Employee Engagement

Ditch Traditional Professional Training for Lean Learning

According to a 2018 Workforce Learning Report from LinkedIn, an incredible 93% of employees surveyed stated that they would be more likely to stay at a company, if it invested in their careers. Professional development isn’t optional or only reserved for senior management - it’s now expected by all talent in today’s workforce.

By investing in the career growth of your employees, you’re letting your employees know that your value them and want them to succeed in the long-term. But how do you know which professional development path is the right one for your people?

There are thousands of courses, workshops and certifications that you could have your employees sign up for. Unfortunately, most traditional programs are not cost-efficient or effective at improving performance. People end up forgetting most of the training material because it can’t be immediately applied to the work they actually do.

So what’s the solution? Professional development opportunities using the concept of lean learning can give employees and their companies the knowledge, skills and tools that can be more applicable to their goals. Seeing timely results will also increase the likelihood that people will embrace further opportunities to learn with the company, and boost employee retention.

Pitfalls of Traditional Training Programs

In a recent article, Harvard Business Review stated that over 50% of senior leaders believe that their professional development efforts don’t end up building critical skills and organizational capabilities.

Why? It's because many traditional executive education programs focus on developing cognitive skills such as strategy development and financial analysis, neglecting soft skills such as effective communication and collaboration.

These traditional programs also have a skills transfer gap. New skills are much less likely to be applied when there are large gaps of time between when they are learned and when they are actually applied on the job (i.e. obtaining an MBA degree but only being able to apply the relevant skills years later).

People learn best when they have to learn. Taking mandated programs can mean that many employees are just learning at the wrong time. When you have team members learning topics like conflict resolution when it’s not immediately relevant to their jobs, they're less likely to retain the knowledge.

People tend to forget what they’ve learned very easily. In the late 19th century, research conducted by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus led to his discovery of “The Forgetting Curve,” which explains that 75% of new information that isn’t applied can be forgotten in as little as six days. This means that employee development programs that lack relevance can end up becoming wasted resources.

So what can be done to change the framework of professional development to increase knowledge relevance and retention for your teams? It’s this question that lean learning aims to solve by maximizing productivity and cutting down on waste (in the form of time, money and resources).


Why Lean Learning Rocks

With lean learning, resources are allocated to maximize business value. You learn the core of what you need to know and apply it to real-world situations immediately. With immediate feedback, employees can refine their understanding of what is and isn’t working, and tweak it to make it better. Most importantly, it can be done efficiently and improves knowledge retention.


Maximized productivity

Lean learning is about maximizing productivity while preventing resources (time and money) from being wasted. It works by modifying courses that don’t provide much value to employee career growth, to equip them with a more applicable skill set for facing current business challenges.

For example, as we fight the COVID-19 battle today, teams that were moved to remote operations can take this opportunity to get certified in using analytics tools, and learning more about  tools that enable them to collaborate and perform while working from home.

Reduced operating costs

One of the biggest advantages of lean learning is its impact on your company’s bottom line. Eliminating the need for certain courses and certificates can reduce your operating costs, which can be reinvested elsewhere (like team building events!). By applying lean learning throughout all areas of your business, you may even find that you can eliminate unnecessary positions which frees up even more budget.

Empowered workforce

By creating frequent opportunities for relevant professional development, employees will start becoming more confident about decision-making and taking risks. Over time, employees will start feeling more willing to contribute ideas and take on mentorship and leadership roles.


How to Apply Lean Learning

Offer micro-learning

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Report indicated that many employees did not engage in learning programs because they simply didn’t have the time. To combat this, break up educational opportunities for your people into smaller chunks that take into account limited availability, shorter attention spans, and make them easily digestible and instantly applicable.

Encourage peer learning 

Every employee brings different skills to their jobs. Encourage skill transfers and learning from each other, by creating opportunities to network and collaborate. This can aid in enriching company culture, improve risk taking abilities, and can be a great place to introduce incentivized mentorship and buddy programs for new employees.

Here at Guusto we do a monthly lunch and learn session where an employee walks the rest of the team through some cool new tools or strategies that has delivered tangible results. It often sparks ideas for others on how they might apply the lessons to their role.

Personalize learning

Both individuals and teams should have the option to pursue programs they want, at their own pace, that fits the specific skills they want to learn. Get employees to build playbook modules for different procedures that can be accessed by teammates at any time.

If you can build an in-house program, these skills can be immediately transferrable to the job and content can be tailored on the fly to match the evolving needs of employees.


Build a culture of coaching

Ask managers at all levels to book a 1-hour coaching session with each direct report once a month, if not more frequently. The manager should review the employee's work, discuss hurdles, provide tips for improving, and suggest strategies or learning resources. The employee can then immediately apply the knowledge gained and see the results. They will also feel like their managers cares about their development, which is one of the most important drivers of employee retention.


Incentivize learning and development

Gamification is a powerful and fun way to promote healthy competition and encourage your people to investigate the different options for lean learning that will help them update their skills or tackle new challenges. 

Provide rewards to your people for completing small training modules, and bigger spot-bonuses for demonstrating how they applied learnings. If you'd like help creating a program that rewards lean learning, book a time to chat with our team below. 

Book a Time to Chat


Lean Learning is the Future

There's no doubt professional training and development will move toward more agile lean learning programs that allow people to quickly acquire new relevant skills that can be immediately applied.

Lean learning will help employees focus on acquiring the right skills, at the right time, helping your people achieve goals faster, retain information, and becoming workplace rockstars.

As employees see the results from the employer’s approach to lean learning, they will be far more likely to stick around and contribute to the company's shared long-term goals.


What's Next?

Companies need to be intentional about building relationships between employees in order to foster a creative and collaborative workplace culture that drives success. So next, we explore Why Peer-to-Peer Recognition is Effective & How to Do It Right. It will cover the following in detail:

  • What is Peer-to-Peer Recognition 
  • Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Recognition
  • How to Build a Peer-to-Peer Program

Hope you’ll join us for the discussion. Have something you want to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Muucho Guusto,


Culture is the Ultimate Advantage

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Skai Dalziel

Written by Skai Dalziel

Skai is the Co-Founder of Guusto. He leads the Customer Success Team, and loves helping HR leaders build workplace culture by sharing his experiences from working with thousands of companies.

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