E-Learning and the Impact on Employee Engagement

As learning professionals, we know the importance of learning on employee engagement and turnover.  According to the National Research Business Institute, 23 percent of employees leave for lack of development opportunities and training. The costs associated with losing talent, including money, lost productivity, recruitment expenses and training investments, have been well documented.

As important as learning and development are, for today’s workforce it’s even more important to consider how they are accessing these opportunities.  By 2014, half the U.S. workforce will be comprised of Millennials. This generation plus the ones immediately before and after, Generations X and Z respectively, live and breathe technology. They are intimately connected to the Internet, and one another, through their electronic devices. And as such, these groups are continuously learning. They expect their employers to supply 24/7 access to resources, data and colleagues via internal systems. In fact, 52 percent of employees surveyed said that a company’s use of technology was a major factor when selecting an employer (Accenture, 2009). The simple fact is – the tech-savvy employees of today will not suffer through hard-to-use interfaces and lackluster media. Want to compete (and win) the talent war?  Get on board.  This may require a culture shift in your organization and an investment in technology – better platforms, enterprise solutions – but the return on investment cannot be ignored.

Employee engagement improves company performance. Alex Edmans, MIT Sloan School of Management, analyzed the financial performance of a portfolio of stocks selected by Fortune magazine as the “Best Companies to Work for in America” from 1998 to 2005. By the end of 2005, these stocks “earned average annual returns of 14 percent by the end of 2005, over double market return” (Karen Renk, The Incentive Marketing Association). This is just one example of very clear correlation between employee engagement and business success factors like financial performance and customer satisfaction. In fact, Harvard Business Review counts Learning Capacity as 1 of 5 human capital management (HCM) drivers that impact organizational performance. Core practices like training, learning management systems, career development, organizational (and leadership) support of learning, and embracing innovation all contribute to improved organizational performance.

In addition, workers who engage in workplace Internet leisure browsing are 9 percent more productive than those who don’t (Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne).  And they are adding to their knowledge base every day, which contributes to the company’s business objectives. According to Maria Azua, author of The Social Factor, the old adage “knowledge is power” has been replaced by “sharing knowledge is power.”  Never before have employers been able to harness the intellectual power of their workforce in real-time, regardless of geographic boundaries, and drive results in a whole new way. In addition to the brain power we’re able to tap into, the mobile nature of today’s workforce means good ideas are happening anytime, anywhere, 24/7 which allows business to keep up with the changing market and business climate.

E-learning systems support the needs of the new workforce and drive employee engagement in a number of ways:

  • 24/7 access to training materials. Educators can add and revise materials as business needs or trends change.  And employees may contribute to content themselves. It all adds up to continuous learning and an empowered workforce.
  • Familiarity with the platform(s). Your employees are already using these platforms outside of work. They understand the technology and have made it an integral part of their lives. Therefore they have increased expectations for the systems their employers are using.
  • Connection to subject matter experts. Employees can connect with SMEs to tap into their expertise.
  • Real-time collaboration and sharing of best practices. Real-time problem-solving and collaboration are one of the primary methods that businesses are using today to resolve issues. “Two heads are better than one; why recreate the wheel” – we now have the ability to really practice what we preach.
  • Personalized learning. Organizations can more easily tie learning goals to competencies, objectives and priorities.  Employees have the flexibility to learn at their own pace and investigate other areas of interest with ease.
  • Engaging content formats. Gaming, augmented reality, webinars, skyping, podcasts – as technology changes this list grows and enables us as learning professionals to capture our audiences attention in new and exciting ways.  Partnered with classroom learning our reach is better than ever before.
  • Freedom to fail. Fear of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake holds people back – now employees can learn in the privacy of their own office, home, coffee house, etc.
  • Greater efficiency and environmental consciousness. Employees take note of environmental awareness and prefer employers who take active measures to reduce their footprint. Decreased materials usage leads to decreased costs and greater employee retention.

The options are many and even if you don’t have a lot of resources, there are easy-to-implement tools that you can utilize to get started. Consider creating a SharePoint, Google docs or wiki site to share materials, create a leadership blog or develop a community-centric intranet that is focused on areas of interest like management best practices or new product development. All of these are simple, quick ways to begin your journey into e-learning.

For an interesting case study on the impact of e-learning systems on employee engagement, read Bill Ives’ fantastic series on Booz Allen’s enterprise knowledge sharing system Hello .

Colleen Longstreet and Michelle Winkley, partners at talentdistinctions.com, a comprehensive talent management, human resources and recruiting solutions firm. Colleen can be reached at colleen@gingerhr.com or on twitter @GingerHRConsult. Michelle can be reached at michelle@talentdistinctions.com or on twitter @mwinkley.

Written for TrainingIndustry.com

The Future for Trainers, Organizational Development and Human Resources Professionals

Anytime human resources (HR), organizational development (OD) and training professionals are together in a room, someone inevitably asks the question, “So, what is the future of our roles?” After many years of effort, we finally have a seat at the table. However, the table has morphed from a long, wood plank in the middle of the room to connections between smartphones, Skype, the Cloud and other electronic devices. If we keep doing what we are doing today, will we be able to maintain our hard-fought positions?

What’s changed in the workplace?

  • The competition for talent is ON.  Manpower’s latest survey found that 52% of American companies are having trouble filling open positions.
  • With the advent of social networking, information flow has gone from top-down to coming at us from every direction. Upper management does not have the same level of control over messaging and information dissemination.
  • It is reported that now only 30% of learning happens in the classroom.
  • Companies are doing away with traditional HR constructs such as performance reviews and classroom training.
  • There is an increase in the use of contingent workers.
  • Telecommuting is more prevalent than ever before.
  • There are so many generations in today’s workforce — Baby Boomers through Gen Z, all in one place, working together with different values, motivators and learning styles.

How do we add value in this new environment?

The value of HR, OD and training professionals has changed.  We are moving from being subject matter experts to facilitators – of information and, knowledge. Our focus today is on:

  • Retaining top talent
  • Encouraging collaboration, innovation and learning
  • Creating an engaging employment experience
  • Increasing skills to meet business objectives in an ever-changing environment

With this new mission, we are starting to see the roles of HR, OD and training overlap in ways we haven’t seen before.  Companies are hiring OD professionals for HR functions, HR professionals who can also train, and training professionals who straddle business operations and development. Many HR functions are being outsourced completely, leaving talent management and development to line staff.

The competencies all HR, OD and training professionals need going forward include:

  • Utilization of e-learning and social media platforms for collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Influence skills – creating communities of interest, facilitating conversations about learning and development and talent
  • Use of employee engagement tools and knowledge of intrinsic motivators of different generations
  • Understanding your business and how to use skill gap analysis and needs assessments to support future initiatives
  • Outstanding verbal communications and platform skills

This last point is critical – as our focus shifts we will be required to convey information and encourage collaboration in ways we’ve never had to before. Now is the time to brush up on your influencing and negotiating skills!

OD, HR and training professionals need to work hard to maintain the momentum we’ve achieved in the workplace. Staying tuned into technology and becoming master facilitators will enable us to push learning and employee retention to new levels.  Become a driver of innovation and collaboration. Yesterday’s saying of “knowledge is power” has converted to “sharing knowledge is power.” How will you help your employees share knowledge?

Colleen Longstreet and Michelle Winkley, partners at talentdistinctions.com, a comprehensive talent management, human resources and recruiting solutions firm. Colleen can be reached at colleen@gingerhr.com or on twitter @GingerHRConsult. Michelle can be reached at michelle@talentdistinctions.com or on twitter @mwinkley.

Written for TrainingIndustry.com

The War for Talent

What can you do?

For most companies it’s a daily challenge: the war for talent. How do you retain your employees? What is the latest employee (engagement, productivity, satisfaction) (tool, trick, fix) insert your own buzzword here. Big business applies seemingly endless resources toward these issues but what’s a small company to do?  Can you really compete?

Yes you can. There are many advantages to working for a big company (richer comp and benefits, more structure, brand recognition, bigger budgets) but as you know there are also big rewards in the small company experience. As a small business advocate I can wax poetic on this all day but in this post I will focus on parental leave.

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations who do not mandate paid parental leave for its private sector employees. The media is abuzz about tech companies who are offering increasingly generous leave policies http://for.tn/1f3pFD8 and arguing about the responsibility of private employers vs. government. The debate about these practices and the potential impact on U.S. policy will continue to rage on.

But you’re a small business. What can you do to rise to the challenge?

The most important thing when considering your options is to conduct a thorough analysis. A rash decision can backfire as in the case of Gravity Payments, http://read.bi/1UiyDwr.   

Here is a quick guide to analyzing your situation and possible scenarios.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the industry standard? What are our competitors doing? What do our employees want?
  • What is our current employee demographic and who are we trying to attract?
  • How would a paid parental leave policy fit in with our other leave policies? How will it be applied equitably?
  • What would it do to our P&L? What will be sacrificed as a result?
  • What is the opportunity cost of not offering a paid leave policy?
  • How would an enhanced parental leave policy impact my employees and their families?

Once you’ve done the analysis and decided to move ahead the next step is to outline some options and financial models to explore different scenarios.

A couple of things to consider:

  • Don’t be excessive – the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your business and hurt everyone
  • Don’t announce anything to your employees until you are certain of your plan – false starts and miscommunication can cause ill will
  • Do your research – talk to your peers or put an industry task force together. Although competitors you will all benefit by sharing information.

As an employer you have a very real opportunity to impact your employees’ lives in addition to broader state and federal policies. This is an immense responsibility. While there is no right or wrong answer research and analysis are always a good place to start.

Need help? Send us a message. As always your comments are welcome.

The Return of the Union?

Gawker Media editorial employees recently voted overwhelmingly to unionize their workforce. For HR professionals and private sector executives around the US, this came as a huge surprise. Is unionization really coming to tech companies?

Probably not.

BUT, this could be a real game changer, and more importantly, it is an indication for management as to how employees want to be treated. There is a slow and steady shift from independent employment contracts, every man for himself, and sacrificing your colleagues for the sake of a better deal, to fairness and equality for all. There are a variety of reasons this may be happening—the millennial generation’s perspective on work and a post-recession economy where employees continue to be pushed to their limits among them. You can read Gawker employees’ rationale here: http://gawker.com/how-were-voting-on-the-union-and-why-1707427120.

There is a very real movement in the US toward employee-centric practices that lead to greater transparency and equity (!!!) for all, even in industries where loose employment practices were once the norm. This vote for unionization follows the recent 1% movement and minimum wage rallies taking place across the United States. Employees want security and transparency, and they care what happens to their coworkers.

This change doesn’t need to be contentious, nor does it need to create a rift between you and your staff. Collaborating with your employees for the greater good of all will result in more satisfied employees (and potentially greater profits—read the stats here: http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/163130/employee-engagement-drives-growth.aspx.

I know, I know—you treat your employees fairly, and everyone is 100% satisfied and engaged. But for those who aren’t there yet, private sector employers who abolish unfair practices and eliminate the mystery behind corporate decision-making will be the ones who will win the talent war. Where do you start?

  • Create a compensation policy and share it with your staff – All of them

Too often, employers are afraid to share wage data because they think employees will know too much. But they should know starting salaries, criteria for pay raises and salary differences in functions and industries. If you don’t provide salary increases every year to everyone, tell them why. It’s perfectly legitimate, but if you aren’t willing to talk about “it”, the “it” seems unnecessarily shady. Think about all of the information that is available on the internet. If you don’t provide the data that is relevant to your company, your employees will pull data from other sources and assume it applies to you too.

  • Be consistent

Don’t do for one what you aren’t willing to do for all. This doesn’t mean you can’t reward your top contributors with flexible schedules or incentive pay—it does mean that you should be able to justify your decisions with facts. If you follow Tip #1 above, your employees will already know what they need to do to be rewarded the way they want.

  • Set clear business goals

Being employee-centric doesn’t mean you lose sight of your business goals. Clearly define your vision, mission, and key results. Employees need to understand them if they are to succeed.

  • Prioritize recruiting

Recruiting is the single most important function of the business. Find the people who will succeed in your organization and listen to their needs

  • Be transparent

Ok, now I’m just repeating myself. But in the absence of information, employees make up facts. Don’t let that happen to you. If you are making a decision that that you can’t explain to your team, it may be the wrong decision.

  • Incorporate employee ideas

Create an employee committee that is empowered to share its ideas and concerns without fear of reprisal. This one sounds easy, but in reality it isn’t. Corporations (and executives) have egos, and no one wants to hear about their warts. However, isn’t it better to hear about the issues from your top contributors while they are still working for you?

These tips may seem pretty basic, yet many employers, especially in certain industries, aren’t ready yet. What do you need to convince your executive team it’s time to embrace employee equity and corporate transparency? 

Do you have Klout? Do you need to?

An established executive I know remarked recently that he’d just received his first résumé with a Klout score. This got me thinking about whether this is the future of talent assessment: a full lifetime of experiences condensed into a made-up number.

I’m being a bit dramatic, but my immediate reaction was negative; I am a relationship-based person, and that’s how I conduct business. I place people in roles where I think they will be successful on both a personal and a professional level. That simply can’t be determined by looking at a number. (I feel the same way about cultural-assessment testing, by the way.)

However, as I took a closer look, I realized that while the Klout number specifically doesn’t mean much for individuals (I’ll explain why in a minute), the concept behind it is meaningful. For purposes of this post, I’m only talking about Klout in relation to personal influence, not brand influence, which is an entirely different topic.

Klout calls itself “The Standard For Influence.” It claims to measure your influence by analyzing your social media activity, your network, and who engages or acts upon your content. Makes sense on the surface, but what I’ve found during my research and my own informal, non-scientific survey is that Klout’s measurements are random and their labels (Influencer, Specialist) are not meaningful because there are no consistent definitions for these terms.

As a matter of fact, I just received a message that I am a Klout “Addict” because I visited the site three times in the last week. Really? One person I spoke to said Klout deemed her an “Influencer” after she posted a single time about a topic. Another said Klout considers her widely influential even though she only ever posts on Facebook and only on personal matters. The executive I mentioned earlier actually considered the fact that the person included their Klout score on their résumé as a negative, since it isn’t a meaningful term just yet. Many of the reviews I’ve read indicate that the Klout rating system can be gamed, their algorithm is not transparent, and their criteria are too random at this stage to provide a true measurement. It is a work in progress and is striving to become the FICO score of social media influence, but we aren’t there yet.

What I found even more interesting in my research was how many professionals don’t even know what a Klout score is. My nonscientific survey included HR, recruiting, and various executives in the media, entertainment, and technology spaces. Of course, most executives knew about Klout, but of the HR and recruiting folks, more than half didn’t know about it and those who did, line executives and HR folks alike, said it was meaningless to them as a selection mechanism at this time.

Should you ignore your score? My answer sits somewhere between yes and no. I wouldn’t pay specific attention to your Klout rating at this time, but I would keep an eye on the company, because it is one of the more visible players in the field of folks trying to measure the impact of social. And social is only going to keep growing.

However, you absolutely should be paying attention to your social presence, and that is Klout’s underlying message. As the social web evolves, there will be ever more opportunities to present your personal brand and engage your audience. What’s more, organizations are regularly turning to your activity on the web to assess what you have to say, who you are engaging with, and your industry presence. Are you on top of your game, do you understand your field, are you trending with the influence-makers, and do you have something interesting to say? This is a very tangible approach to talent assessment, and one I champion. We are beyond the days of cautioning against posting those party pictures from last year’s Vegas trip (I think). This is really about monitoring your activity, making sure your posts are intelligent, meaningful, and put you in good light to future employers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Send me an email at colleen@gingerhr.com.

Harnessing Genius Through Social Media

My friend and mentor Terrence Wing always talked about harnessing the genius that exists in the workplace through social media, and I completely agreed with this approach. With the use of social media, people can share ideas, experiences, and answers to problems, leading to innovation, efficiency, and a positive work experience for employees.

I started to think about the idea of harnessing genius in more depth. Can all companies harness genius? Does genius exist in every company? Could harnessing genius retain top talent and motivate employees?

I look at companies like Zappos, Google, and Whole Foods, where the workforce drives their success. They certainly harness their genius.

Here are the steps to make it happen:

  • Hire the right people. Make sure they fit with your culture and can contribute to the company’s goals.
  • Let people do their thing. If you give people the tools and motivation to accomplish their goals, they will.
  • Encourage people to share ideas and collaborate. People like to work together to create success.

Yes, sometimes employees will say things you would prefer they don’t, but the use of social media memorializes genius and allows other to build on great ideas. Don’t let a few unflattering comments keep you from embracing people connecting through technology.

Allow everyone to use his or her strengths. The group’s product will be stronger than what individuals can do.

Terrence was always willing to share his genius with friends, colleagues, followers, and anyone who wanted to learn more about social learning or e-learning. Terrence was a social learning evangelist and, through his passions, mentored many of us to successful careers by encouraging us to share our genius and connect with others.

Terrence passed away unexpectedly on December 1, 2011. Because of his love of harnessing genius, his knowledge and inspiration will continue to touch people who believe in connecting with one another. Terrence’s vision was really about helping people make a difference through working together. Technology was just the vehicle to make it happen. Thank you, Terrence, for all that you have given us. You will be missed.

This tribute was written by Michelle Winkley and Colleen Lauria.