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The Power and Impact of a Development Culture

I was recently asked to keynote an HR Conference on the topic of  “a learning culture.” This is a hot topic today, and i4cp’s research shows that high-performance organizations are 5x more likely to have learning cultures than lower-performing organizations.

I was curious about how audience members defined “learning culture,” and so I asked. There was some nervous hesitation, but people started offering input. To no one’s surprise, the answers were all over the place; while some said it was an organizational value, others described programs and policies, and still others described the behavior of individuals. I thanked them and asked: if I exchanged the word “learning” with “development,” would that make it easier to define?

The mood of the audience changed dramatically because the topic now was less of an esoteric, academic exercise, and one that was easier to understand and actionable. As I continued with my presentation of i4cp’s research, I instructed the audience that when they see the word “learning” on a slide, to read “development” instead.

In almost every i4cp study in which development is considered, investing in it consistently shows a high positive correlation to market performance (market share, profitability, revenue growth and customer satisfaction). It also shows a high positive correlation with almost every topic we study. For example: when we asked early-career talent to describe their employer-of-choice, they consistently cited development opportunities as a key characteristic. Conversely, the lack of development opportunities is among the main reasons people cite for leaving an organization. In our engagement research, development was shown to be one of the main drivers (“if you invest in me, I will invest in you”).

A development culture, however, is more than just adding more courses or content. Our research highlights four key integrated components to building a culture of development:

1. The organization must value development.

Nine of 10 organizations with extensive learning (development) cultures specifically address learning in their stated values. In addition, our research shows that there are three essential characteristics that stand out in high-performing organizations:

  • Budgets are sufficient to meet development needs
  • There are dedicated learning/development functions
  • There is senior-level responsibility for organizational development

2. The learner needs individual development plans

Six of 10 survey respondents believe that learning and development in the future will take place in ways we can’t imagine today. Even now, in high-performance organizations, employees are nearly 4X more likely to regularly share new knowledge with their colleagues than those at lower-performers. But the key ingredient is the individual development plans (IDPs). In i4cp’s study on performance management, IDPs was the number-one ingredient in a successful performance management process. High-performing organization have three components to their IDPs:

  • Each employee has a regularly updated IDP for the next year
  • Employees are held accountable for learning and development in their IDPs
  • Non-financial rewards/recognition are provided for learning and development.

3. The manager must be a developer of talent.

High-performance organizations are 3x more likely to hold leaders at all levels accountable for actively demonstrating the importance of learning and development. In another i4cp study we looked at which talent management activities managers should be involved in—of all the activities listed, the top five were related to development. There are three important components of managers as developers of talent:

  • Managers need to be provide with training on how to be developers of talent, and be aware of the options available (i.e., what online development programs area available, opportunities for stretch assignments, job rotation programs, etc.)
  • Managers must be held accountable and measured on how well they develop talent.
  • Managers who are good at developing talent need to be recognized/rewarded for it.

4. Leaders must be teachers.

Only 17% of organizations surveyed by i4cp have formal Leaders-as-Teachers (LAT) programs, but high-performance organization are 2x more likely to formalize their LAT programs. Our research shows many benefits to having a formal LAT program: Leaders teaching produce more engaged workforces, for one. The leaders also benefit because teaching enhances self-awareness and provides professional development. And organizations gain advantages in culture and strategy.

To get the benefits of a formal LAT program, our research found three important areas that need to be addressed:

  • The skills and readiness of leaders must be assessed; not everyone makes a good teacher.
  • Pair experienced leaders who teach with inexperienced leaders to build capability
  • Provide train-the-trainer sessions for leaders before they begin to teach

The power of a development culture is enhanced because of today’s tight labor market. The ability to become a talent magnet for today’s consumer of work is an essential component of this, giving organizations competitive advantage. No matter what you call it, a development culture is the key ingredient to recruit, engage, and retain that scarce talent.

Jay Jamrog is i4cp’s co-founder and a futurist.

Jay Jamrog
Jay is a futurist and has devoted the past 25 years to identifying and analyzing the major issues and trends affecting the management of people in organizations.