Encouraging Employees to Take Ownership of Their Learning

employee learning

As much as we would all like to report to the perfect coach and mentor, the reality is that managers are often so swamped that they do not have enough time to teach employees everything. One of the best employee qualities is the consistent ability to take ownership, which includes taking responsibility for their learning and skills evolution.  In parallel, the strong leader should also provide support, encouragement, and opportunities for learning so that the employee can develop to their full potential.  Even learning and growth for an ambitious and self-driven employee will be undermined when a manager or lecturer fails to provide support and disregards or deprioritizes these obligations.

It’s difficult for employees to meet their performance goals if they haven’t been given clear expectations and direction.  Employees should not only be given a detailed job description but should be given regular feedback on performance including gaps and opportunity areas.

It would be so easy if everyone learned in the same way, but we don’t.  While one employee feels comfortable observing and doing, another prefers to follow step-by-step instructions. The best way to determine this is a discussion and then willingness to provide the best learning solutions the employee feels will meet their needs, and to also monitor the results to confirm effectiveness.  This approach will help make the learning process more satisfying and productive.  Nobody likes to be forced along with an unnatural or uncomfortable learning methodology that conflicts with their natural style.

Tips to encourage employees to take ownership of their learning:

Inspire individual goal setting:

Provide opportunities for employees to reflect on their learning needs and to define their own goals.  It’s a critical part of every manager’s job to set up their staff for success.  Collaborate with employees and steer them in the direction of setting goals that are specific, measurable, actionable and results oriented. Employees are more motivated to work towards goals that they have been involved in setting. Learning goals should also align with organizational objectives as much as possible, but don’t need to be an exact match in every aspect.  Specific organizational targets will evolve over time, and having well-rounded and capable employees will put you in the best position to achieve them. 

Be a role model:

It is crucial for leaders to take accountability for their mistakes and lead by example including performing the uncomfortable and “not so nice” tasks.  Try to avoid asking your employees to work on or complete something that you are not willing to do.  Employees are going to put in extra effort for leaders they respect and admire. Have you ever worked for a manager that snapped when they were under pressure and treated you differently? These managers may lack self-awareness and not realize they are having such a negative effect on the people around them. Productivity may decline, or in the worst cases, panic may set-in and trigger turnover.  Alternatively, grace and calm under pressure will inspire confidence.  Use this approach for learning as well.  Managers that are active in developing skills and attributes and regularly adding them to their leadership toolkit will encourage this quality in their teams (and colleagues for that matter).  If you proactively take measures to be a strong role model, you will have a more engaged team that is inspired to follow your direction.

Empower your team with responsibility:

Whenever possible, empower your employees with novel and challenging tasks and projects that allow them to ask questions, learn, and grow in their knowledge and skills.  It’s vital that your team believes that you feel they are competent in performing the requested tasks and that your management decisions demonstrate trust.  At times this may push employees out of their comfort zone, but this very often supports higher levels of learning and motivation.  Some of the benefits of your team taking responsibility include:

  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Improved confidence
  • An opportunity to learn new skills
  • Enhanced teamwork and productivity
  • Higher levels of bidirectional trust

You should have regular communication including feedback as you empower them, so they understand your thinking as they execute and develop.

Allow employees to make decisions and solve their own problems:

Provide opportunities for employees to consider and resolve problems by themselves without direct supervision and constant hand holding. This may be hard to do when your leadership style leans towards micro-management or if you are typically making all the decisions.  When you reflect on the benefits of empowering your team and consider how your employees can be innovative and creative in their thinking and problem solving then this may not be as hard as you think.  This will allow for a reallocation of your personal time towards what may be more strategic for forward looking activities, while your staff are empowered to make these delegated decisions for you and feed off and develop from the additional responsibility.

Encourage ideas and practice active listening:

Practice asking your employees what they think about the challenges in your department goals.  Ask them for input and ideas. Your employees want to feel heard and be given the chance to contribute as this demonstrates that you value their opinion.  Let’s face it, we all want to be heard.  It won’t happen unless you encourage staff to ask questions without feeling they are being judged for providing their ideas and opinions.  If you have regular team meetings, these will encourage staff to discuss and collaborate with others in the department.

Delegate more frequently:

Do you ever feel that you are just not getting to everything on your task list?  As much as you are used to taking on most tasks yourself, try determining which tasks require involvement of others on your team.  Employees need to feel that they have your support but that they can problem solve, suggest ideas, and make decisions.  You may feel it will take too long to explain a new task but if you have 1-2 key players then it’s certainly worth the effort and as tasks are redistributed the learning effort will pay for itself. Not only are you developing your team, but you are certainly freeing up valuable personal time to focus on other priorities.

Provide meaningful feedback:

Frequent communication should address opportunity areas, highlight areas of success, and provide further direction. Feedback should be timely, and employees should not feel afraid if they fail and must try again.  We all need to be able to work in a healthy work environment that allows for continuous learning and growth and there will always be a few bumps along the road. Listening to your employees and providing support and encouragement goes a long way to increase job satisfaction and aligns well with developing a culture of learning.

Employees taking ownership of their learning is vital for businesses to foster a confident, motivated. and engaged workforce.  Leaders that put in the effort to develop their employees and consistently show their trust in their teams, will benefit from better equipped employees, improved levels of motivation and ultimately a healthier bottom line.

Leaders are always looking for ways to develop their team members.  Contact Bridge Legal and HR Solutions for more tips and tools for learning and development – (647) 794-5442 or at admin@bridgelegalhr.ca 

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