"It is never too late to be what you might have been." – George Eliot. Our workplaces are full of employees who think it is ‘too late’ for them. The result is a significantly high number of disengaged workers, almost 69% according recent Gallup research. So I was particularly interested to chat with Julie Moore at HMS, a 2017 ATD Dallas AXIS winner, to learn more about what they’ve been doing to turn those numbers upside down.
Q: In 2014 your team noticed a drop in the number of employees participating in learning events, yet your engagement scores reflected that employees didn’t feel the company was providing them with development opportunities. To what did you attribute this disconnect?
A: Our team spent some time batting this around and eventually concluded that we were primarily dealing with a lack of awareness among our key leaders on the existing resources that could be used to build careers. Supervisors were not encouraging employees to take the time to invest in their own development so learning just wasn’t top of mind. We had a strong suspicion that we didn’t have a training content problem, but rather a marketing problem.
Q: So it sounds like your solution, the Career Development Initiative, was really about creating a stronger learning culture. How have things changed over the last couple of years?
A: Before we launched the Career Development Initiative, we didn’t focus on helping our employees build careers. Learning was primarily concentrated around new hire orientation, courses related to the day-to-day job, and regulatory compliance. Employees were not encouraged to develop skills beyond their current job. We knew if we were going to stimulate interest and motivation in learning, employees would have to own their development, with their manager’s support alongside the tools we could provide.
One of the central elements of our Career Development Initiative has been a focus on strengths. Rather than focusing only on weaknesses or performance issues, we want employees to also consider how they could build on their natural talents so they could really soar in their career. So, for example, if an employee is strong with financial numbers, we want them to consider ways they can develop that skill in training and then use it in their day-to-day role to grow their core strength.
The focus on career development has now been integrated into our talent review process so that leaders are constantly evaluating their teams and identifying ways to keep our high potential talent challenged. It also helps ensure that managers have the tools they need to create strong development plans.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you suspected one of your biggest problems was marketing. How did you showcase this new approach to Career Development?
A: Our launch in 2015 involved a big kick-off event we called the Learning Lounge, hosted at our corporate headquarters in Irving. It was a great way for our team to connect with employees in the company and talk about learning. We were able to show them real time the opportunities available in our learning portal and find out more about what they needed, which gave us a pathway to continue improving our offerings. That event stimulated a great deal of excitement around learning and career development. This year we took the Learning Lounge on the road to our Las Vegas office and we are looking to expand it even further next year to allow us to connect with more employees across the company.
Q: You've seen a huge increase in course completion and received lots of positive feedback from your course evaluations. How has the initiative impacted your engagement scores?
A: The primary question we were addressing through this initiative was “The company provides me with the opportunity for learning and development.” In 2014 our percent favorable for this question was 60.8% . A year after implementing the Career Development initiative, we increased that score to 66.4% and at the end of last year we were at 71.7%. Today, across many of our engagement questions, we are at the benchmark or higher, and are still looking for ways to improve.
Q: Have you seen other outcomes you didn't anticipate?
A: This initiative has led us to be more efficient and effective with the training programs we are offering and delivering. As we began to understand the employees’ needs we were able to help them navigate our learning portal better. We’ve put together a learning path for our front-line leaders that helps prepare new leaders for success in their role. That has led to an uptick in the number of courses our employees have been taking. In addition, our department has been overwhelmed by the growth in requests and activity. We have really had to stay focused on the priorities of the organization and get creative on how we can expand our reach.
Q: And how have you done that?
A: One of the things we’ve done is recruited Learning Champions across our departments. These are people who work with us on putting together learning paths for the common roles in their group so that new employees are onboarded well. They are also our ‘ears on the ground,’ providing us with feedback on what people are needing. We’ve also partner with the Learning Champions to develop Mastery Skill checklists that new employees can use to provide a more structured approach to on-the-job training.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in implementing this initiative?
A: Probably like most learning organizations, our biggest challenge was simply the ‘busyness’ of our culture. Our company recently implemented the Clutter Tool in Outlook, which essentially pulls routine emails that you don’t open into a Clutter folder. This means if our associates ignore our training announcements, they stop receiving them. So, we have had to look for new ways to nudge people, such as personal emails to key leaders about what offerings are coming up and how they can benefit their teams, more posters and flyers about what is coming up, etc.
Q: What advice do you have for others who are trying to move the needle on employee engagement relative to learning?
A: The circumstances are different for every organization, but I think what really made the difference for us was finding a creative way to market the opportunities that were already available and shifting the perspective of learning from a ‘have to’ to a ‘want to’ mentality. We’ve done this by helping our employee focus on developing their strengths for career success and advancement and it has made a big difference in how our employees view career opportunities at HMS.
This is just one more example of how local DFW companies are making Dallas the Talent Capital of the World. In December, ATD Dallas will introduce the 2018 winners of the AXIS Award. We hope you will plan to join us to celebrate those who are leading the way in Talent Development.