5 Ways to Engage Employees in Workplace Learning engage employees in workplace learning

So, you’re the HR (& Training Manager), right? You want to know how to engage employees in workplace learning. How come they always wait until the very last reminder email every month to complete their elearning modules?! When will I ever not have to run 43 mop-up webinars instead of the scheduled two?

The key is in the heading. Engage. You must do this at every stage. You must never expect employees to be engaged on demand, unless you first have engaged them.

Decades of Learning Theory in a Nutshell

Young children learn by mimicking. Later they learn to question, form their own opinions, debate and reason. Adults learn differently.

  • Adults learn best if they are engaged in every stage of the process of learning, from the first idea to the evaluation and redesign recommendations report. Engage employees in workplace learning by doing it from the start, not at the end of the process!

First: Have a No-Holds Barred Chat About It (or Brainstorm) One Hour

  • You need to get all those who’re interested in attending, or a representative bunch, together, in a room and discuss learning needs.
  • One of the easiest ways to do this is using a brainstorm. For the uninitiated, brainstorming was first introduced in a murder trial to denote a murderer’s state of mind, insanity. It’s not such an incorrect way to refer to a scattering of random ideas from multiple sources.
  • Allow people to throw out suggestions without form, reason, sense or justification. Brook no judgements. This is not a discussion, this is a brainstorm!

Second: Hold a Structured Meeting to Discuss the Mad Ideas From the Brainstorm (or Distill) One Hour

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats provides a structure to enable everyone to contribute from multiple roles. Allow each person to wear a different coloured hat for 10 minutes at a time. Extra points for asking around for people to bring in actual coloured hats doesn’t matter in what style, as long as they’re coloured to wear during the meeting it’s a visual cue and there’s much to be said for a little silliness during working meetings.

  • White hat: the wearer must adopt an informative attitude and state facts only, e.g. We have 12 new employees who need trained on that new machine in the Fitting Department.
  • Yellow hat: the wearer must adopt a bright and optimistic attitude, e.g. If we have this new knowledge base designed for clients, we could dramatically lower our Support Team’s workload.
  • Black hat: the wearer must adopt a judgemental or discerning attitude (without dampening everyone’s spirits), e.g. This project is going to take months to complete.
  • Red hat: the wearer must adopt an intuitive attitude, expressing feelings, e.g. My gut’s telling me our older clients are going to love the convenience of this new feature.
  • Green hat: the wearer must adopt a creative attitude, expressing options and alternatives, e.g. We could deliver this as a PDF that all employees read, or we could hold a debate to help everyone thrash through the issues.
  • Blue hat: the wearer is the control, ensuring that the 6 thinking hats format is adhered to

Make a list of points to give to the people responsible for procuring and designing the learning. It’s their job to make sense of it all and ask further questions.

Third: Be as Creative as Heck (or Design)

  1. Hire an experienced adult learning professional to sift through the brainstorm notes and recordings and draft an initial topic content outline. (The person from HR is often not an experienced learning professional and forcing her to deliver a workshop is a shoddy way to treat any employee.)
  2. Discuss with them various elements that can make up the learning: eLearning, videos and other media, workshops, debates and discussions, coaching, reading, games, seminars, role-plays and lectures for example.
  3. Have the learning professional design the learning. Caution: committees cannot design content. Instead, they ruin it, because the loudest voice or group-think not solid learning principles and tactics wins.

Fourth: Insist that Senior Management Drop the Attitude and Show Up (or Implementation)

Yes, this is a difficult one. Working in middle management and insisting that “senior staff” attend been there, done that. But when senior management show learning is important by turning up, taking part, and implementing learning, others do too. Guess what happens when they don’t?

  • Many organisations make the fatal mistake of making learning compulsory for regular staff, but not for management. We once insisted on management taking part in a learning assessment that tested for knowledge. On the first day, it uncovered a serious lack of knowledge that could have cost the company millions had it not been noticed. We proved that specialist knowledge among management was important (who knew?!), that learning worked and suddenly every (previously too busy) manager wanted to take part.
  • If learning is to be taken seriously and you expect staff to attend, then senior management must be first out of the block. Lead and learn from the front; don’t beat from behind.

Fifth: Allow Employees to Rip the Backside Out of the Design and Implementation and Start Again (or Evaluation)

  • Does your organisation hold annual reviews or appraisals?
  • Does it discourage reciprocal, relaxed communication?
  • Are employees’ suggestions relegated to a dusty suggestion box? (Ed: Is that a joke, do people still use them?)
  • Instead, first create an atmosphere and culture where employees give feedback daily.
  • Then and only then can you ask for specific feedback on all learning initiatives.

This blog post is based on the complimentary principles of honesty, enablement and permission. If a learning professional was to be converted into a fly on the wall, what would they see? What would they hear?

If you need help with transforming your organisation into the type of place where management learns from the front and all employees become engaged from the start, contact us.