There are many reasons why companies invest in training their staff. Among these are the more obvious from the organization’s perspective: to increase employees’ sense of value and motivation; to develop a succession plan by providing staff with essential skills to take on more senior roles; and to reduce attrition by providing opportunities for growth and professional development. From the employee’s perspective, training provides an incentive to fully participate and contribute, feel a stronger sense of loyalty to the organization, and even endorse it within the larger community. Good training programs can also lead to higher employee engagement, build stronger teams and drive results to a company’s bottom line. And while these methods can certainly be an incentive to investing more training dollars, a very critical ingredient may be overlooked when developing effective training programs: establishing a consistent and ongoing learning culture that tells an inspiring story about who the company is, what it believes and why it is in business. When this is done correctly, employees are driven to contribute to the company’s vision and to building a culture where training investments really pay off.
Defining the Vision
In his book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”, Simon Sinek explains how companies that define their purpose by starting with “a strong sense of Why” are able to “inspire their employees [to be] more productive and innovative” which in turn serves to nurture a strong sense of unity within the entire organization and drive better results. By beginning with the bigger picture in mind and clearly defining the company’s vision and purpose, organizations can achieve employee buy-in more easily. For their part, employees are consequently more motivated to contribute to their personal success as well as the company’s success with their customers. The result: a higher level of employee loyalty towards the organization and personal engagement.
It follows that when training initiatives are tied to achieving the company’s vision, that sense of purpose extends to developing a higher level of employee commitment as individuals are enabled to better perform their work now that they can see a direct link between their personal contributions and the bottom line. In fact, they feel they make a difference.
Living the Mission
In the beginning, the organization may struggle with separating the “Why” from the “What”, that is, in clearly defining their purpose apart from what they accomplish, or the products and services they sell. Yet, once a company successfully achieves clarity between what it does and why it does it, it can start articulating what it wishes to accomplish, identifying its brand within the marketplace and how it will deliver to its customers. Internally, it will turn its focus to engaging employees and changing them into loyal contributors. Hence, the mission drives the corporate strategy.
From a training perspective, the corporate strategy includes developing a solid succession plan, therefore, it needs to foster a strong commitment to cultivating employees’ skills and competencies to promote within. Here, most organizations stall because they fail to see beyond task-based coaching and reinforcing the employee’s capabilities around building its products and delivering the company’s services. But when these activities are infused with the sense of “Why”, they can boost employee morale, and when corporate strategy is well-articulated by the company’s leaders, employees can in turn align their own goals with those of the organization.
Training, then, becomes a critical tool that fuels motivation, and where compensation and traditional methods of incentivization may fall short, a sense of personal accomplishment and contribution can go much further. As Sinek explains, using the carrot and stick method of manipulation or instilling fear or aspiration to get things done, may only result in short-term results and stressful outcomes; but when organizations promote a healthy sense of corporate introspection and a clear understanding of what they will accomplish, the result is a “win-win situation” for employee and employer.
Behaving with the Core Values in Mind
If organizations can identify their purpose by defining “Why” they exist and their corporate strategy by “What” products or services they sell, “How” they do it becomes a direct outcome of the culture they cultivate. Usually, it’s the leader or the CEO as the visionary at the helm, pushing ahead with a powerful personality and the ability to articulate the company’s vision. Drawing others towards them, these passionate leaders communicate what they believe, create a sense of belonging, and inspire. Understanding the critical relationship between the visionary “Why-types” and the “How-types”, the ones who focus on accomplishing the vision and “building structures and processes and getting things done” is key, as Sinek points out, and it follows that when a company’s values mesh with those of the individual, there is a sense of mutual participation and accomplishment, a winning culture that in turn breeds more loyalty because the company’s purpose will resonate with and motivate the employee to achieve more as well.
Telling the Training Story
How do companies deliver top-notch training programs?
First, they need to understand what drives a company’s purpose to develop a product or sell a service, and the way they do it. The approach to designing and executing robust training programs starts with telling the story of the unique relationship between why the company exists, what it does and how it accomplishes it.
Next, they need to recognize that traditional training approaches that solve task-based challenges through spontaneous and individual training opportunities will not achieve long-term objectives. Too often, companies pay top dollar for external training programs and off-the-shelf products without contemplating the larger picture; consequently, they fail to fully grasp the benefit that a comprehensive training approach can provide to the organization’s vision. If they want to tell an engaging story and build a healthy employee learning culture, they will need to invest in professionals who understand effective training programs, who can analyze the collective need for the training intervention, where and if needed, develop the right design and approach, as well as take into account the assessment and the validation of the learning outcome by using learning methodologies such as ADDIE, ERGA and SAM.
These professionals understand that adults are driven to learn new skills and competencies because they want to apply their newly-acquired knowledge to their job. And in today’s hectic workplace environments, finding time for training can be very difficult, so alongside a good methodology comes the need for integrated learning management tools and processes that offer just-in-time blended, face-to-face and virtual learning interventions. And finally, these experts understand that no training is complete without measuring the behavioural short- and long-term change, as well as developing a reporting mechanism to the stakeholders on ROI.
Lastly, because culture is a by-product of the company’s vision, mission and values, it serves to bring people together to achieve shared goals. Those same values define the organizational culture, and, if knitted into the training programs, can support employees in seeing how their professional development and personal growth contributes to the common good of the organization, the success of their peers and their leaders.
Sharing the Story
In such an engaging environment where vision and mission are clearly defined and values build a culture that helps employees identify with the organization, developing the right training programs can improve productivity, increase retention and sustain a culture of loyal and determined employees who give their best every day to strive to achieve their personal goals as well as those of the organization. The overarching vision for the company’s success is aligned with training initiatives that are tied to the company’s values to building a culture of high employee engagement and developing effective leaders and strong teams. These leaders embody the company’s vision, they translate the mission into short- and mid-term goals that align and cascade throughout the organization. With a shared vision, no one works in isolation, and processes and systems reflect the shared “Why” in everything they do.
That story further translates into a common approach that drives employee morale so they feel good about themselves, their work and the company. The outcome of training investment results in higher productivity, a healthier workforce, and loyal employees who endorse the company. And when these programs are infused with the company’s core values, not only do employees understand how their contributions are validated, but they also gain a sense of personal success and affirmation by knowing they are making a difference, and, as evidenced by today’s millennial generation, this incentive to effective training can yield the highest ROI of all, by nurturing employee morale more than the occasional cash bonus tied to good performance can. And that’s one incentive not to be missed.