach new heights of productivity and innovation.
As valuable as it may be, organizational knowledge is useless if it doesn’t find its way into the right minds. Solidifying an onboarding process with hours of training is a good start, but it’s also crucial for companies to encourage their employees to keep learning throughout their tenure. There are always new lessons to learn, new skills to master, and new ways for employees to develop professionally.
Some employees walk through your doors with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Others may have decided their learning days ended when they received their diploma. It’s up to managers and executives to identify who’s who, inspire a love of learning in the less curious, and create an environment that fosters constant learning.
Start at the Beginning: Investing in Onboarding
The learning process begins the moment a new hire shows up for their first day at work. Onboarding can range from simply memorizing the employee handbook to attending in-depth, multi-week training sessions. Some employees exit the experience equipped with the knowledge they need to excel in their roles and transparency around their progression within the firm. Others are not so lucky.
A 2017 study by CareerBuilder found that 36% of organizations lack a structured onboarding process. A 2019 Gallup report found that only 12% of employees felt their company did a good job of onboarding new hires — moreover, only 29% of new hires felt prepared and had the support they needed to excel in their new roles.
Gallup’s data also reveals that new employees who strongly agreed that they finished their onboarding with a clear plan for their professional development were 3.5 times more likely to rate the process as “Exceptional.” These employees were also 2.6 times more likely to be extremely satisfied in their jobs.
In other words, educating new hires and providing defined paths to growth can lead to better outcomes and higher employee satisfaction.
So, what should your company’s initial grooming of employees include?
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) breaks down onboarding into what it calls the Four C’s: Compliance, Clarification, Culture, and Connection. Most companies already do some version of Compliance — teaching basic rules and regulations — but the other three C’s are much more important to creating a learning environment.
Clarification, the process of helping new employees understand their new jobs, should be one of the main focuses of education-focused onboarding. It takes employees upwards of 12 months to become competent at their jobs, so the learning period should be stretched out over a similar time frame. This can assimilate employees into their jobs as well as instill an expectation of continuous learning.
Culture and Connection are also crucial to the sequence. Culture, or giving new hires a sense of what the organization’s values and norms are, will give you an opportunity to stress how much your company embodies internal development. Connection, the more informal process of encouraging new hires to build relationships with other employees, can also indirectly help by having existing employees reinforce the notion that learning is valued in your organization.
Broaden Perspectives With Cross-Functional Education
One of the best ways to develop employees is to put them in situations where they can gain knowledge and skills that they wouldn’t come across in their current roles. Disparate teams could work together on defined projects, or managers could loan employees to other teams. You could also have employees take online training courses meant for other jobs or skill sets.
Proposals for additional investment in cross training may receive pushback. Managers may strongly oppose the idea for any number of reasons. They may be reluctant to temporarily lose key members of their team, or have concerns about employees permanently jumping to the other department. Employees might oppose cross-functional training because the thought of working with another team makes them anxious, or they may just dislike change in general.
None of the potential objections to cross training outweigh the potential benefits. Much like a coach encouraging their athletes to hone skills by practicing other sports, cross training can round out an employee’s skill set and lead to increased performance.
The new knowledge and skills employees acquire while working with another team may not apply directly to their current positions, but employees could apply what they’ve learned to their existing tasks and gain new insights or boost productivity. Cross training employees will naturally form new connections and relationships with their host teams, fostering greater collaboration between departments. And, perhaps most importantly, cross training gives employees an opportunity to widen their scope beyond the relatively narrow bounds of their degrees and skill sets.
Build Teams (and Loyalty) Through Professional Development
Professional development, either through additional training or formal continuing education, should be a focus of any company trying to build an environment that encourages continuous learning. The University of Phoenix’s Annual Career Optimism Index 2022 found that 68% of the 5,000 respondents would stay with their employer through their whole careers if the employer made efforts to upskill them, and 65% said they would also stay indefinitely if their employer tried to reskill them.
Roughly half of the respondents said they need to learn new skills, yet nearly the same percentage said they don’t know where to start. What’s worse, 29% said they aren’t optimistic about the possibility of receiving training or upskilling from their employers.
A Harvard Business Review piece cites a few more interesting statistics. An eye-opening 86% of professionals would leave their jobs for a company that offered more professional development opportunities. Employees with such opportunities are 15% more engaged and 34% less likely to quit.
And the kicker, per Deloitte: “Organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes, 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market with their products and services, and 17% more profitable than their peers. Their engagement and retention rates are also 30-50% higher.”
In short: Simply giving employees the opportunity to develop their skills via training or continuing education goes a long way toward building an environment that encourages continuous learning and capturing all the benefits that come with it.
The Intangibles Take Time, But the Investment Pays Off
It takes time and resources to build the intangibles of a successful company — including a collaborative culture that manifests teamwork as well as personal growth. But the benefits more than outweigh the costs.
It all starts with designing a thorough onboarding process that not only teaches new hires what they need to know about their jobs but also creates the expectation of ongoing learning. Moreover, cross training will help employees broaden their skills and become more flexible in their thinking. Add in extensive opportunities for professional development via company-sponsored training and/or continuing education and the stage is set for a culture of learning to blossom.