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ATD Blog

Talent Wars: Get Back to the Basics With a Learning Culture

Monday, January 31, 2022

2021 showed us that talent flight risk is a very serious concern for business leaders. In fact, government data suggests that over four million people quit their jobs each month this past year. And even worse, according to a recent Prudential survey, a quarter of workers plan on looking for a new job when the threat of the pandemic decreases, signaling a looming war for talent.

To be fair, this is nothing new. The Silicon Valley tech industry, for example, has engaged in poaching cycles for decades, but the current problem is exacerbated by the fact that many workers no longer feel geographically tied to local employers in a remote world. And with career development among the leading causes of turnover, organizations that limit opportunities for their workers to learn can expect zero reprieve from resignations.

Organizations must provide opportunities to learn and grow, or they will lose their best employees.

We’ve seen this condition for years now: employees increasingly expect their jobs to be development opportunities. But there are gaps. For example, though millennials are most interested in opportunities to learn and grow, only 39 percent strongly agree that they learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better. Shouldn’t employees expect learning experiences to be valuable to their career development and growth?

How do we promote learning as a form of development? We must understand learning mindsets—how people feel about learning. These are driven by:

  • Experience
  • Perceived value
  • Manager support
  • Acceptance of mistakes
  • Applicability to role and job function
  • The organization’s culture
  • Feedback

When employees feel strongly about their careers, as pointed out by Eduardo Briceño, they tend to spend almost all of their time focused on doing their jobs, which hinders long-term growth and performance.

Why? Research shows that once we think we’re good enough at our jobs, we stop trying to learn and instead focus on our daily work. This eventually leads to lower productivity, engagement, and retention across the board.

When we focus too much on doing our jobs, we miss out on opportunities to grow.


Learning Zone vs. Performance Zone

To address this development gap, employees need dedicated time and space to learn in a low-stakes environment, make mistakes, get feedback, experiment, and improve. This strategy echoes how successful sports programs grow and develop their team members.
Comparing Learning Zone and Performance Zone
With low stakes and psychological safety to make mistakes and get feedback, players can take risks, experiment, and improve, leading to stronger growth and performance.

Having time and space to spend in this learning zone is vital to promoting better outcomes in the performance zone.

  • When we’re in the learning zone, we aim for improvement by experimenting, studying what we haven’t mastered, and making mistakes.
  • In the performance zone, we gain immediate performance improvements by executing, refining, optimizing, and minimizing mistakes.

From an organizational standpoint, the performance zone often gets in the way of the learning zone. And it’s easy to see why: there is limited time and lots of work to be done.

It’s up to leaders to merge business goals and employee goals. The organization needs high performance to meet its goals, and employees need opportunities to learn and grow to meet their goals.

Learning experiences should be highly relevant to employees’ careers, considerate of their time, easily applied to their jobs, and empathetic of the way they work.

“The most effective people and teams in any domain go through life deliberately alternating between the Learning Zone and the Performance Zone.”–Eduardo Briceño


Three Quick Tips for Balance

How do you balance between these two zones when time is a limited resource?

1) Create safe spaces. Encourage employees to find a mentor or colleague to exchange ideas with and ask for feedback. Dedicate time for employees to learn through courses, podcasts, reading, etc.

2) Execute in the performance zone. Then provide reflection and observation (“what could I have done better?”) to use in the learning zone.

3) Lower the stakes. Start conversations about improvement, share your mistakes, ask for feedback, and model the learning zone for your team.

Grow Your Employees to Grow Your Organization

As L&D professionals, it’s our responsibility to maximize the potential of learners by explicitly capitalizing on their growth mindsets to not only retain top talent, but also to ensure they continuously benefit the organization and themselves. To avoid the performance plateau and the costs associated with talent wars, organizations must focus on a learning culture.

When you provide employees dedicated time and a psychologically safe space to experiment, seek feedback, practice, and improve, individuals are able to take risks to innovate and grow both themselves and the organization as a whole.

About the Author

Colby Chambers is a learning design expert with experience in pedagogical and andragogical learning transfer from educational start-ups to large technology companies. He has a passion for design, storytelling, sharing, and learning from the community. He holds a MS in Education and BA in English, and currently lives in the Bay Area, California.

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Great article and what seems so obvious gets lost in the day to day work!
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Very nice read!
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