Rethinking organizational learning: When teachers become the students

Meet institutional compliance requirements while providing employees with meaningful development experiences
By: | September 3, 2019
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Colleges and universities may be built around the education and success of tomorrow’s leaders, but they’re failing when it comes to engaging their own employees through ongoing learning and development.

Gallup reveals that only 4 out of 10 higher education staff and faculty members strongly agree that they’ve had opportunities at work to learn and grow in the past year. Even fewer strongly agree that someone at work encourages their development or has discussed their progress in the last six months.

And while these figures are hard to confront, it’s easy to understand the reasons behind them. After all, how do you meet unique institutional compliance requirements and provide employees with meaningful development experiences?

Creating a culture of learning

In a culture of learning, an organization’s mission, vision and values encourage employees to develop their skills and enhance their performance on a continuous basis—not just once or twice a year.

By cultivating a culture of continuous learning, colleges and universities can move beyond simply checking the box when it comes to training and deliver learning experiences that actually engage employees and move the needle on performance.

Higher ed leaders can help develop an organizational mindset that prioritizes ongoing employee development by incorporating aspects of learning and development into the institution’s mission statement and quarterly goal-setting process. Leaders can also empower staff and faculty to drive their own development—while still staying connected to the organization’s goals—by embracing and facilitating informal, self-driven learning.

Connecting learning and performance

It’s important to remember that learning is not the desired outcome—it is the behavior that drives performance. Learning and performance management do not merely coexist. They are dependent on each other. Research from Brandon Hall Group found that high-performing organizations are indeed more effective at linking learning to performance.

Learning and performance management do not merely coexist. They are dependent on each other.

By considering organizational outcomes and focusing learning and development programs on specific behaviors, skills and competencies, you can solidify the connection between learning and performance to achieve the results that matter to your institution.

Tying learning tasks to performance reviews, for example, helps employees meet growth plan expectations and helps supervisors effectively coach employees and assign specific learning activities that will improve performance.

Cultivating learning and performance excellence

After finding the traditional learning and development model lacking, Northwestern University in Illinois began creating a learning culture for its 7,000 staff that support 3,500 faculty across 12 different schools.

The goal was clear: Bring employees together using a variety of learning programs in which they could grow, engage in mentorship, and focus on professional and leadership development.

Moving beyond a compliance-only effort, Northwestern’s learning culture depended on a robust learning management system in which people could learn as well as engage with the performance management process. Implementing a hyperconnected talent development platform was a critical step as it allowed the institution to easily integrate three important focus areas: learning, performance management and social sharing. Now, with learning and performance management in one place, Northwestern is able to more effectively produce great leaders from within and sustain continued academic excellence.

Rethinking organizational learning

To deliver a top-notch education to students, you need high-quality employees. That means regularly evaluating everyone’s performance, identifying knowledge and skill gaps, and continually developing faculty and staff so you can keep up with changing curricula.

By actively creating an organizational culture that lets employees drive their own development and by leveraging technology to connect learning to performance, colleges and universities can harness the full potential of faculty and staff to advance institutional goals and priorities.

Hawley Kane is head of organizational talent and leadership development at Saba Software, specializing in performance management training and leadership development.