The sad thing about these statistics is that I didn’t need to go and look this up and verify it.
Why? Because, as disheartening as they are, I didn’t doubt them for a second.
As a coach who has worked with hundreds of businesses, I’ve seen it firsthand. Businesses of all kinds are reluctant to invest in team education — and the results are alarming. Businesses are holding themselves back.
The truth about employee education
When most businesses hire a new employee, they’re looking for upside. They’re hoping to find a candidate with potential: someone who’s competent, personable, organized, and ambitious.
In other words, they’re looking for someone who’s good now — and who’s going to be great.
But greatness doesn’t just happen.
In fact, it’s just the opposite: Greatness only happens if the conditions are right. Greatness only happens if you put in the time and effort to become great.
Greatness doesn’t happen alone.
For you, as a business leader, the greatness of your company depends on hiring the right people AND creating the conditions for their growth.
If you want to grow your business, you’ve got to grow your people — after they join your company. And it starts by building a culture of learning.
Building a ‘culture of learning’
When I begin coaching a company, I can tell right away if they’ve got a culture of learning or not.
If they do, I know the coaching will go well. They’ll thrive and grow.
If they don’t, the coaching will be a slog. They’ll resist, and the results will come more slowly — because I need to help them build the culture of learning they lacked at first.
So, how do you build a culture of learning if you don’t have one? There’s no single way to do it, but I find the following to be helpful:
Leadership sets expectations — and leads by example. When there’s a culture of learning, leaders read books, attend conferences, and recommend learning opportunities for others. They start meetings with insights from experts. They listen. They ask questions. And they expect the same of their employees. Leaders play the most important role in creating a culture of learning.
Leaders find a way to say yes. If someone in the organization wants to take a course or complete a certification, leaders should default to saying yes, not no. That means adding budget and time for learning.
Curiosity is celebrated. And that yes shouldn’t come with a sigh or an eye roll. Instead, companies should celebrate ambition. Leaders should ask employees if they can share what they learn with their team or in a meeting.
Diversity is seen as a strength. Different experiences, different perspectives — these things are valuable, and the best organizations celebrate diversity.
A culture of learning is infectious. Just like anything cultural, it permeates everything the organization does. Employees at these companies learn, share, and grow together.
But learning and growth are expensive and time consuming. Which leads us to the most common hesitation from business leaders:
‘But what if I invest in my people and they leave?’
This line has been used so often that it’s almost a cliche: “What if I spend time and money investing in my people just to have them leave?”
It’s easy to respond to this real-life concern with an equally cliched: “What if you don’t invest in your people and they stay?”
But there’s a real fear there on the part of the business leader. Training is expensive. Education is expensive. And they’re right — they might invest in an employee who soon leaves, taking that education with her.
But there are ways to solve for this. I recommend leaders do the following:
Don’t nickel and dime your employees. First off, don’t get into petty quid pro quos with your employees who are eager to learn. Provide the budget and the encouragement without making them feel guilty or beholden.
Be clear about your expectations around bigger investments (but don’t get contractual). If you’re talking about a larger opportunity — like a certification that takes months and costs thousands of dollars — be clear with your employee up front. For example, you might say, “I’m excited for you to learn about X. I think it will help you move into a larger role in the future where you’re in charge of Y. Is that what you’re thinking, too?” That’s better than, “Well, Sally, if we send you to this training we expect you to stay with us for at least three more years because we’ve invested this money in your growth.” One feels encouraging; the other feels rigid.
Provide growth opportunities. If you want great people to stay, reward them. This doesn't mean they get a promotion every time they attend a conference. Instead, be sure to acknowledge their growth in appropriate ways. Offer new opportunities that will challenge them: a new project, a new responsibility. Make it clear you’re recognizing their effort.
Help employees plan for the long term. Your employees think about their long-term future. Do they think about building that future at your company? Ask every employee to complete an individual development plan (or IDP) once a year. In it, they explain their middle-term goals (1-3 years) and their long-term goals (5-10 years). They’ll cover what they hope their future looks like, including roles, responsibilities, salary expectations, and more. They can go over this with their manager during a performance review and build a plan to move toward their goals. If you want them to stay, help them see their future within your organization.
Think about it: Who do you attract?
Imagine a top-flight candidate is sitting down to apply for her next job. She’s exactly what you’re looking for: bright, ambitious, outgoing, and poised.
She’s narrowing her search, reading company profiles and reviews on Glassdoor. One company boasts a learning culture: book groups, lunch-and-learns, education reimbursement, and guest speakers.