Developing and retaining talent is one of the most pressing challenges for middle-market companies. Estimates suggest that comprehensive training programs are the second most costly human resource initiative, costing U.S. companies $150 billion in 2012. A key problem for midsize firms with limited resources is how to advance employees quickly and efficiently when development programs appear to require a sizable time and money investment.
“In today’s complex, dynamic and fast-paced work environment, where most learning is occurring informally, traditional formal training and development initiatives alone are insufficient for developing employees,” says Alison M. Dachner, assistant professor of management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University.
Employees are expected to be resourceful and creative when finding information and problem solving on their own. To successfully maximize human capital development, organizations must leverage informal, self-guided development behaviors with formal training and development initiatives.
“The informality of these practices rebukes the need for an expensive learning and development infrastructure, and instead places more attention on managers’ ability to create a supportive work environment,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Dachner to learn more about self-guided development (SGD) and its affect on talent management.
What is SGD and why is it important?
SGD refers to proactive employee behaviors that are developmental in nature, such as the decision to voluntarily engage in self-identified development experiences. More specifically, SGD represents an actionable set of knowledge-, skill- or relationship-building activities that improve human capital, but are unstructured, voluntary and not operationally or administratively provided by the organization.
SGD can be carried out during work time or non-work time. Some examples include asking for feedback, reflecting on one’s strengths and weaknesses, taking on challenging tasks, watching a webinar and networking with influential people in the organization.
What SGD behaviors do employees engage in the most?
Employees tend to find information, learn and develop skills relevant to work the most from relationships and reflection. Employees most frequently depend on their colleagues and supervisors when they need answers to work-related questions. More specifically, the three behaviors that are used to the greatest extent when employees need to find information, learn and develop skills are:
- Collaborating with coworkers.
- Interacting with a supervisor.
- Talking with others.
Employees also frequently develop themselves internally through introspection by reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses, and considering ways to improve their work. This learning is retrospective and is likely focused on analyzing critical incidents or salient workplace events judged by the employee to require development.
How can organizations facilitate employee engagement in SGD?
Organizations can influence employee involvement in these proactive development behaviors by hiring the right people and promoting the right conditions for SGD.
First, hire and cultivate employees who are proactive, motivated, curious, social and dedicated. Employees should be primed to seize the initiative, eager to volunteer for fresh projects and try on new roles, and willing to accept responsibility for their own advancement. They should be naturally curious and should be comfortable around other people.
Second, acknowledge SGD behaviors as part of the job. Organizations can design work roles that are supportive of SGD by providing employees the opportunity to try different methods for conducting work and to learn from experimentation. Further, employees should be encouraged not just to seek help and advice but also to provide it.
Third, maximize interaction. The adoption of self-managing teams, open workspaces and cross-functional training can create fertile ground for interaction in many organizations. Companies should give teams autonomy to solicit resources and expertise from around the organization. Companies should also build into the workday more opportunities for employees to network with one another. Even giving people a few minutes to converse before rushing back to their desks after the weekly all-hands meeting can help.
Fourth, make time for reflection. To facilitate the use of more introspective SGD, organizations can encourage employees to reflect on their accomplishments, career direction, strengths and weaknesses, and performance. Companies may even consider using goal-setting initiatives as a way to encourage personal reflection as a method of proactive development. •
Alison M. Dachner is an assistant professor of management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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