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ATD Blog

Secret to On-the-Job Learning Is Unleashing the Can-Do Spirit

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It’s no secret that a major chunk of employee learning is an unplanned byproduct of everyday work experiences. Indeed, the notion that most of what employees learn comes from on-the-job experiences is a well-established phenomenon, with estimates running as high as 90 percent or more in some organizations.

Studies have demonstrated that information retention and its impact of learning on performance often is greatest when gained in a practical context. Amid this backdrop, it seems like a good idea to leverage digital tools that make instruction readily available to people while they are on-the-job. But, truth told, these on-demand training tools don’t always work as intended.

We have a client who spent a lot of money purchasing the rights to a very large library of e-learning training modules from a prominent university. The online library included nearly every management topic. But despite the best efforts of their learning professionals to promote this library, they were disappointed to discover that only a small percentage of employees actually used it. And many of those who did give it a try would start an e-learning module and then never finish it. What can we learn from this example?

On-the-job learning works best when managers are involved.
E-learning modules, of course, can be very useful for facilitating learning on a timely basis. But we have found that the best way to promote productive on-the-job learning is to first find ways to get managers involved in the process. And the key to making this happen is: Keep It Simple!

Help managers learn how to “Think TP&L”
An easy way to help managers get their team’s learning and development properly targeted is to have them try using the “Think TP&L” mantra:

  • Tasks the team perform now and in the future
  • People on the team who perform these tasks
  • Learning gaps that need to be addressed right now and for the future.

Be sure to help managers to use the Think TP&L mantra at critical touchpoints, such as when they are delegating work or working alongside their team members. This will keep them mindful of their responsibility to help team members focus on important learning and development needs.

Help managers unleash the “Can-Do” spirit
We have found that the true source of people’s can-do spirit—when it comes to learning—can be found in what we call the “VITALS” motivational profile. Our book, Becoming a Can-Do Leader, explains that the VITALS acronym stands for:

  • Values
  • Interests
  • Talents
  • Ambitions
  • Longings
  • Style.

Managers can use VITALS as a mental checklist to identify the factors that can really excite people when they are engaged in learning.

Managers are in the best position to get to know each person who works for them as an individual. If you can get managers to “think TP&L” and “check the VITALS” of their people, they can position critical learning efforts to unleash the team’s can-do spirit. Bottom line: If your goal as an L&D professional is to improve the quality of on-the-job learning, get the can-do support of your managers.

Want to get some practice using these proven strategies for enhancing on-the-job learning? Please join us at the ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition for the session, The Secret to On-The-Job Learning: Unleashing the Can-Do Spirit.

About the Author

Dr. Frank Satterthwaite is a professor of organizational leadership and a past director of the MBA program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Frank, who has contributed numerous blogs to ATD’s Community of Practice, is co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press). He is also the senior author of The Career Portfolio Workbook: Using the Newest Tool in Your Job-Hunting Arsenal to Impress Employers and Land a Great Job (McGraw-Hill), a bestselling career book that was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” at the Wall Street Journal. In addition to his cover story for TD Magazine, “The Delegation Conundrum,” his articles have appeared in national magazines, including Esquire. He has appeared on nationally broadcast radio and TV programs in the United States and Canada, and is currently doing webcasts for ATD. Frank also has a management consulting practice in which he helps managers become Can-Do Leaders. He studied psychology at Princeton and received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale. Earlier in his career Frank was a member of the U.S. national men’s squash team. Frank and his architect wife, Martha Werenfels, live in Rhode Island and are proud parents of their two sons, Peter and Toby.

About the Author

Jamie Millard, co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press), is the executive partner and co-founder of Lexington Leadership Partners, an executive coaching and customized leadership development and training firm focused on developing can-do leaders who demonstrate commitment, competence, and courage. He formerly led the national organization change management practice at CSC Consulting. Prior to that, Millard was a partner at Harbridge House, where he led the continuous improvement and project management customized training and consulting practices. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the US Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the University of Rhode Island. He is a proud veteran and member of the Global Educator Network with Duke Corporate Education.

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