The way in which business leadership considers the needs of its workforce has changed greatly over the past several decades. Very recently, in fact, the idea of employee experience has become more broadly adopted among organizations as a way of driving positive business performance outcomes. Forbes Magazine identified 2018 as being “The Year of Employee Experience.” Josh Bersin has been writing about his observations on the topic, listing his discoveries when it comes to improving the employee experience (I am particularly fond of the concept of “process simplification”). In his book The Employee Experience Advantage, Jacob Morgan points out the organizations that invested most heavily in employee experience are

• Included 11.5 times as often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work
• Listed 4.4 times as often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers
• Twice as often found in the American Customer Satisfaction Index

Healthy business environments tend to thrive through the practice of enhancing employee engagement, so the question is to determine the most effective ways to accomplish this. Of course, there have been articles, conference presentations, expert interviews, white papers, and armies of consultants addressing the challenge of increasing employee engagement, and recommended courses of action are quite varied. Since my professional background is in learning, I want to call out a comment Josh Bersin recently made at a corporate learning summit I attended. Paraphrasing, Bersin remarked that survey data shows that more and more, potential new employees are not interested in coming on board if the organization does not invest significantly in their learning. Stated differently, enhancing employee engagement means deliberate investment in the employee’s educational growth.

Let’s look at strategies organizations have typically used to improve procedures and protocols to impact outcomes. There is usually some mechanism for management oversight, and this often involves gathering employee and customer feedback. The data collected is analyzed to identify underlying problems and to develop effective solutions. Often, these solutions involve implementing some sort of training plan designed to address operational challenges. Starbucks, for example, closed 8,000 stores to roll out racial-sensitivity training.

More fundamentally, much of the training provided gives employees basic functional skills such as through HR onboarding training. Do you need to know how our business works? We’re glad you asked; we have this canned learning module for you that will tell you exactly what you need to know! This type of training is meant to bring employees to an acceptable level of business proficiency, but it doesn’t address the desire for continued professional growth.

Unfortunately, rarely do corporate learning activities address employee growth in ways that could be leveraged to solve existential business challenges and contribute meaningfully to organizational as well as employee growth. (And no, “leadership development” does not count, because it usually applies to a subset of employees already charged with addressing organizational challenges.)

"Enhancing employee engagement means deliberate investment in the employee’s educational growth"

The good news is that corporate learning can be used to monitor and improve the business environment (i.e., though employee engagement), and in doing so it will also provide a means for anticipating and planning for resource utilization in a variety of categories (people, funding, tools, etc.). While the answer isn’t as simple as implementing a few key learning modules in the corporate LMS, there are a few principles that will help move an organization forward.

Implement Social and Collaborative Learning

Even in 2019, the majority of learning modules developed focus on individuals. Companies still refer to CBTs, as though training occurs when an individual interacts with a computer. Instead, focus on developing training that asks broad questions to cohorts of learners and allows learners to work with each other to find solutions. The goal is cultural transformation that empowers employees to leverage the “power of crowds” to solve problems.

Accept the Power of Digital Learning

By creating a robust online environment, organizations can provide employees with a variety of learning experiences, and employees can consume content most efficiently according to their personal needs. Research is demonstrating that digital learning works, so forward-looking organizations need to step away from the instructor-led approach.

Emphasize Soft Skills at Least as Much as Tech Skills

Research is revealing that the most sought-after skills are persuasion, analytic reasoning, collaboration, and adaptability, yet corporate training does little in the way of development. Scenario-based learning with ambiguous situations that require reflection while providing branching outcomes can be a very effective methodology in developing learning modules that support ongoing practice.

These three principles give direction for corporate learning efforts moving into 2020 and beyond. They speak of building a learning organization that looks to train its workforce to address challenges that haven’t yet been identified. Doing so empowers all employees to monitor and continually improve the business environment and ultimately drive resources where they will be most effective.