Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I’d like to believe we all know that learning aligns with performance. The more employees learn; the better they perform. But the key to making this connection successful is putting learning and development needs in the hands of the learner which, in this case, is the employee.
If organizations are brutally honest, they’ll admit that managers do not have time to tell employees everything they need to learn. Organizational structures are leaner. Technology is moving quickly. Managers have a full plate and we’re asking them to make activities like the one-on-one meeting their priority.
So, employees need to take some of the responsibility for identifying their learning needs. But before they can do that, they need some guidance. Here’s a three-step approach that employees can use to start self-identifying their learning needs. This is something that employees can do on their own, or during one-on-one meetings with their manager. It could also be explained during orientation, a training session, or in a department meeting. And it could be briefly revisited during goal setting or performance reviews.
STEP 1: Understand preferred learning styles.
There are three primary learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.
- Auditory involves listening. It could be podcasts or lectures.
- Visual includes pictures, graphs, or charts. PowerPoint and video fall into this category.
- Kinesthetic is tactile. Being able to practice or try the activity is common.
If you’re looking for an activity to help employees identify their preferred learning style, look at the employee’s last performance review or annual goals. With the employee, identify five achievements in the document. Then, ask the employee to explain how they learned the knowledge or skills needed to accomplish the goal. That will give you and the employee some sense of preferred learning styles.
Be prepared to hear different types of learning. For instance, an employee might prefer to learn a new software program by working hands-on with the program (kinesthetic). But when it comes to a new procedure for completing expense reports, the employee prefers an email with steps (visual). The purpose of this step is to heighten an employee’s learning style awareness and start the conversation.
STEP 2: Determine what needs to be learned.
Now that there’s an understanding of preferred learning styles, it’s time to discuss what needs to be learned. Ask employees to look at their current goals and for each goal, identify the 10 steps it will take to accomplish each goal. Be specific in each step. Then discuss with the employee what knowledge or skills need to be learned. AND, at what level.
For example, let’s say one of an employee’s goals is to update the company policy on customer product returns. Part of the steps might include benchmarking the product return policies of the company’s competitors.
However, how much information an employee needs to understand about benchmarking could vary. If the employee will be tasked with conducting the research, then they need to know a lot about benchmarking. However, if the company is planning to hire an outside firm to do some of the research, and the employee will be overseeing the firm’s work, then they might only need to understand the process at a high-level versus at a hands-on level.
STEP 3: Develop a personal action plan.
Now it’s time to align learning with performance. Employees have an understanding of their learning style (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). They also know how to identify the individual knowledge and skills to be learned by breaking down larger goals into smaller steps.
Employees can use the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, actionable, responsible, time-bound) to develop their personal action plans. Many organizations already use SMART in goal setting. It’s an acronym that has tremendous flexibility. Employees can learn how to use SMART in orientation or onboarding. Then they are equipped with a tool they can use throughout their career.
For an activity, ask employees to develop SMART plans for each of their goals. Managers can review the plans with the employee during one-on-one meetings and monitor their progress.
It makes good business sense for organizations to give employees the methodology and tools to manage their own learning during orientation or onboarding. Employees start their jobs with a clear understanding of their role and expectations with goal setting, one-on-one meetings, and performance management.
Meanwhile, managers can spend their time coaching employees to use the process well. Ultimately, the organization wins because managers and employees are using their resources and tools to perform at the highest level possible and accomplish their goals.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Honolulu, HI25