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Why you need to connect learning with performance

Managers often struggle to have regular and effective performance conversations with employees that inspire them to succeed. But they should.

Picture this common scenario: a manager finally finds the time to conduct a performance review with an employee. They identify a few performance gaps, highlight some targets that were hit, and then leaves the meeting. They’re hopeful the employee will find a way to meet those objectives, before ticking performance reviews off their to-do list for another year.

From the employee’s perspective, their long-awaited review falls short of expectations. They’ve achieved some goals, missed out on a few others and now have some new arbitrary targets set but no knowledge of how to get there and do their job better.     

Sadly, this is how ‘development’ often plays out in ‘practice’. Both the manager and employee have ticked their procedural boxes, but the experience hasn’t really delivered a positive outcome for either party.

The problem is that many businesses still view employee development and performance management in isolation. This is surprising considering the mountain of evidence showing the positive impact learning and development has on accelerating individual and organisational performance.  Brandon Hall Group research shows linking the two improves performance 95 per cent of the time.

While the symbiotic relationship between learning and performance is both intuitive and well-documented, it’s not as straightforward as it seems. Not all learning leads to improved performance.

Merging the ideal and the real

It’s no surprise employees feel disconnected when they don’t know how they can contribute to their organisation’s success. Today’s employees have high expectations and crave a sense of purpose, and this is especially true with more millennials entering the workforce. Within the next decade, millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the workforce.

They want to know the direction they are heading and how to get there. They want clarity around their current and future development gaps, with a plan for how they can address them.

Setting a high-performance culture

Advances in technology and changing demographics are making lifelong learning the new norm, while increasing our desire for access to on-demand and snackable information. This has made the delivery of ongoing, regular and structured feedback one of the most effective ways for employees to learn.

Despite this, many managers find giving regular, constructive feedback difficult, hampering their efforts to be effective development coaches. Tightening the link between your Performance and Learning solutions can help managers recognise strengths and weaknesses, initiate feedback and allocate relevant learning without awkwardness or confusion.

The symbiosis of performance and learning

It’s important to take a step back and think about how you are helping your team excel in their careers. Are you providing employees with tailored learning content that aligns with their development goals and helps close their skill gaps? Are you tracking both formal and informal types of learning? If not, it’s likely that your Performance Management framework is not speaking to your Learning Management System (LMS). When these programs don’t work in tandem, it’s difficult for managers to identify and provide relevant information that can support performance goals. This then leaves your employees trying to join the dots between suggested learning initiatives that align to performance objectives.

Performance qualifies learning

The outcomes of learning should always be performance and progress. This should be what qualifies the effectiveness of employee learning initiatives. Measuring the impact of traditional courses and development training isn’t where it ends. Learning must mirror the new ways modern learners like to consume content. It must be simple, social and spontaneous to stick. Leading organisations are incorporating informal learning into their Learning and Development mix which works to encourage content sharing between peers and enables learning to go viral. Harnessing mobile technology to deliver blogs, articles and videos while linking this content to your LMS can allow you to measure the effectiveness of learning content on performance outcomes.

Overall the holy grail for most organisations is the ongoing challenge of sustaining competitive advantage. Seamlessly integrating performance and learning can help guarantee that development discussions aren’t being left until the next annual performance review and that employees understand how they contribute to the overall business goal. They also gain insight into where they’re falling short and how to close any gaps.

Alison Ritchie and Stephanie Sudano work within the Product Strategy team for PageUp.

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