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4 tips to embed learning in the flow of work
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

Today’s workplace environment is as intense as it's ever been. On one hand, workers are more distracted than ever with email and other communication apps, and time and attention are at a premium.

And on the other hand, organizations are also dealing with the unprecedented event now known as “The Great Resignation,” with employees leaving en masse for greener pastures. Companies are fighting tooth and nail to engage and retain employees while also ensuring people stay as productive as possible. It’s a tall order.

One of the most important factors affecting employee engagement levels is the potential for career development. In fact, our People Scientists found that lack of career growth is one of the top three reasons employees leave a company. People want to know that their hard work contributes to something – including the opportunity for advancement within their own careers.

Skills learning (which is, quite literally, the opportunity to pick up and hone skills that are relevant to their careers) is critical to employee development and, by extension, employee engagement. And in today’s environment, the best way to approach this type of learning is by building it right into the daily workflows of your employees.

The problem with traditional learning programs

Traditional learning and development programs are great – to a point. However, today’s work environment is more fluid and fast-paced than ever. The long learning modules, intensive quizzes, and rigid structure of old-school training can make learning in this environment tough.

The reality is that it’s far too easy for learning tasks to slide to the back burner in favor of the urgent tasks of the day. In fact, data indicates that knowledge workers take only five minutes per day for formal learning. Given what we know about engagement and career development, that’s not going to cut it.

Now, imagine a work environment where knowledge is accessible at all times and learning new skills is baked into the day-to-day work of your staff. It’s not separate from their other tasks. This integrated approach ensures employees are constantly learning new things and improving their existing skills.

4 tips to integrate skills learning into your employees’ workflows

This might feel far-fetched, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, getting there can be surprisingly simple when you implement a few best practices.

1. Provide access to the right tools

By making knowledge readily accessible, you increase the chances that people will take advantage of it. Put the information employees need – from tutorials and procedures to historical data and industry news – at their fingertips.

Some of the ways you can prioritize this type of knowledge sharing include:

  • A usable company wiki: Having a “single source of truth” for information that employees might need for their jobs is important. Make this company-wide so that employees from different departments have access to the same information. It broadens everyone’s understanding of how the entire organization functions.
  • Open communication channels: If your employees have a question or come across a useful piece of information, they need an easy way to share it with other workers. Company Slack channels are excellent for this type of quick, casual communication. Consider creating a channel dedicated specifically to learning.
  • Regular company updates: Useful company and industry updates from upper management are a great way to keep employees aware of the bigger picture and grow their knowledge at the same time. These updates could be posted to the company wiki, shared as email announcements, or posted to a dedicated Slack channel.

2. Give employees tasks that challenge them to grow

People learn by doing. This might seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Your employees are not going to learn anything new if they’re doing the same things, in the same way, every single day.

Effective managers look for opportunities to challenge their employees by assigning tasks and problems to the workers that will benefit the most from solving them. This is especially valuable for upskilling, where employees work toward becoming better at what they do.

For example, if the finance department encounters a discrepancy, tasking a newer employee with finding the error can provide valuable experience. They might not spot the error as efficiently as someone more established would, but that experience not only bolsters the employee’s skills – it ultimately strengthens the entire team.

Of course, management will need to use discretion when deciding who to task with a difficult situation. If it's a mission-critical problem, it may still be best to give it to a more experienced team member, or at least have one supervise the process.

3. Experiment with different learning formats

Traditional workplace learning materials often come in the form of either written content or PowerPoint-esque slide decks. These are both worthy formats in their own ways, but they also require more directed attention.

If your employees are struggling to set aside time for learning, they might be less likely to engage with these time-intensive approaches. If time is at a serious premium in your organization, your people may even come to resent the learning materials or view them as a burden – and that’s the opposite of what you want.

Instead, try a format that can be easily woven into their day, such as audio. Many employees like to listen to music or podcasts while they work. While these can be distracting from deep work, the reality is that not all of our tasks require that much thought. Podcasts, like the Culture First podcast, can be a great way to keep workers engaged during routine, repetitive tasks. Consider creating or providing brief podcast-style audio content that workers can listen to while they perform these more mundane tasks.

Infographics are another often-overlooked format that is quick to read and digest. They're perfect for sharing quick tutorials or how-to information. Best of all, they’re easily filed for quick reference in the future.

4. Build a culture of learning

We saved the meatiest point for last. Culture might be the most critical factor for integrating learning into day-to-day workflows. Ultimately, you want learning to be ingrained in the habits of your employees – and the normal mode of operation for your whole organization.

You won’t get there overnight, but here are a few ideas that can help you take steps in the right direction:

  • Encourage people to ask questions about everything: If there’s something they don’t know or don’t understand, they should ask! New product features, tactics used during successful negotiations, how to give constructive feedback on presentations – everything is fair game. Remind people that there are no wrong questions in order to foster a high degree of psychological safety.
  • Suggest keeping “to-learn” lists: While the perennial to-do list usually takes priority, a to-learn list of things that the employee wants to clarify or learn more about can help keep the desired information top of mind. This is especially useful during hectic times when learning might take a back seat.
  • Incentivize the sharing of knowledge: If team members have a useful piece of information, their common practice should be to share it (rather than hoarding it as personal currency). Whether it’s clarification on a policy or procedure, a better way to perform a task, or just general knowledge, sharing knowledge benefits everyone. Keep communication channels open both within and between departments to maximize information sharing, and encourage people to document their processes in order to build an ever-growing knowledge resource.
  • Leverage employee development and learning tools. When it comes to learning and development, you can’t wing it. A tool like Culture Amp’s Skills Coach can help you build learning in the flow of work using behavioral science and spaced repetition. Plus, each exercise takes only two minutes and is delivered daily with nudges via Slack. This allows employees to find pockets of time in their busy schedules to complete the course at their own pace.

    Great tools don’t just make learning easier – they encourage employees to actively engage in developing their skills. At the end of the day, your learning initiatives are only valuable if people make use of them.

By embedding learning in the flow of work, the benefits will flow out beyond the individual to elevate the entire organization.

Treat learning as a benefit, not a burden

Learning and developing new skills is critical to career development and, as a result, employee engagement. However, employees don’t always have time to participate in traditional learning and development programs.

The solution is to build learning into the daily workflows of your team members. By providing the right tools, being thoughtful about tasks and opportunities, and fostering a culture of constant learning, you can reach a place where everyone is soaking up knowledge and growing their skills on a daily basis. As an added bonus, you can reduce turnover and maintain, or even boost employee retention.

Your teams – and the entire company – will be better for it.

Illustration of a blue cup with the word 'skills' on it, filled with soil and a sprouting plant

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