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October 2019
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TD Magazine

Lifelong Learning Is BEST Winners' Main Focus

When the Association for Talent Development's research team examined the data from the 2019 BEST Award-winning organizations, one thing was clear: These remarkable employers encourage employees to engage in ongoing, self-motivated L&D—defined as lifelong learning. ATD's research report Lifelong Learning: The Path to Personal and Organizational Performance found that companies that nurture lifelong learners see improvements in employee engagement, organizational performance, ability to retain talent, and ability to meet changing business needs.

BEST winners support lifelong learners through their talent strategies and programs. For example, in more than 90 percent of the award-winning companies, employees participate in setting their own annual performance goals. And more than 95 percent of winners create personal development plans for employees. Nonwinners are much less likely to embrace this practice; ATD's researchers have found that although creating personal development plans is associated with improved organizational culture and business outcomes, the minority of all organizations do so.

Almost all award winners make efforts to go beyond just offering individual courses and learning assets. The vast majority of BEST companies organize at least some of their formal learning opportunities into progressive paths, series, or sequences. In fact, many take it a step further by connecting the learning paths to competencies needed to move into specific roles or job families. Tying learning to internal mobility opportunities is a rare practice among all organizations but is correlated with better business performance.

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All the winners have formal (that is to say, structured) mentoring or coaching programs in place as well. Such programs provide an opportunity for lifelong learners to share their insights, knowledge, and experience with others. According to the ATD research report Mentoring Matters: Developing Talent With Formal Mentoring Programs, mentoring relationships are often mutually beneficial. Mentees gain professional skills and a better understanding of the organization's culture, while mentors develop new or different perspectives and leadership skills. In about half of the BEST organizations, mentoring programs are open to all employees, while in the other half, eligibility is restricted based on factors such as job title or identification as a high potential.

There are other opportunities for knowledge-sharing; all the BEST winners provide employees with social networking tools to support learning (and nearly 90 percent give all employees access). The award winners mentioned a broad variety of platforms and products (with many companies using more than one). By contrast, ATD has found that only about half of all organizations use social media in learning.

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Finally, a culture of lifelong learning requires the active and vocal support of senior executives. Executives at all the award-winning companies serve as advocates for the importance of learning and also participate in learning events as a speaker or instructor. In fact, some top executives have included learning in their company's mission statement, values, or pillars.

View the entire list of 2019 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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