BridgeCon Europe: The role of L&D in creating ‘purposeful’ work

Alan Slavik, head of strategic development, EMEA, at Instructure speaking at BridgeCon Europe.
Image: Instructure

The idea that employees value work that offers them a sense of “purpose”, and the importance of offering work that aligns with this purpose, has frequently been highlighted by academics and business psychologists.

But it is often an area that employers struggle with, especially if employees believe their aspirations and personal development needs are at odds with an organisation’s goals. The speakers at last week’s BridgeCon Europe conference, held at King’s Place in north London, explained how learning and development could support the alignment of employee and employer purpose and foster a more engaged workforce.

Kenny Nicholl, general manager, EMEA at Instructure – supplier of learning, engagement and feedback platform Bridge – began the conference by suggesting that organisations needed to move from their current company-focused model to a more employee-centric arrangement.

He said: “Something that employers should think about is how can they help their people bring their best selves to work every single day? How do I and how do my teams help them build and develop their skills so they can develop their careers?

“How do we give them real mentoring opportunities and how do we introduce and facilitate really rich and meaningful conversations between them, their managers and their teams? And, ultimately, how do I ensure that our organisation has a culture which is focused on learning and development?”

He highlighted the significant contrast in the value employers and employees placed on learning and development. A survey commissioned by Instructure found that three-quarters of organisations did not believe they had a learning and development culture, while 98% of employees said L&D was the deciding factor in whether to stay or leave an organisation – suggesting development opportunities seen as a major part of a “purposeful” career.

A key facet of L&D culture involved providing managers with the tools to enable their staff to be successful, Kenny said. More than half of employees who responded to the survey did not consider their organisation to support true learning and development unless managers were given such tools.

This was also suggested by Alan Slavik, head of strategic development for the EMEA region at Instructure. He told Personnel Today that managers needed to create environments where employees felt able to ask for opportunities to develop their skills and define their purpose.

“It doesn’t have to be too formal, but it’s important to make sure that time is dedicated to having those sorts of conversations,” he said. “At an individual level, it’s really important that [employees] seek and ask for opportunities if they have the desire to.”

Slavik said there were three less obvious trends within L&D that organisations should be aware of if they wanted their learning strategy to be a success. These are:

  • Making sure that employee development initiatives are “tethered to” business results and making sure there is a clear link between L&D and business goals
  • Offering an “inside hustle” – the idea that employees are given the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t normally do in their role while at work. “It’s a great way for leaders to identify and tap into that talent,” he said
  • Raison d’être relevancy – defining an individual’s purpose within an organisation and ensuring that purpose is aligned with the organisation’s goals.

He said an employee’s purpose at work was no longer limited to what their job title suggests they did. “Job descriptions used to be rigid, but now that’s changing; people need to take on board what’s in their job description and what they’re expected to do, but employers also need to also help them identify future areas to grow into, areas of interest to them, which will hopefully align them with the organisation’s purpose too.”

We should be able to craft work around what we find interesting and that we’re able to personalise it to our strengths” – Dan Cable, London Business School

Dan Cable, a professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, highlighted a study at US healthcare group Novant Health, which looked at how job titles affected staff engagement and how they viewed their purpose within the organisation.

A group of employees were allowed to set their own job titles based on the work they actually carried out and how they saw themselves. After eight weeks the group that created their own job title were less likely to feel “burnt out” than those who were not able to choose a title that suited their position.

Cable said that by giving employees a title decided by the organisation, staff feel they have to align themselves to the firm, rather than feeling that their skills were reflected by their role.

He agreed that purposeful work was an important consideration for employees. “There seems to be a division between work and life. Work sometimes feels like a commute to the weekend. The idea that we’re touching on is that we should be able to craft work around what we find interesting and that we’re able to personalise it to our strengths.”

The importance of aligning learning and development needs to company goals was emphasised further by Dr Hannah Gore, head of talent development, EMEA business school, at car insurance risk management firm Solera Holdings. She said she studied the company’s business plan each time it is updated and looks at how workplace learning can support the delivery of business goals.

“It’s really important to understand where our fit is and that gives us a seat at the table,” she said.

Gore concluded her presentation by debunking the myth that some staff are simply too busy to develop their skills. “There is no such thing as being too busy to do your job, otherwise you’ll just get busier,” she said, suggesting that skills development was vital for continued success.

The consensus among many of the speakers was that enabling purposeful work helped employees “bring their best selves” to the workplace.

Tim Threipland, OD practice lead, UK, at consultancy FranklinCovey, said employers needed to consider how they supported employees to bring their best qualities and their “uniqueness” to work every day.

“Bringing your best self means sharing more about what makes you tick and keeps you excited.

“I might be skilled, but I might be holding back on my skillset. Think: do I bring my uniqueness and diversity to work every day? Or do a lot of us leave that at home and say ‘I’m not worthy’ or ’I’m not able to do that’ and we miss bringing our full capability into play,” he said.

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