Leaders of organizations of all types and sizes have often shared with us their concern about retaining employees who are willing to learn, be adaptable, tolerate ambiguity, and build critical thinking skills.  Finding people like this is difficult enough:  keeping them for more than a year or two is really tough.

In this article, we’ll share concrete, proven ways for fostering and sustaining a learning agile workplace – which provides competitive advantage and motivates good people to stay put.  Here are some approaches we’ve observed in client organizations that are highly effective:

Align the Succession Plan with Strategic Objectives

Let high potential employees know that they’re viewed as such….early and often.  Make certain you’re clear with them on how their role aligns with the Vision, Mission and Strategic Objectives of the organization.  How?  Use statements like this:  “When you do x, it affects our image in the community because….”  Have frequent discussions about what their future will look like as they continue their contributions.

Craft a Leadership Development Plan

Design an emerging leader initiative that provides education and learning opportunities for high potential employees and supports the succession plan.  Decide which specific competencies, such as critical analysis; problem solving; and decision making, are key to the long-term success of the organization.  Those are the educational and coaching opportunities to provide for the emerging leaders.

Establish Leadership Development as a Success Measure for Top Leaders

The top tier of leadership has to have a stake in the success of talented people within the organization.  One way to encourage top leaders to support and participate in coaching and mentoring efforts is to make this part of their evaluation process.  In other words, they have a vested interest and are better situated to be successful themselves when they participate directly in the success of others.

Don’t Forget High Performers Who Aren’t High Potentials

Not all high performing employees want to move up the corporate ladder.  There is such a thing as Hi-Pros or High Professionals.  These employees are excellent individual contributors.  Perhaps they want to take a breather now and then, or move laterally instead of up the corporate ladder with their fellow high potential counterparts.  Let them.  Support their efforts to continue learning and contributing at whatever level they currently hold.  So they don’t want to pursue an MBA in the next two years….what else can they do to learn that doesn’t require a degree?  Maybe they become your Subject Matter Expert and help train/mentor new employees, for example.  Forget high performers at your peril, because they can become flight risks.

Conduct Multi-Rater Feedback Opportunities

People at all levels deserve to receive constructive feedback about how they’re doing in relation to the company’s required skills, talents and competencies.  Sometimes the immediate supervisor doesn’t have sufficient interaction with direct reports to provide them with rich feedback and coaching, especially in our virtual world. Or, sometimes the manager has the traditional “Theory X” mentality that “if something isn’t going well, you’ll hear from me, otherwise, all is good.”  In today’s world, that is not sufficient.  Employees thrive on feedback.  Multi-rater or 360 feedback lets people hear from internal and external customers, peers and their direct reports so they get the full picture of their strengths and development opportunities.

The multi-rater feedback process is particularly strong when coupled with a concrete, specific action plan that contains a timetable and success criteria.  We recommend that the action plan be shared with people who provided feedback, so they can see that the employee received and is putting their anonymous, collective advice to good use.

Create Individual Development Plans

Each employee is entitled to an Individual Development Plan designed for them, and designed in conjunction with their supervisor and HR/Training and Development staff in Human Resources.  The IDP’s are most successful if they’re clearly linked to the company’s business imperatives and employees know how their growth supports and contributes to the company’s success as well as their own.

Sustain the Momentum

As humans, we tend to have short attention spans.  In order to sustain momentum and keep learning alive and well, take steps such as developing an exercise program so people can recharge mentally and physically for a few minutes each day.  Lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of focus and concentration.  Encourage less multi-tasking when learning activities are taking place so people can focus on the key message and retain it longer.  Let employees use newly learned skills and behaviors by asking them to write newsletter articles; lead or facilitate team meetings; or provide presentations to peers to share what they’ve learned.  Provide mentors who are great listeners and interested and curious about others – they’ll encourage and invigorate the lives they touch.

To read more about this topic, read Linda and Sheri’s new book

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