Giving employees the opportunity to learn and develop themselves throughout their lifetime: the ideal picture according to the government of the Netherlands. However, this picture is also ideal for your organization. A strong learning culture allows your organization to take steps forward and creates a lot of flexibility in different areas. But permanent learning and self-development by employees does not come out of the blue; instead, it requires a lot of effort from employees and from you.
The fact that the job market can suddenly change and that this change requires other abilities from employees has only been made more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. The future of work and workers is – more than ever – veiled in uncertainty, as new developments happen in rapid succession. In order to keep up, employees will have to keep developing themselves as well.
Sustainable employability often requires a change in the behavior of employees. Important here is the need for employees to become ‘owners’ of their own development. The working environment within an organization can encourage this ‘ownership’. You as an HRM professional can thus play a crucial role.
Ownership here means that employees make conscious decisions about their professional development, take action themselves and hold themselves responsible. They know which level they want to work toward and which steps in learning an development they want to take to achieve this.
They can enroll for a specific course or training program, take up new tasks, work on self-reflection, etc. If needed, they can set new goals for themselves. Although for some it will be easier than for others to take such responsibility, all employees can work toward becoming ‘owners’ of their self-development.
Ownership: knowing, wanting, daring, being able to and having the opportunity to
Training and development agencies (so-called ‘O&Os’ in Dutch) use a transparent model for self-development ownership. The model shows that in order to gain ownership, the employee must know (s)he should take action, the employee wants to take action, dares to take action, is able to take action and has the opportunity to do what is necessary.
In other words: knowing, wanting, daring, being able to and having the opportunity to. However, what is feasible also depends on environmental factors, which are impossible or more difficult to influence. The model discriminates between three types of environmental factors: changes in an employee’s private life, job market developments and societal developments.
Own your career and development
If you want to encourage employees to own their career and development, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (‘Sociaal-economische Raad’ in Dutch) mentions the following three points of attention at the organizational level:
- Direction (inform and encourage). Together with the employee, you discuss which developments are currently happening within the organization, in which way(s) and when work can change, and the possible consequences of this. A personal perspective will come out of this discussion – either an appealing or alarming one – which can motivate the employee to put in effort in self-development.
- Space (offering and facilitating space for development). Employees must truly be given the chance within the organization to own their self-development. Besides giving time, the means and the money, an organization must have an appropriate policy for this development. By creating autonomy for employees, they are given freedom of choice and the necessary space to learn and develop themselves.
- Support (creating confidence). Managers, supervisors, colleagues, and also friends and family must all support the employee, thereby giving the sense of security and confidence needed for self-development. It can lead to positive experiences and an increased confidence in one’s own abilities, resulting in an employee who is more willing and able to take matters into his/her own hands.
These three points of attention are important for everyone, even though employees are all different and thus in the end need a personalized approach to gain ownership of their self-development. Focusing on only one of the above points of attention will not suffice; all three points must be focused on at the organizational level in order to facilitate development of each and every employee, be it support, space, direction, or all three which is needed the most.
The way for organizations to provide schooling without incurring sky-high costs
During the coronavirus pandemic, schooling is extra important: it can be necessary to train or retrain employees in order to keep the organization running better. And in the event your organization has no other option but to dismiss employees or apply for NOW subsidy, encouraging such schooling is even mandatory.
Even if your organization does not want to or cannot spend a lot of money, there are still possibilities for schooling. There are countless financial schemes on the basis of which your organization can have schooling costs fully or partially subsidized.
Furthermore, you can make clear agreements with employees to ensure schooling costs will not be higher than strictly necessary.
Encouraging employees to own their self-development requires effort from you as an HRM professional as well as from your colleagues in charge of supervising a team. In order to give a more complete picture of the action which can be taken by your organization, we will now give a few examples per point of attention:
Point 1: direction
- Provide transparency about organizational policies and strategy, thereby giving employees the chance to anticipate. This transparency can, for example, be provided through activities such as workshops about the future of work within the organization and developing future scenarios with and about individual employees. Also use information from the staff working schedule for this.
- Discourage employees from putting off training and development. One way to do so is by combining online activities – which are available at any time – with activities scheduled for a fixed moment in time. Such activities include e.g. giving employees the opportunity to work in a different department for a week or organizing sessions in which employees discuss their talents with each other on the basis of a talent screening.
- Provide employees with insight into choices and consequences, for example by asking them to get information from a financial advisor once in a while or by having them go for a career development check.
- Share successful examples of self-development for the purpose of providing inspiration and encouragement. An example of this is telling the story of an employee who has successfully completed a career development program. Supervisors and managers can also act as an example by showing their team(s) which initiatives they take to increase their own employability.
Point 2: space
- Allow employees to organize work themselves and place as much decision-making and responsibility with respective job positions as possible. Make the tasks of employees more encompassing, more varied and more challenging. Job crafting, agile working and less specifically described job positions and methods can prove to be helpful to an organization in this regard.
- Be clear about any limits, such as the available budget (for learning and development). Providing employees with an individual budget for learning and development can help here. This budget should be easily accessible to them – i.e. no complex application procedures.
- Plan time for learning, development and experimentation. Any timetables, schedules and meetings can be planned in such a way that some time is reserved for learning activities, such as discussing and learning from mistakes.
- Provide appropriate technology (e.g. career service platforms, talent screenings, etc.) and allow employees to decide what to do with the information and whom it is shared with. Or, alternatively, make the information anonymous.
Point 3: support
- Train managers and supervisors in ‘transformational leadership’, so that they can inspire, encourage and coach employees to change and develop themselves.
- Work towards a healthy and safe working environment. Do so, among other things, by frequently polling employees on their experiences on the work floor and discussing with them what can be improved. A healthy and safe working environment may also involve training of managers and supervisors.
- Make sure the ‘structure’ of support provided is clear to employees. Your HRM department, coaches, work buddies, etc. all contribute to providing support in the field of learning, development, behavior and change.
- Encourage employees to acquire skills in ownership and self-management. You do so by focusing on intervision and coaching, and by providing training options in the field of personal leadership, effectiveness and communication.
It is advisable to use a process-based approach when encouraging ownership. There are various possibilities for such an approach. In any case, make sure the approach includes a cycle of planning, execution, evaluation and adjustment.
Start the approach with a baseline measurement: what is your organization currently doing to encourage employees to own their development? This baseline measurement can be made by means of the three aforementioned points of attention: direction, space and support.
What interventions take place with respect to these three points of attention? Perhaps your organization is already on the right track in certain areas, meaning you can build on it. And if you are still not on the right track in other areas, you can use your network to discover new possibilities: what are other organizations doing to foster a positive learning culture?
Celebration of success is important
Do not be fooled into thinking success will be made overnight. Start by taking small steps and slowly increase your scope of approach. By doing interim evaluations and celebrating any success made, you will improve the confidence and motivation of employees. This way, you hold the reins while more and more employees gain ownership of their development and future.
More information on encouraging ownership can be found on www.ser.nl (in Dutch).
Too rosy a picture
71% of HRM professionals think that managers and supervisors actively encourage their employees to develop themselves, but only 31% of managers and supervisors and 32% of employees agree based on their own experiences. Often, it is unclear who has which role, meaning no-one really creates a sense of ‘ownership’ of their development. This was found by the Studytube L&D Monitor 2021, a study conducted by research and consultancy agency Motivaction.