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Cooked to Perfection: Learning Elevates the Employee Engagement Recipe

My go-to pandemic binge has been the reality cooking show Top Chef. It’s comforting, great with a snack or glass of wine and an excellent example of how talent is strengthened through learning. 

Like a delicious jus, hollandaise or demi-glace, learning can be your “secret sauce” to employee engagement.

Employee engagement has played a big role in recruiting and retention throughout the pandemic. To increase engagement, companies have enhanced benefits and perks, embraced flexible work schedules, expanded paid time off, focused on mental health programs and held events that cultivate workplace relationships.

The Manager’s Guide to a Positive Learning Culture

And they’ve embraced learning. When you create a positive learning culture and invest in your people’s ongoing development, they feel greater ownership of their careers and increased alignment with your company. In other words, when you put effort into developing your employees, they invest back.

“Learning creates opportunities to obtain and enhance skill sets, knowledge and capabilities,” said Ben Cardenas, Sr. Manager of Enterprise Learning & Talent at Harbor Freight Tools. I contacted several learning leaders to get their views on engagement and the role learning can play.

“Developing these components in a learning environment enables the employee (learner) to practice in a safe space what they have acquired and or enhanced,” Cardnesa added. “When the employee applies the learning experience back into the workplace, it enables them to contribute to work that is meaningful to them, which in turn helps the employee feel included in the organization and the process.”

So how can you use learning to keep your people engaged?

1. Create a meaningful onboarding plan.

Consider what information you would want to know during your first day, week, month and 90 days. Then think through the best ways to build learning experiences that deliver that key information. What stakeholders would you want to include to share that information in a new-hire welcome series? What items would be on your critical learning agenda? What information should be self-paced and online versus instructor-led, whether it’s presented in person or virtually?

  • Prior to onboarding, curate a learning pathway employees can use to familiarize themselves with your company’s vision, mission, values and organizational structure. It’s a great way to showcase your positive learning culture.
  • During onboarding, fuse online asynchronous learning with face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) learning. Include job aids or quick reference videos.
  • After onboarding, continue providing learning opportunities for new-hires to build their skills and acquaint themselves with their job responsibilities. 

Throughout the onboarding process, encourage new hires to build relationships, ask questions to gather information and set up time with their managers to align and calibrate on key priorities.

2. Infuse learning into your one-on-ones. 

People managers are a key population in your company and can make sure learning is a priority. Managers are your front line for making sure employees have opportunities to talk about learning on a regular basis; managers can build learning opportunities into day-to-day conversations. 

One-on-ones can also be an opportunity for managers to help your people  learn and reflect, because they can ask guiding questions and create a psychologically safe environment where employees can fail forward. 

What went well? What didn’t go well? What might you want to change next time? Asking some basic guiding questions can turn your managers into coaches.

3. Include learning goals in performance reviews and your company’s talent management process.

Performance conversations are a powerful moment in an employee’s journey and an opportunity to check in and evaluate progress. What better moment to build in goals related to learning that reinforce your company’s commitment to learning?

Learning goals can vary depending on the resources at your disposal. Are there stretch assignments your employees can work on? Are there key skills and capabilities your employees can build? Are there-in-house or external courses they can take to get those skills? Engaged employees will appreciate opportunities to learn and grow.

These strategies can set your employees up for success, especially if you make them available from Day One.

“The link between learning and engagement isn’t a foregone conclusion,” said Kristen Fyfe-Mills, Director of Employee Development and Engagement at Farmer Focus. “The learning experiences need to be well-designed and relevant to work and growth — for the learner and the organization.”

Onboarding provides a first impression of your company to new-hires now on the payroll and a great opportunity to build a positive learning culture. Include content that shows how committed your company is to talent development. 

“Learning helps create space for curiosity and conversation,” said Lisa Dubler, a career coach at General Assembly. “This can often lead to breaking down silos and having people more engaged and invested in their work.”

A recent LinkedIn Learning report suggests extending engagement across the entire employee journey. When you emphasize learning in performance reviews and get managers “bought in” to your learning culture, you can make learning fun and relevant, ensure their experiences at your company are meaningful and generate real return on your L&D investments. 

Like a great chef, your company can mix up a great combination of flavors that make your employee engagement strategy sweet, savory and delectable. 

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