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Motivating Employees to Take Charge of Their Development

Friday, August 9, 2019
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Motivating employees to take charge of their development be a simpler task than you thought. Here are five simple actions to encourage your employees to actively chase their professional growth:

1. Stop Pushing

What I mean is to stop doing training to them. Stop dragging people to what you think they should do. They’ll then have the choice to:

  • own their development by focusing on what they want and need and how they can get it with the tools they have
  • fall behind, meaning they will not only get passed over for promotions but will likely have trouble keeping their current job if they can’t keep up. And that job they have now? Well, it simply may cease to exist in its current form.

According to Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle-Giulioni, “Learning agility is the new job security. Employees who want to own their development and drive it in a desirable direction need to shift their attention toward enhancing employability with key skills, capabilities, and experiences. They must look around the corner to anticipate changing needs,” (TD, “Decoding the New Career Landscape,” May 2019).

An increasing number of employees in your organization already get it. They want to own their development, and you need to make it easier for them to do so. For those who aren’t motivated, leverage the power of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which research shows is more effective at driving action then sharing positive benefits.

The Institute for the Future says that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't yet been invented. Guess what? That means that jobs that do exist today will be replaced by those new jobs. And it won’t take until 2030 to happen. It’s happening now.

Employees want to grow or they don’t. But if they don’t take steps to continue to learn and grow, someone else will. And they will find themselves unemployable on the other side of the divide.

You can’t change the motivation of a complacent employee. Only they can do that. But if everyone around them becomes more engaged, learns new things, has better conversations with their manager, and takes on new challenges or even a new position, and they’re not . . . well, that may change their intrinsic motivation.

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If they are close to retirement and lack the motivation to learn something new, make them a lead player in knowledge transfer. Make them a task-based mentor to others. Have others shadow them. Have them shadow others and provide feedback.

2. Make It Easy for Them to Pull

If you want employees to the best activities for their development, you need to make it easy for them to get those activities. Some people know their skills gaps or believe they do. Most do not. Even when they believe they do, there is no consistency in expectations from person to person or a way of getting them to know what’s changing.

3. Use Self-Awareness to Drive Intrinsic Motivation to Change

Start with a role-based competency assessment for their job (which includes new or changing skills) to let them identify the full scope of requirements for their role and compare themselves to it. Be sure you don’t stop at what they need to do. You must also show them how to do the what. That is, provide behavioral examples at each level of proficiency so people can consistently and objectively compare how they do things to best practices and find out where they really stand. Then present them with their results—their skills gaps and strengths. You need them to leverage both.

Keep in mind, skills gaps are not the same as weaknesses that you may choose to ignore. In a role-based competency model, a skills gap is something you have to overcome to do your job. So if you can’t do it, you must learn.

4. Provide Personalized Learning to Facilitate Action (Hint: Include Informal Learning)

As much as role-based content curation and Netflix-style recommendations (“others like you watch this video”) are all the rage, it’s not necessarily the right content for a specific person. By connecting people’s skills gaps to learning options tailored to them, you’re enabling them to self-direct efficiently.

“I don’t have time for learning” is the most common excuse for lack of action. Overcome it with informal learning so they can learn in the flow of work. Watch this ATD webcast to learn how. If the only learning options you offer are formal learning, including e-learning, you’re going to lose a lot of people who don’t respond to it. If you want to motivate employees to own their development, help them learn while doing the thing they need to do.

Seth Godin reinforces this concept when he says, “The learning of relevant projects and peer engagement. Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other.”

5. Actively Sustain Motivation

Getting them motivated isn’t enough. You need to make learning a habit to create a culture of lifelong learning. That takes specific communication to ensure learning is operationalized—for example, as a part of the regular employee-manager conversation.

To motivate employees to take charge of their development, stop pushing. Instead, get them pulling. Help everyone understand the learning imperative. Make it easy for them to know what to pull and why to pull it. And ensure that learning remains a part of the regular organizational conversation.

About the Author

Cheryl Lasse is SkillDirector’s managing partner. Her goal is helping people and companies achieve their potential. Cheryl has extensive experience with competency model development and implementation, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion with others. Check out the LinkedIn group Competency Models For Professional Development.

She believes people are intrinsically motivated to excel, if they are given access to a competency model for their role, the opportunity to assess themselves against that model, and personalized learning to help them close gaps and meet aspirational goals. This philosophy has been embodied in the Self-Directed Learning Engine, the engine behind the ATD Skill Tracker.

Cheryl has a strong background in consulting, marketing, and sales, mostly in technology companies, where training has played a chief role throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University in computer science and HR, and an MBA from the University of South Florida.

1 Comment
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Thanks, Cheryl! The paradigm shift from pushing to pulling has been a meaningful one for us here at Duke!
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