Learning New Skills at Workplace – A Choice or An Imperative?

Learning New Skills at Workplace – A Choice or An Imperative?

Tristam has over 25 years of consulting and management experience. Tris’ passion is creating and implementing impactful solutions for clients that align their culture and talent with their most important strategic initiatives. Prior to joining LSA Global (www. lsaglobal.com) as CEO & Chairman, he served as Vice President of Organisational Strategies at Proxicom, an e-business consulting and development company, which grew from 50 employees to over 2,500 employees in three years and went public.

Learning new skills helps you stay ahead and keep abreast with industry trends. However, learning something new at work can come across as a challenge to some. Let’s understand why workplace learning is important and how HR can simplify the learning curve for employees, ensuring continuous growth and learning.

Just 15 minutes every day is all you need to acquire new professional skills. But why do you need to learn new things, especially at work? Well, the benefits are aplenty. First off, you don’t get bored. Repeating the same grind day in, day out can make you exhausted. Adding a new skill helps you stay sharp and alert.

Secondly, you can keep up with industry trends and stay relevant. Last but not least, you are able to maintain stable mental health and sturdiness. Simply put, ongoing learning helps you lead a fulfilled personal and professional life. However, it is easier said than done.

 Learning New Skills at Work is Not Easy

When you want to upgrade the skills of your workforce, know from the beginning that learning new skills at work is complicated. Unfortunately, most new work skills are not acquired by simply reading or observing others; you cannot become a pro golfer by devouring all the books on the subject or watching tournaments on TV. And surprisingly to many, learning new skills at work does not happen by attending one-time training programs. Based on measuring over 800 training programs, our research shows that only 1-in-5 participants on average change their behaviour and performance from training alone. Behaviour and performance change takes alignment, commitment, desire, feedback, practice and reinforcement.

Begin the Learning Process Right

If you are interested in learning new skills at work, treat the process like a change initiative, not a learning event. That means starting with high levels of relevance to the (1) business, (2) the participants and (3) their bosses. We call this 3X Relevance. Without it, do not expect more than 20% of your target audience to proficiently apply the new skills on the job.

Before launching a training program designed to build new work skills, you need all key stakeholders on board. All three levels of stakeholders must believe that it is in their own best interests to invest the time and energy to learn the new work skills compared to all the other priorities on their plate. You need to build a compelling story around how the new skills will help each individual, their team and, ultimately, the organisation as a whole.

Break It Down Into Micro Behaviours

Once your business case for learning is clear and agreed to by your key stakeholders, your next step is to break down the desired skills into the micro behaviours that tie directly to your desired performance outcomes. For example, to learn how to hit a winning serve in tennis, you need to:

  • Have the proper stance
  • Use the appropriate grip technique
  • Toss the ball correctly
  • Coil, bend your knees and swing the racquet to gather energy and gain power
  • Hit the ball at the peak
  • Follow through

Create a New Habit with Micro Behaviours

New behaviours create new performance results when they become habits. The best way to create new habits is to pair a behaviour with a cue and then practice them over and over. For example, let’s say you decided those team meetings needed to be more effective.

  1. The first skill to be learned might be preparing an agenda.
  2. The cue would be the scheduling of a meeting.
  3. The micro behaviour would be itemizing the agenda.
  4. Then spend the first portion of your next meeting, revising and refining it with meeting attendees. If you follow this process for each new meeting, you’ll soon need far less time to put it together; the behaviour will become routine.

Next, you can perhaps focus on meeting facilitation skills – how to keep on topic, how to handle conflict, how to stay on time, how to encourage the open exchange of ideas, etc. One skill will build upon another and soon your meetings will be far more productive.

How HR Professionals Can Help Improve Learning and Development in Organisations

While learning is a personal choice, it is imperative for organisations to encourage employees to aquire new skills, and grow. Introducing learning and development programs is not enough. HR professionals should aim at introducing personalized and inclusive learning as a part of their people agenda. This ensures that employees’ individual learning needs are catered to and they can learn throughout their career span. The localisation of learning programs is also important. Including content that can help employees overcome local challenges and biases can be the next big step in L&D for organisations.

The Bottom Line

Learning new skills at work is a process that requires building new habits that are relevant to the participants, their bosses and the organisation as a whole. To make a difference, focus time, energy and resources on doing it right – with cues associated with behaviours that add up to skills that become habits and that matter.


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