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education, Engagement, L&D, Leadership, Learning for now, Learning Strategies, Performance, retention, strategy

Leadership & Learning: A Strategic Combination

You are a leader, you are invested in your organization’s success, growth, and stability.  You understand what an ABC analysis is, how to read a balance sheet, and can nod your head when P/E Ratio equations are discussed (more fun terms here).

But if you are looking to have an impact on the bottom line let’s start with the talent within.  Long term success requires long term focus on the resources that matter – the people.  Turnover is expensive in hard and soft dollars, this Cost of Turn Over Calculator might highlight your specific costs.  “Turnover seems to vary by wage and role of employee. For example, a CAP study found average costs to replace an employee are:Capture


  • 16 percent of annual salary for high-turnover, low-paying jobs (earning under $30,000 a year). For example, the cost to replace a $10/hour retail employee would be $3,328.


  • 20 percent of annual salary for midrange positions (earning $30,000 to $50,000 a year). For example, the cost to replace a $40k manager would be $8,000.”  (Zane Benefits blog, 2/4/16)


I would offer that the soft costs impact even more when you consider the remaining staff who must take on the tasks impacting productivity and quality.  Morale has a cost in terms of increased sick days and personal time requests.  The costs of onboarding, training, time to proficiency, and intellectual capital add up too.  Here is where you can create impact by focusing on engaging people using education and training as tools that lead to new opportunities, expanded roles, better paying jobs while helping the organization meet its short and long term goals.

Research has identified that standard engagement techniques at work, such as celebrating people and asking for input, can raise employee engagement.  However higher levels are achieved when work techniques are combined with personal engagement, such as obtaining a new credential and new skills, as a part of the individual’s development plan.  In a survey of 7,530 LinkedIn members who recently changed jobs, not having opportunities for advancement was the No. 1 reason people jumped ship.  So when a person feels the organization is investing in them, and holds them accountable, they respond positively.  So here is where you can shine and let your inner leader out!

First, reach out to your partners in the operational units and in Human Resources (HR), especially the recruiters.  Find out from the business what they are lacking today and where the planned (18-24 month) areas of growth are.  Then find out what positions are not being filled and why.  Then:

  1. Identify the skills and competencies for the roles not being filled and identify common gaps or trends. Look for overlap, many skills can fit in different business units but go by different names so work with the HR team and create common skillsets and competencies if they are not already in place.

1.1.   Discuss at the operational level what a successful person in that role will look like, how they will be measured and what standards they would be held to.  The operational leadership is key because if you can help them at their point of pain they will be ready for the next phase.

  1. Describe and outline the education, training, and performance experiences needed to enable a person to fill the different roles aligning the various learning options to the standards the operational team described.
  2. Seek from your organization’s HRIS, CRM, HR-IT system the data on current employee backgrounds and education levels to create a potential pilot list. If not accessible ask your operational business partners to recommend possible candidates from their teams, think succession planning.   Then go talk to these folks and find out their backgrounds, experiences, and possible future interests.  From this data identify the learning solutions and experiences needed to get current employees prepared to perform at the new roles.
  3. Develop a learning and engagement model that defines the different learning solutions needed to prepare current employees for their future role.

4.1.   Conduct an analysis of all available resources to maximize existing investments in training materials, OJT, stretch assignments and other options currently available as well as working with educational institutions to develop quick credentials and other content providers to fill in the gaps.

4.2.   The model should be focused on 18-24 months initially but be thinking of a longer strategic roadmap that includes the identification of future roles not currently in the HR or business plan.  Design and develop processes for people to move into roles, and ways to evaluate how people perform at the new roles and new levels.

To make learning sustainable as a strategic business tool you must lead from the focus of retention.  The organization has a challenge in hiring for key positions but you have an extensive base of employees who have already invested in the organization so now is the chance to make the process complete.  With a solid understanding of the education, training, and performance experiences a person needs to work in a different role you can promote the development of a career pathing model to keep the engaged employee on the path of personal commitment while meeting the work need.  Career pathing allows everyone to know what knowledge, skills, and competencies are needed to move to a new job in their current or different area enabling employees, and the business, to chart any number of career and business scenarios.  Career pathing provides employees new tools to develop their own career growth and it provides business leaders additional resources to plan future product and service initiatives.

Learning as leadership will highlight retention and meeting current as well as future performance goals faster and with higher levels of effectiveness.  As you plan this phase you need to add two key techniques to support employees as they grow and move into levels of management and leading teams.  First reexamine your onboarding model and second, establish a culture of coaching.  Onboarding is traditionally viewed as something all new hires must endure for a day or so followed by multiple calls to HR and Payroll because the forms are different from what the video showed.  Onboarding should be a path for success that partners the employee in the new role with a mentor over a length of time.  This applies to all levels of roles and for employees no matter the length of time within the organization.  The goal is to keep the enthusiasm a person has for the new job high and create support systems for the person because it benefits the company (let’s remember, it is about the success of the organization so win = win here).  Onboarding takes planning so:

  1. With the role’s skills and competencies defined identify the mentor the employee in the new role can safely ask questions of and be the person to help the employee in the new role understand the culture and make connections establishing new networks and relationships needed to make the job successful.
  2. Have a blend of in person workshops, frequent small peer group seminars (web conference and in-person) and individually paced online learning on topics that range from the new skills needed in this role (reports, budget development, etc.) to business strategies the individual will need to plan for the future.
  3. Create a Leadership Success committee composed of employees who are in these new roles 12-24 months and can provide feedback on what content and topics helped and what did not. The committee members would constantly change and the feedback would impact the learning experiences for the life of this learning strategy component.

3.1.   As committee members are replaced by the not-quite new leaders move the committee members to a small coaching cohort and develop them to be the mentors for the employees going into the new roles.  Maximize their knowledge and find ways to reward their skills with recognition, rewards, and other ways to engage their minds and their hearts.

Now there is one final action you must implement to show how learning is a strategic tool.  You must show the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and in every organization that is different.  Define success first and get your operational partners to define the tools and metrics they use to measure success today and collect those data points now so you have a benchmark in the future.  In addition, you can make new measurements to meet your leadership’s ROI need and to broaden the horizon.  Retention is a measure of success that costs can be associated with.  Kaliym Islam suggested that loyalty be the new measure of training ROI and shared that “Loyalty is widely acknowledged as the greatest driver of long-term organizational success.”  Recent studies have found that employees who indicate a high level of loyalty also have higher job satisfaction rates and with that comes higher levels of quality.  So when setting measurement tools in place besides engagement, sick/absence time, quality scores, and retention rates add in loyalty.  “I believe loyalty is derived from personal and organizational success.”

Learning is meeting the need now and being ready for the future.  You can demonstrate its strategic value in impacting retention, engagement, and performance metrics.  Using different learning solutions and providing the individuals the opportunity to demonstrate their acquired knowledge, skills, and abilities with an active support system in place you can move the organization forward.  So start by:

  • Working with the senior leadership teams to be the business champions and focus on how you and they can build the talent resources the organization needs for today and tomorrow.
  • Partnering with Human Resources and the business units to define the needs now and coming, communicate the strategy development and its implementation from role definitions and competencies to staffing forecasts.
  • Reaching out to your learning solution partners in the business to develop new OJT, training, and shadowing opportunities, to educational institutions to develop appropriate credentials in a timely manner, and other content providers to fill in the gaps.
  • By planning, communicating, putting metric collection tools in place, communicating, planning, and communicating again.

Learning for future success is an investment in people today.  It helps to create curious learners, people who are can be flexible, responsive and innovative. Used strategically learning can benefit both parties bringing growth to both – success is strategic and learning as a business tool will create good will and increased values for years to come.


About wjryan

Developing high performing people through strategic learning and performance solutions. Please visit www.williamjryan.com



  1. Pingback: Leadership & Learning: A Strategic Combination - eTeam Hub - February 5, 2019

  2. Pingback: Leadership & Learning: A Strategic Combination - eTraining Pedia - February 26, 2019

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