Mercer recently published a solid think piece about learning development trends. They observed seven key trends, as shown in the diagram below.
We particularly liked that they included ‘ecosystems’ in their model because we’ve noticed that contingent workers are frequently overlooked by organisations designing L&D or career development programs. (The term ‘ecosystem’ usually describes a network of people that an organisation interacts with in order to tap into as-needed talent, e.g., contractors, freelancers and consultants.)
There is growing demand for quality contingent workers as organisations get leaner and more dependent on technological innovation to compete. And yet, very few organisations do anything to attract, retain or engage members of their ecosystem, other than offering them more money. This is despite the fact that research shows that contingent workers want many of the same things as permanent workers, including feedback and professional development.
Why is this the case? Basically, because most organisations’ people-management culture and infrastructure lag behind reality. In many companies no one is accountable for managing the contingent workforce in any meaningful way. Over-stretched line managers might have nominal responsibility for the contingent workers they bring on, but they are unlikely to invest time or budget in developing people they view as more of a commodity than an organisational resource. An arms-length relationship suits them just fine.
Systems too are an issue. Many contingent workers don’t have access to company networks, and are shut out of learning systems as a result.
We have started talking to some organisations – including recruitment and staffing agencies – that want to change the way they manage contingent workers. Specifically, they are looking at giving contingent workers:
- Some kind of formal onboarding so that they have context for their work and can form internal networks more quickly
- Performance feedback, recognition and other forms of career development including being included in succession planning and global talent pools
- Access to training and development opportunities via web-based learning systems.
This last point – the space where we operate – is probably the easiest of the three to implement. Technology makes it possible to offer learning opportunities to almost anyone, from casual staff on the shop floor to independent contractors based overseas. And doing so sends a clear message: “We are prepared to invest in your development because we value your contribution”. Imagine how compelling this message would be if you were a contractor more used to hearing “We want you to deliver great work and then get out of here”…
If you work in Learning & Development, you’re probably feeling the pressure.
L&D received a net-promoter score of -8, which is as about as low as you can go, in Deloitte’s most recent survey of over 700 business and HR professionals.
If you’re in the field, you can guess the reasons for the unhappiness. Most corporate learning programs are built on out-dated LMS’s and deliver content in a way that no longer reflects people’s learning preferences. And that’s before we even start to talk about the content itself. When you can find almost anything you want to know online, content needs to be extremely rich and relevant to have any kind of value.
To compound the issue, at the same time as many companies are realising that their LMS’s can’t deliver the curated digital experience employees expect, the need for corporate learning is increasing. In fact, Deloitte Human Capital Trends’ latest research identifies ‘reinventing careers and learning’ as the second-biggest issue for business. Organisations are waking up to the fact that they can’t attract – or retain – talented people unless they offer better opportunities for growth and career development.
Of course, this isn’t news to 2000 Mondays. Our founder saw the writing on the wall a few years back, when she was running a search business that focussed on millennial talent. Having met with thousands of candidates in their 20s, Melissa realised that what the emerging generation wanted wasn’t a ‘great job’ so much as to join an organisation that valued personal and professional growth and invested in learning.
So, what can L&D to improve its relevance and start delivering on everyone’s expectations?
Our key recommendations would be to:
- Get clear on the potential that learning offers beyond compliance and technical training. Work closely with HR, for example, to tap into broader organisational pain points such as retaining millennial talent
- Accept that one LMS might not meet all your needs. For example, a PC-based system might work fine for desk-bound workers, but if you have field-based or retail workers, it’s close to useless.
- Invest in systems that can tailor learning pathways to individual employees and collect data about their progress. The efficiencies and information such systems deliver will make it much easier to build business cases for future learning interventions.
“Follow your passion” has become something of a career maxim. It’s understandable: this pithy statement makes choosing a career direction seem easy. And, of course, the idea of loving your work so much that it doesn’t even feel like “work” is very seductive.
But is it good advice? Not for most people, in our experience. Of course, there are people who do manage to turn their passion into a rewarding career or business, and that’s wonderful. But most of us will do better looking for work that:
- Comprises tasks we enjoy
- Plays to our strengths
- Delivers meaning
- Comes with a work environment that suits us.
In our opinion, a job that ticks off all four of these boxes is likely to be fulfilling, whether or not it taps into a particular passion.
In fact, we’d go so far as to suggest being very cautious about following your passion. There are a lot of reasons it can backfire, as we explain in this animation.
Many of us realise that it’s not necessarily the smartest people who get ahead at work. More often than not, it seems to come down to personality or – to be more specific – mindset
The research backs this up. People who have what’s been termed a ‘growth mindset’ by psychologists benefit from this in multiple ways when it comes to managing their careers. And they have a particularly strong advantage over others when they face obstacles, which is why we have included a module on mindset in our outplacement program.
A growth mindset is often described in contrast to a ‘fixed mindset’. The basic difference is that people with a growth mindset believe they are capable of improving their skills and learning new things, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that what they have to offer is already determined and can’t be changed.
Recently, employers have become very focussed on hiring candidates who can demonstrate that they have a ‘learning orientation’, which is one aspect of a growth mindset. It makes sense that this is becoming a valued characteristic. When things are changing rapidly due to technology, organisations know they can’t hire people who already have all the skills they are ever going to need. It’s much safer, instead, to hire people who will be open to acquiring the skills they might need in future.
But what can managers do with existing employees who are resistant to learning new skills?
- Educate them about mindset. Most of us are unaware of the effect our thought patterns have on our lives. Educating employees about the role of mindset in professional satisfaction is something that very few organisations do, despite the fact that this can help many people develop more constructive ways of thinking.
- Find out what motivates them. By conducting ongoing career conversations with employees, managers can learn more about their employees’ personal lives and career goals (which are often linked). If the manager can tap into something that’s important to the employee, they can offer them learning or development opportunities that will pique their interest.
- Boost their confidence. Often, people develop a fixed mindset as a defence against failure or vulnerability. If a manager demonstrates confidence in people’s ability to learn new skills, by letting them take on manageable new challenges or exert more control over their work for example, they’re more likely to get on board.
- Model the importance of continuous learning. If an organisation invests in learning and expects its senior people to be continuously developing their skills, this will create a ‘culture of learning’.
If your organisation is struggling to attract, retain and engage millennial talent, you need to tackle the situation head on. The generation born in the 80s and 90s are becoming the primary working generation.
The generation known for being creative, adaptive and tech-savvy isn’t happy with what most employers are offering. According to Gallup research, they rank opportunities to learn and grow in a job above all other considerations. And they don’t think they’re getting these opportunities.
So, what can you do?
Start talking – and listening
Annual performance discussion that focus on the past are largely a waste of time. Millennials want regular feedback, when it matters. And they want to talk about the future. Equip your managers to have regular career conversations with their people, and make sure they understand that these conversations aren’t optional.
Be more creative
Once managers understand what people want, they need to figure out how to give it to them. Promoting people isn’t the only way to challenge them. Managers need to come up with creative ways to provide development opportunities, and organisations need to support this.
Often, a development opportunity won’t deliver immediate value to the organisation or align with short-term business goals. Seconding a valued employee to another team, office, or even to a client organisation, for example, should be encouraged. Losing an employee for a few months is better than losing them permanently.
Give them control of their learning
Millennials are used to training themselves. Whenever they need a new skill or information, they go online and find what they need. Workplace training is still appreciated, but must be delivered in a way that works for this audience. That means making learning programs short, relevant, entertaining and available on mobile devices.
Stop patronising them
Some organisations have the idea that perks like free food or billiard tables will engage millennials. Millennials are too smart to fall for this. They aren’t going to stay in a job that feels stifling because you’ve put some beanbags in the lunch room.
There are no short cuts to engaging your millennial talent. We’ve required this generation to be flexible and patient – and to make their own luck. They’ve had to push harder and take on more debt than the Boomers and Gen X did to start their careers. It’s understandable that they want to feel it’s been worth the effort.
More of us are either becoming contractors, or having to hire and/or manage contractors. Despite this, it’s very rare to hear of an organisation supporting line managers to operate within this new framework.
Many organisations assume that line managers will know how to manage contractors or freelancers. They assume it will be less challenging than managing permanent staff and, on that basis, don’t provide any guidance. In many cases they are right – it can be a less fraught relationship to navigate – but it can also be a high-stakes one.
There is huge demand for contractors with specialised skills. In many cases they are more valuable to an organisation than most of their permanent staff. One contractor we know has been so integral to the success of his client that he’s been placed the organisation’s key-man risk register.
The first thing that line managers need to understand is what motivates each individual contractor they are managing. Recent research indicates that money is still the biggest motivator for contract workers, but contract workers still want many of the same things that permanent staff want, like recognition, challenging work, a supportive manager and a team environment. There is however one thing that contractors value more, and that’s building a network to secure future work.
A line manager needs to find out what makes a particular contractor tick right from the beginning of the relationship. Is this person contracting because they were made redundant and hope a contract position will lead to a permanent role? Are they contracting because they are very independent and loathe being micromanaged? Are they contracting being they are super task-focussed and have no interest in making friends or getting drawn into office politics? Are they contracting because they have a child with health problems and need flexible hours? Knowing what motivates a contractor is essential to meeting their needs and giving them a positive experience of the workplace – the sort of experience that leads them to sign up for a second contract in another part of the business or recommend the organisation to fellow contractors.
Getting this information is exceedingly easy: managers just have to ask “What are you hoping to get from this position and how do you prefer to work?”
Contractors also appreciate managers being clear about their expectations. They want to know exactly what they are expected to deliver and when. Managers should provide a clear brief, preferably in writing. They should also give contractors background information and context for the project – no one likes working in a vacuum. A manager should schedule a briefing meeting for the contractor’s first day, as well as arranging for the contractor to meet with key team members and project stakeholders. By the end of his or her first week, the contractor should know exactly what they need to do, why they’re doing it and who to go to for information or advice.
Finally, we’d encourage managers to make contractors feel part of the team. Treat them like people – not machines. Invite them to lunch, give them feedback about their work and introduce them to key people in the organisation. (None of these things need constitute ‘employer-like behaviour’ from a compliance point of view.)
A good contractor can make a huge difference to the performance of a team, and even the wider business.
Equipping managers to work effectively with contractors to get value from them – and give them a valuable experience in return – is a no-brainer for any organisation that relies upon contract labour.