When I was hired as vice president of marketing for a growing startup, I knew I had a lot more to learn about search engine optimization (SEO). As is the case with most professions, a staggering number of different specialties fall under the umbrella of marketing, and just because you work in the field doesn’t mean you’re knowledgeable in every discipline. Luckily for me, the company I joined values continued learning, and I was able to receive one-on-one instruction and enroll in online courses to develop my SEO expertise.
The experience reinforced several things for me: the importance of supporting employees in continuing their education, that a long career means we never truly stop learning, and that it’s important to seek help when you need it. Moreover, the business benefits of continuing education are powerful. Companies that offer tuition assistance or other education benefits often have much lower turnover rates, and employees typically apply their new skills to the workplace.
My company, Varsity Tutors, works through a number of channels to create a supportive environment where team members never stop learning. Here are three ways you can help your own employees keep learning:
1. Streamline your team’s access to expertise.
As the emergence of learning formats like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and stackable credentials suggest, people prefer easy access education on their schedule. This includes employees, who are consistently balancing demands at work and at home. As a result, one of the best ways to keep your team learning is to ensure their access to expertise is simple and straightforward.
As an example, one of the things that I’m most proud of at our company is that we provide 52 hours of free tutoring to everyone who joins our team -- roughly an hour each week throughout the year. Employees can share these hours with their families, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of this benefit that our staff members use on themselves -- not just to learn new skills that can be applied to their jobs, but to pursue personal passions like writing fiction, speaking a foreign language, or drumming (that last one’s me). Learning can and should be about much more than adding another bullet point to your CV, but almost no one will take advantage if the process is overly complicated or unclear.
2. Offer specific development opportunities.
I strongly believe that many professional development opportunities are too general to be of much help to anyone -- the very nature of a classroom or a corporate retreat means speaking to a group with varying levels of subject knowledge, rather than the individual. People can quickly become uninspired when they’re being taught something they already know and don’t actually need help with. Detailed, team-specific professional development, while more time-intensive, is generally far more effective.
Some of our most heavily trafficked pages are ones that highlight the ability to “learn by concept.” These are pages that are optimized to drill you on a conceptual area that you’ve done poorly on during a diagnostic test -- in other words, they’re driven by topic-specific metrics. We use a similar approach for company business. Each week, we hold a business review that exclusively utilizes data to measure performance. It moves us away from the generalities that can be used to guide executive meetings and forces us to confront objective business challenges.
3. Share your growth and supports theirs.
A person must be willing in order to truly learn, and many times, learning in the workplace means first admitting that you don’t know something or would like to improve your performance. People are understandably reluctant to do so in front of colleagues, so it falls to leaders to create an environment that encourages personal growth and the pursuit of knowledge.
One of the best ways to do so is to share your own professional development, as well as to establish that learning is important and natural. Whether this means discussing resources you’ve found with other staff members or setting aside time in team meetings to talk about employees’ latest forays into professional development, you set the tone.
Ultimately, each person learns differently, but all employees can benefit from continuing education. By offering easy access to expertise, tailoring professional development opportunities, and fostering an atmosphere that supports learning, you can begin to lay the groundwork for your team to continue their education throughout their careers.