According to a recent Oxford Economics survey, two-thirds of companies worldwide have made only slight or moderate progress toward meeting strategic workplace goals.
Standing in their way is a chasm between the learning and development employees know they need and what companies actually provide. The report’s findings, which included both quantitative and anecdotal feedback from over 5,400 executive and non-executive workers in 27 countries, portend far-reaching consequences. Less than 50 percent of executives say their company has a culture of continuous learning, and only 41 percent of employees say their company offers them opportunities to expand their skill sets.
The human touch still matters
One of the report’s conclusions is that successful companies will create a learning culture that captures and perpetuates knowledge while empowering employees ‒ but most have far to go. For example, surveyed millennials rely on formal training and mentoring to develop their skills more so than workers of other age groups. Even more telling, millennials want informal feedback from their managers 50 percent more often than older peers.
In some ways, this belies fears about automation relegating humans to an after-thought. HR consultant Paul Belliveau believes that nothing will replace the unique power of humans to be flexible and creative. “That’s where the power of humans will never be overridden by technology. It means the human race has to be much more intelligent about how it goes about doing work because the tasks traditionally performed by people will be taken over by automation.”
Aadesh Goyal, Global Head of Human Resources at Tata Communications in India, agrees that the connections between people are paramount to leadership development. “Some people become the leaders by sheer determination, enthusiasm, passion, and they really get the rest of the people to learn. I think the majority of the learning really happens through work and not through formal programs. Once people start to collaborate and more people join in, it builds the culture by doing.”
Technology training remains important
Based on the survey findings, workers need both people skills and advanced technology acumen. Over the next three years, 48 percent of executives say analytics skills will be needed by employees, and almost 60 percent say programming/development skills will be needed.
HR respondents appear to understand that training fosters employee engagement. Chris Watson, Chief People Officer at Naked Retreats, an exclusive resort in China, said, “Workforce development is becoming critical at all levels. It’s a key driver of retention. I have led the initiatives over the past 12 months looking at applying and different development programs and succession paths at both senior level, mid-level and junior level. Clearly our goal is to improve retention.”
Development for the future
Another finding from this report revealed that millennials are dissatisfied with limited options for development and a clear career path. All employees say their top concern is their position changing or becoming obsolete. In some cases, HR acknowledges the problem.
“It’s very difficult for companies to recognize the talent they need to succeed and go forward within the future,” said George Murphy, Senior Vice President at United States-based Lincoln Financial Group. “Leaders look at what made them successful and transpose that into what they need in future leaders. One of the major roles that HR can play in many, many organizations is helping the organization see what are the right types of roles and talent we need to be successful in five years? That’s challenging.”
Flexibility can help sustain a learning culture
Roughly half of surveyed executives say their company is capable of retaining, updating and sharing institutional knowledge. This is critical as baby boomers retire over the next five to ten years. Some companies offer flexible arrangements to share the wealth of seasoned workers’ knowledge before they exit.
“Our manufacturing processes require a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience, which is gained by long years in production. So if we lose our oldest people and our experienced workforce, we also lose their experience,” said Dr. Rupert Felder, Head of Global Human Resources at Heidelburger Druckmaschinen, an engineering firm based in Germany. “By doing things like letting retired employees come to the plant to work once a week or a couple of times a month or during peak periods, we’ve been able to retain their knowledge in the business. This is the sort of flexibility that will be increasingly necessary in managing the workforce.”
While this report shows that many organizations lack the solutions to manage employees effectively, it also spotlights others fostering a culture of continuous learning that develops and empowers workers. With a shared learning mandate, employees and their companies might just realize their future vision.
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