The rules of engagement: How raising staff involvement in learning benefits the business

Learning engagement may sound like yet another buzz phrase, but it is a key factor in any company’s growth. Research shows that businesses with highly-engaged employees are less likely to suffer retention problems, avoid costly recruitment drives, and enjoy better morale.

Global HR and consulting firm ISR claims that better engagement benefits company coffers. Its June 2006 survey Engaged Employees Help Boost the Bottom Line, based on responses from 664,000 staffworldwide, found a gap of almost 52% in the one-year performance improvement in operating income between companies with highly-engaged employees and those with low engagement scores.Businesses with high employee engagement enjoyed a 27.8% improvement in earnings per share, compared with an 11.2% decline in those suffering with low engagement levels, according to the survey.

Move together

Business coach and engagement specialist Anna Farmery claims the bottom line only increases when a company and its employees move at the same pace, something that will only happen through engagement.

This comes becauseofthree things:

Companies need to recognise that people have a choice (ie, they can take their skills elsewhere)

Any plans or ideas should also be translated at individual level

A firm should include rewards tailored to individuals. This could be anything from money to a simple thank you or career development.

“Learning engagement is all about personalising,” Farmery says. “You need to choose the right tool to deliver the development and introduce a feedback loop.”

Engagement is a human trait that people need, want and strive for, says Tim Andrews, managing director of Stretch Learning. He defines disengagement as people feeling disconnected, talked down to, being told what to do, and not feeling part of the group, the ideas, the content, or the process they’re involved in.

At Dow Chemical Company, which has 43,000 staffworldwide and an annual turnover of $46bn (£23bn), engagement in learning is a key part of its structure.Leaders are responsible for adopting clear annual goals and communicating them throughout the organisation.

For their part, staff must align their annual performance plan, maintained through Dow’s global online HR system, with meeting the expectations of the business. In doing so, they build on the skills that will help them achieve their career aspirations and development plans.

But while Dow may reflect engagement in learning, Wendy Brooks, director of learning and developmentand consultancy at training firm Hemsley Fraser, claims that many organisations simply pay lip service to it.

To embed it into the culture, she says organisations must offer role models from the top make learning a cultural activity, for example, by publicly celebrating it and integrating it into performance management and planning. At individual level, there should be communication ahead of any kind of learning.

“We help clients to communicate the benefits to the individual, as well as those for the organisation, creating an invitation to learn,” she says. “We also produce tools for managers, so they can debrief their staff after learning.

“A manager can play a huge role in engagement – both before and after training – and we tell them to create an opportunity for individuals to use what they’ve learned as soon as possible.”

Classroom learning

Stretch Learning has devised its own system for engagement in the classroom entitled Pose: Purpose, Ownership, Safety, Engagement.

According to Andrews, purpose is instilled by a sense of what’s in it for the learner, while ownership comes through enabling people to take control of their learning and how they apply it, and safety stems from the creation of an easier learning environment for each individual. Engagement is the result of these three factors.

Trainers can identify engagement in learning when individuals express pride at what they know they’re good at, while acknowledging they’ve learned three or four things from the course, says Brooks.

CASE STUDY: AIRBUS UK

Airbus UK, which manufactures aircraft wings at its plant in Broughton, North Wales, developed its ‘Our Route to Excellence’ culture change scheme to bring the plant’s cost-reduction levels in line with its 2006 targets. This included a front-line manager development programme.

Training consultancy Hemsley Fraser was brought in to devise a modular course, alongside Airbus’ technical experts, for about 1,000 front-line managers, accredited by the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Hemsley Fraser spent time with key stakeholders in the business to gain their support before any course material was designed. Highly-visible sponsorship and practical support from leaders ensured a detailed analysis of training and development needs. This involved content input from front-line managers themselves. The aim was to ensure there was a sound basis for the transfer of learning into the workplace. The programme’s developers then designed seven modules.

According to Wendy Brooks, director of L&D and consultancy at Hemsley Fraser, learning engagement has been cemented by senior leaders at Broughton, who have instilled it into the company via a celebration of learning. Top-level managers attend every certificate presentation and host celebratory events, such as a learning awards dinner.

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