Caring: A Winning L&D Strategy
What I’m about to say may feel obvious but… people perform better when they feel that their managers care.
Research in education shows that whether students perceive a teacher as caring has a significant impact on their performance (Fairbanks, 1996; Hong, Shull & Haefner, 2011; Lewis, Ream & Bocian, 2012; Papaioannou, 2018; Lavy & Naama-Ghanayim, 2020). Students who feel their teachers care are more likely to perform well academically-- even students who identify as members of marginalized groups, even students who aren't intrinsically motivated to learn.
And not only that. Teacher's perceptions of whether students will succeed or not can significantly influence academic careers, especially when it comes to students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds (Sorhagen, 2013; Rubie-Davis et al., 2014). Rubie-Davis et al.'s research shows the impact of this influence in early childhood can be seen all the way up to the age of 15.
In the workplace, these trends are played out in relationships with supervisors and leadership.
Psychological safety may be a buzzword right now, but them premise that people work well when they feel safe, supported, and included isn’t new. It's important to creating an environment where people can thrive, and for the business, this means an environment where people collaborate effectively and innovate.
On the other hand, let's take a look at what happens when they don't care. Here are some findings from 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review:
health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50% greater than at other organizations. The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. Sixty percent to 80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress, and it’s estimated that more than 80% of doctor visits are due to stress.
If you don't want to care for altruistic reasons, then care because it saves time and money.
How do we demonstrate caring through learning and development, especially in a world of hybrid and remote work?
The scope of learning & development may be limited, but the impact L&D can have on an organization is large, especially when it comes to caring.
Start simple: listen to learners.
I urge you NOT to skip the stage of needs analysis where you solicit learner feedback. Listening shows you care.
It makes good sense to talk to your people before you serve them. And now, add the extra layer-- when people feel included in the discussion and see their needs being met, they feel cared for.
Set up focus groups, surveys, or even employee experience bots to start gathering insights. Have one-on-one conversations with employees. Do what it takes to find out how things are going from their perspective.
Learning initiatives are company messaging. Leverage that.
Think about the things you learned in school. The content of the curriculum sent a message about what was important. What your teachers noticed and corrected sent a message about what was important. Time and effort spent reflect levels of caring.
What are you telling people is important through your learning and development initiatives, approaches, and content styles? Is "your people" on that list?
Do the things you distribute demonstrate that care was taken to identify how to make the experience meaningful to the work your people are doing?
Does it demonstrate care was put into executing a quality product?
Do your training facilitators interact with people and treat them as humans, going beyond sage-on-the-stage methods of communication?
If no, it's time to rethink the plan.
An intentional shift to infuse caring into our work sends the message to people that their organization cares about them and their professional development.
Support people in genuine career growth.
Talent development isn't just training. It's helping people continue to grow in their career, whether that's up the org chart or advancing in their specialization.
While we can't assign people beyond our department the kinds of stretch tasks they need to continue blossoming, we can devise ways to support them, as they do.
In a recent Learning Tech Talks episode, Christopher Lind riffed of the L&D skills of the future and one was the "skill of skills."
Identifying the skills people need now and will need in the future, then structuring accessible pathways that can help them acquire those skills is an act of caring.
Start with a skills inventory. Then, apply experience design to get people going where they need to go.
Meet people where they are.
There's a lot of shoulds in life. But shoulds are a form of judgment. Sometimes, they turn into blame and shame.
Stop with the shoulds.
Meet your learners where they are, right now. Meet them where the work environment allows them to be, right now.
Scaffold the learning experience, so that learners feel challenged without being bored or overwhelmed.
There are great digital technology tools that can help you personalize the learning experience. Here's a few to try:
LXPs tailor the learning experience to the user.
Adaptive learning platforms, like Area9 Lyceum, can offer targeted practice.
Branching scenarios designed in just about anything from Articulate Storyline to a chatbot to 7Taps* to Typeform can help people "choose their own adventure," one appropriate to their current needs and goals.
Curated playlists allow users to listen to what interests them on-demand.
Make people feel special by acknowledging their specialties.
People want to feel that their contributions are recognized and valued. Let them!
Everyone has a skill. Everyone was hired for a reason. Allow people to shine.
Invite them to create content, host trainings, talk about their interests in meetings with mentors, set their own goals.
L&D does not have to be the sole source for learning and development.
Train the trainers.
There's a reason teachers have to go through years of higher education, including Masters programs, and continuing education. Trainers (and mentors and leaders) have a big impact on the people they lead.
We shouldn't simply create "materials" and send trainers off to present. We need to prepare them with best practices in facilitation.
Do your facilitators know how to differentiate instruction?
Do they know how to give feedback?
Are they able to point students to resources beyond the content?
A well-trained trainer demonstrates caring about the people the people in the room, and in doing so, they model caring for others.
Which brings me to the next way to show caring...
Model good behavior.
If L&D is gossiping about other departments, rolling their eyes when stakeholders ask questions they "should know the answer to," shoving work at their employees, forgetting to ask how they can serve, they're modeling what learning looks like at the organization-- and it isn't good. These are all examples of a lack of caring.
While it can be frustrating to respond to questions and challenges all the time (that does happen in L&D often), it's important to respond with empathy.
Even when you set and maintain boundaries (no, we can't create your 1000 hour training in 2 days), responding with a willingness to understand and come up with an alternative solution-- or even simply acknowledge the pickle the stakeholder is in-- goes a long way. It shows L&D cares, even if they can't deliver as requested.
This helps people to feel that you're still invested in their success / the success of the organization. And when someone models it, others are likely follow it.
Allow me to use the cliche: you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. I'm guilty of forgetting this from time to time, but I do invest in my own learning. I have to stay sharp to be able to serve others. I have to take time to think to be able to innovate for my clients. I need to take breaks (however, rare) to stay sharp.
These are acts of professional self-care.
L&D can demonstrate to other departments the act of care by caring about their own departmental goals and their people's goals.
Do you care?
It's not hard to show caring, but it may take conscious effort. Take this time to reflect on how caring, or a lack thereof, has influenced you at work.
Then, come up with one way you can amp up the caring through L&D, and put it into action. You'll see the ripple effect soon enough.
Need some help showing you care?